By Jeff Nations
Winchester's Sharon Galloway Farinholt had just more than a minute to recover from the grueling experience of running Monday's 117th Boston Marathon before she felt the irresistible urge to run once again.
Farinholt, still in the finish-line chute after completing the internationally renowned 26.2-mile race for the first time, heard what sounded like the blast of a cannon a short distance away. Almost immediately after, she saw smoke billowing up from that same spectator area.
"I heard this big explosion," Farinholt said in a telephone interview Monday. "Then there was another one. The girl beside me in the chute, we just kind of hunkered down. It sounded like a cannon shot."
What Farinholt and the thousands of others heard on Monday afternoon were twin bomb explosions near the historic race's finish line, blasts which authorities say killed three people and injured scores more in what is being investigated as a terrorist attack.
Farinholt, the other runners on the course, and the thousands of spectators gathered along Boylston Street for the race finish initially had no idea what had happened. Farinholt thought the first blast might have been an exploding transformer. When she heard the second explosion, Farinholt joined the crowd running away from the scene.
"Your instinct is to run in a situation like that. The police stopped everyone, which saved people from almost getting trampled," Farinholt said. "With so many people running away, that could have been another tragedy."
Farinholt said security personnel initially kept the runners in the chute, and soon began removing the silver thermal blankets provided to runners to ensure that no one without a racing bib had slipped into the group.
For a few frantic minutes, Farinholt lost contact with her husband, Matt, who was stationed in the spectator area. In the meantime, she connected with fellow Winchester runner Tracey Brown at the finish line.
Farinholt said she was near enough to the initial explosion to see the emergency responders converging on the smoke-filled area.
"I was close enough to see the billowing smoke," Farinholt said. "I was not so close to see the people."
She soon reunited with Matt, who had heard the explosions and felt the ground shaking but was uninjured, and they tried to make their way out of the city. The closest Metro stations were closed for security reasons, and Farinholt was also unable to retrieve her change of clothes as she was "walking aimlessly" through the city before getting on the subway a few miles from the blast site.
The Farinholts were staying in Cambridge, Mass., on Monday night and planned to drive home to Winchester today.
"It was very scary," Sharon Farinholt said. "We felt horrible for our kids; we weren't able to call for an hour and a half."
Sharon Farinholt was eventually able to borrow a cell phone -- the batteries had died on Matt's -- and call home.
"We're tired and shocked a little bit, but we're OK," Farinholt said.
Winchester's Matthew Lofton was also among a handful of area runners in Monday's Boston Marathon. Like Farinholt, it was Lofton's first time ever running the race. He finished in 2 hours, 45 minutes -- more than an hour before the twin explosions at the finish line. Lofton, his mother Laura Lofton and his girlfriend Amanda Breeden were on the city's Metro by then, on the way back to their hotel.
Lofton first heard about the bomb blasts when he reached his car.
"It actually happened right near where my mom and my girlfriend were seated," Lofton said by telephone Monday. "I think they said it was a trashcan on the sidewalk in front of a candy store. They were right there. That's scary to think about."
Lofton's finish was his fastest ever for a marathon, but the stunning news of what happened later that day left him in no mood to celebrate.
"The race two years ago was famous for those tailwinds that made everybody go faster," Lofton said. "Last year it was the heat. This race is famous for a whole different, crappier reason. It's sickening to think about."
Sports Editor Jeff Nations can be reached at 540-465-5137 ext. 161 or at email@example.com