10 years after: Bucks runners still have vivid recollections of Boston Marathon bombing

Police officers arrive shortly after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to tend to fallen runners. (Photo: www.boston.com.)
       A decade has come and gone and still the sense of disbelief remains strong in the minds and hearts of Bucks County runners who ran the Boston Marathon on that fateful spring day in 2013.
      The infamous multiple-bombings which took several lives and injured hundreds of others shook not only the running world but countless people in general around the world.
      With the 10th anniversary of the tragedy coming up in a few weeks (April 17), it’s inevitable those who ran that race would be asked to share their memories of that surreal experience.
      Langhorne’s Pete Lederer, closing in on his 20th straight 26.2-miler in Beantown, said the first thing which comes to mind from that April 15 Monday morning was the concern he had for the welfare of his family members who were watching from the sidelines.
      “The strongest memory I have from that day was the fear for my family’s safety and the safety of my friends that were still out on the course,” said Lederer, who finished the 2013 race in 2:58, well before the first bomb went off. “At the time, we didn’t know when the attack would end so there was a lot of fear and confusion while trying to contact friends and family.”
      Similar to the New York City Marathon after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks — when many Americans felt it was important to show strength and resilience by running the event again as soon as possible – a large field showed up for Boston the following year.
      “Going back in 2014 felt essential,” Lederer said. “In the back of everyone’s mind there was still the worry of ‘what if they target this race again?’, but we all felt we had to go and send the message that we were going to stand up to terrorists.
      “That race saw a huge change in the level of security, which is mostly still in place today. Running that race was very emotional. A marathon is difficult enough to complete, but I definitely felt the weight of the moment and the sacrifice of the victims and responders from the previous year.”
      For Dan Schaal, the situation in 2013 was a bit more dire. He completed the race in 3:47, about 20 minutes before the chaos erupted.
      After that race, Schaal was reached by telephone and this is what he said in an interview that evening:
      “I was only about two blocks away, trying to check up on my family,” Schaal related. “My daughter and I were walking when we heard the boom.
      “The sound of it was similar to a ‘dumpster drop.’ Then the second one happened. We were trying to get to the subway. Then there was chaos. Emergency vehicles were storming the area. One of the cops said, ‘everyone needs to get out of here, there are bombs.’ So we took off.”
      Luckily, everyone in Schaal’s family was safe but certainly more than a bit shook up by what had unfolded.
      “We were relieved that we weren’t harmed,” Schaal said back in ’13. “When we were walking, the sense was ‘why here?’ ‘why this?’ ‘why today.’ It was what did we do to deserve this? A lot of people were crying. A lot of ‘what’s going on this in this world’ is what happened here today.”
      Now, looking back, Schaal admits he still gets emotional thinking about the whole experience.
      He has run Boston four more times since that tragic day and each time has made it a point to visit the memorial erected on Boyleston Street.
      Back in ’13, his son was about the same age (8) as the boy, Martin Richard, who was killed in the blast near the finish line.
      “Seeing the memorial that was created with pictures and mementoes was overwhelming,” Schaal said. “I’ve been to a ton of sporting events with my kids and couldn’t believe that this innocent child just trying to enjoy the race was gone. It would bring me to tears each time.”
      Things at Boston have gone somewhat smoothly since 2013, although the pandemic forced the race to go virtual one year and move to the fall in another.
      However, runners do sense a heightened presence of security to ensure something like the bombing never happens again.
      “I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” Schaal said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. The panic once we found out it was a bombing was something I never knew or felt before.  Was this a coordinated effort and would there be more? My main focus was to get out of the area as fast as I could. All the celebration plans for the night were quickly squashed and we came home immediately.
      “In subsequent marathons it was just weird to see so many armed police officers along the course. It’s not what this event is supposed to be.”
      Race calendar
      Saturday, April 15
      Be Kind 5K, 1-mile run, 9:30 a.m., Buckingham. Bucks 5K Series. Contact www.bucks5kseries.com
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Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.