Boston Marathon Spectator: I Haven't Stopped Wondering 'What If' Since Monday

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carla benton

Photo: Courtesy of Carla Benton

Carla Benton of Brooklyn, N.Y. was minutes away from the explosion that rocked the Boston Marathon on Monday. Benton, 26, is an avid marathoner herself and was there to cheer on several friends in the race.

She gave an account of the day's events on her blog. Along with her written and verbal account, we've pieced together her experience from that tragic afternoon.

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When my friends and I arrived at the finish line at Copley Square, t he first thing we did was walk right up to Boylston and Exeter — the intersection where the explosion occurred — to see about staking out a spot near the mile 26 marker.

The crowds were already a few people deep, so I urged my friends to move three blocks farther away. If you know anything about the final stretch of the Boston Marathon, you know what it means to make a “right on Hereford, left on Boylston.” Those are the last two turns in the race. The finish line is minutes away.

  Our friends were lucky enough to cross it unscathed. After watching them finish, we decided to head to the next block, Newbury Street, to find some lunch. 

The restaurant we picked was predictably a bit crowded, but we were seated on the second floor fairly quickly. We placed our orders, and then I headed to the bathroom on the first floor. On my way back upstairs I felt a slight rumble, like being in a NYC building directly above a subway when a train is passing through. I didn’t think anything of it. We were near Boston's T train, after all.

When I returned to our table, neither one of my friends was seated.

Along with everyone else on the floor, they were crowded against the front windows, staring at the parallel view of Boylston. I asked them what was going on, and they said they had no idea while motioning toward all the spectators frantically running in our direction.

Running away from the race. Many of them were crying. I squinted at a pack of runners dressed alike and still running up Boylston. I quickly realized they weren’t marathoners at all; they looked alike because they were police officers dressed in identical uniforms.

It was undeniable: Something awful had obviously happened.

We immediately pulled out our phones and began seeing news alerts about an explosion. “Do you think that’s what we just felt?” we asked one another. The bartenders then turned on the news, which depicted the finish area in flames with headlines about bombs going off. We exchanged horrified looks as we realized we were wrong to brush off what we’d felt as “probably nothing.”

That’s exactly when the calls/texts/emails/tweets/Facebook messages began rolling in. I have to say, aside from the moments when we were waiting to hear from our runners, the scariest part for me was being next to the scene when it happened, yet learning exactly what had happened at the same time as everyone else outside of Boston. The uncertainty was terrifying, especially when people began contacting me to say that the police were finding more bombs in other locations and we should get out of the city.

We left to get our things from my friend's apartment and walked two miles to catch the Amtrak back to New York. Along the way, we encountered a depressing sight: hundreds of diverted runners walking in the middle of the street in what looked like a death march, freezing without their foil blankets and still mostly in the dark about what was going on since they couldn’t access their checked bags containing their phones. 

What if?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking What if? since Monday.

We were just one block away from the blast.  One. What if we had stayed at the race just a few minutes longer? What if we had watched at Boylston and Exeter after all? What if our friends who ran had been running slower? What if this had been a marathon I was running? 

To put this in perspective, the explosion happened around the time that runners were clocking in at about 4 hours and 10 minutes. My marathon PR is 4:05.

It was a close call like no other I’ve ever experienced, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have emerged from it alive and injury free. I’m extremely grateful to be able to say the same for every single friend of mine who was also spectating or running Boston.

It breaks my heart to think that someone could use such a happy sport –– my sport –– to express hate. One thing’s for certain: This will not bring us down.



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