Amber Seidle-Lazo had run 26 miles of the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon when she was stopped by police one year ago on April 15 and told the finish line was closed.
She and thousands of other runners found themselves stuck behind a blockade just steps before they were to turn onto Boylston Street for the home stretch of the nation’s oldest, most iconic marathon.
“We were saying, ‘We’re almost done, why can’t we finish the race, what is going on?’ ” Seidle-Lazo said.
An incomplete but alarming explanation began circulating among the runners, some of whom had cellphones and were communicating with people on the other end of Boylston Street, some of whom were getting information from spectators.
Two explosions had rocked the finish area, and the 117th edition of the Boston Marathon had ended prematurely, in carnage. Patriots Day, traditionally a holiday when Bostonians fill the streets to celebrate the city’s history and the power of human will, had turned into a day of tragedy.
Two bombs detonated by suspected terrorists Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — Russian immigrant brothers — had killed three spectators and injured 260. Sixteen people lost limbs.
The evil of the plot was difficult to comprehend because the target was so wholesome and innocent: A footrace, where the goal was simply to cross the blue and yellow line on the pavement.
Seidle-Lazo, who lives in Coral Gables, was denied that accomplishment after some four hours and 15 minutes of running, as were 5,632 other runners. They were invited back for the 2014 race on Monday, but she had to turn it down. She gave birth to her second daughter three months ago and has been unable to train for a marathon.
“One day I will go back and run it again,” said Seidle-Lazo, who never saw the finish line but received a symbolic finisher’s medal in the mail. “I was so close. It bothered me for a while, but then I chose to concentrate on the good that came from it.”
Boston leaders and race organizers will pay tribute to that spirit of selflessness Tuesday with events marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly afternoon, including a moment of silence at 2:49 p.m., when the first bomb exploded.
Seidle-Lazo had to wait, standing and shivering, in her barricaded area for 90 minutes before the runners were allowed to walk a circuitous route back to where they had left their bags.
“While we stood there, the residents brought us water, food, blankets, their own sweaters,” she said. “That is the memory of Boston that will stand out — the care and generosity of complete strangers.”
She also borrowed a cellphone so she could locate her sister, Jocelyn Seidle, and her 1-year-old daughter, Nina, who were supposed to be waiting for her at the finish but had returned to their hotel room, where they watched the bombing unfold live on TV.
“I was frustrated but relieved that none of us were in the area,” she said. “Had I not stopped to use the bathroom, had I not walked up Heartbreak Hill I might have been right there when it happened.”
Smoke and chaos
Spencer West and his wife, Julie, and Bryan Huberty — friends from South Florida who had completed the race — were right there, in a third-floor Lenox Hotel room overlooking the grandstands and across the street from where the bombs exploded. West, who finished in 2:57, was in the shower, and his wife (3:23) and Huberty (2:42) had just moved away from the window when they heard a thunderous boom. Twelve seconds later, another.
“The whole room shook,” Huberty said. “We weren’t sure if it was a generator, a gas main or a bomb. We saw smoke and chaos from the window.”
The hotel was quickly evacuated.
“We stepped out the door and the sidewalk was red with blood,” Huberty said. “There were police with machine guns and wearing bomb squad suits. It was surreal. It was like being in a disaster movie.”
Spencer, a native of Somerville, Mass., who grew up watching the race from Kenmore Square, recalled one indelible image from the scene.
“The volunteers were running toward the blasts,” he said. “Their first instinct was to help the victims. That says a lot about Boston people. There were a lot of heroes.”
Miami’s Enda Walsh had crossed the line in 3:54 and was 300 yards from the blasts.
“We figured an electrical box had blown or fireworks had gone off,” Walsh said.
A puff of smoke appeared but the reaction was still muted.
“People said, ‘Could it be a bomb?’ and the response was ‘No way,’ ” Walsh said. “It was only later when we saw it on TV that we realized what had happened and how close we were to it.”
Walsh plans to run Boston again next week. He still rides his bike two years after riding partner Aaron Cohen was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the Rickenbacker Causeway bridge.
Walsh’s leg was broken in the crash, which prevented him from running Boston in 2012.
“A lot of people talk themselves into being traumatized,” he said. “I’m the type to say to myself, ‘OK, I was lucky,’ and I move on.”
He grew up in Ireland during “the troubles” and IRA bombings of the 1980s.
“Terrorism on their home soil is new to Americans, and they ask, ‘Why? How?’ ” Walsh said. “But when you’re from a country where random atrocities occur regularly, you become somewhat desensitized to the violence.”
Last year 391 runners from Florida finished Boston — 87 from South Florida.
Huberty and the Wests will be among those going back, undeterred by what they saw and determined to show their solidarity with the city, which adopted the motto “Boston Strong.”
“I have two kids around the age of the 8-year-old boy who was killed and I want them to know what a special race it is — the last place in the world you’d imagine that something horrible could happen,” West said.
West will run his fifth Boston, Huberty his third. They’ll join 36,000 others.
“I think everyone will feel a little trepidation and then a great sense of connection,” Huberty said. “Some of the survivors will be running, and it will be very emotional. We want to be in Boston, we need to be in Boston.”