Susan Shanley was racing along Boylston Street when the bombs went off.
She was running full tilt, headphones on, listening to music and focused on the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
“You’re tearing down the street,” she said. “You’re kind of in your own little reality.”
Then came the blasts, first one, then the other, the second much louder and close. Suddenly she was running through smoke, wondering what could’ve caused the explosions. “I thought it was a transformer,” she said.
She kept going. “A policeman came out and tried to signal me,” she said.
He wanted her to stop. She wanted to finish. “It took awhile for it to sink in,” she said.
“He’s shaking his head no, I’m shaking my head yes,” she said. “The finish line is right there.
“He actually had to grab hold of me to stop me, and he said it was a bomb.
I kind of stood there and said, ‘What?’
“It wasn’t in anyone’s consciousness that it could be a bomb. Why would it be a bomb? That didn’t occur to you. That happens in a war zone. We’re not in a war zone.”
“You just have tunnel vision,” Shanley said. “I no longer run with tunnel vision.”
Five years after the Boston Marathon bombing, Cape Cod runners Shanley, Paul DiAngelis, Mary Duchesney, Charlotte Johnson and Rich Houston recounted the chaos and confusion of the day that changed not only the world’s most famous footrace and the world at large, but also themselves.
They will step to the starting line for Boston’s 122nd running on Monday, driven by their love of the race and their determination to never let anyone or anything keep them from running it.
Shanley, 58, who lives in Barnstable and works as a physical therapist at Sandwich Physical Therapy, has been running marathons since 2005.
“With the marathon,” she said, “you either do one and done or you catch the bug and keep going.”
She caught the bug. This will be her 26th marathon and her 12th Boston, she said. Last year’s time of 4 hours, 1 minute, 55 seconds was her personal record in the big Patriots Day race.
Five years ago, she was cruising down the right side of Boylston when the bombs went off, the second one just 10 yards ahead of her and on the other side of the street.
She already had passed her husband and two sons on Commonwealth Avenue. “I knew they were OK, but they didn’t know I was OK,” she said.
The family was finally able to reunite about 45 minutes later. She runs with her phone now; she didn’t have it that day.
The Boston Athletic Association recorded a projected finish time for her of 4:09:40.
Eventually, after the police officer made her reverse course on Boylston, she learned the full scope of the horror, the violence that killed three people and wounded more than 260, including 17 who lost limbs.
The attack has had lasting effects. “It doesn’t stop you from going to races,” said Shanley, who has run Boston three times since then. “But it makes you more aware.”
Races have changed
DiAngelis, 51, of East Falmouth, also was stopped short of the finish in 2013. The building maintenance manager at Morse Pond School in Falmouth, DiAngelis has run 13 marathons. Monday’s will be his eighth Boston, he said.
He didn’t hear the blasts in 2013, just sirens.
There was confusion at first, but runners soon learned there had been a bombing at the finish line, and one rumor exaggerated the number of bombs.
He had his phone, couldn’t call or text, but managed to post something on Facebook, to let family and friends know he was OK.
Two friends of his had started with him. “They were able to find me about a minute or two after I had stopped,” he said.
DiAngelis was given a 4:38:51 projected finish time. He returned to run the race the next three years.
In 2014, he crossed the finish line with one of the friends who had found him the year before, Jennifer Falcone Kelly, from Milton. They crossed the finish line holding hands, both in tears.
The bombing changed the Boston Marathon forever, DiAngelis said, referring to heightened security the attack necessitated.
“But then it also changed other races too,” he added. “I’ve done quite a few big races since this, and it changed the way they put on these events. And it probably changed the cost of them as well, in big ways.”
‘Can't stop us’
Duchesney, 51, of West Barnstable, works at Marathon Sports in Yarmouth. Monday will be her ninth Boston and 20th marathon overall, she said. “You get a little addicted to it,” she added.
In 2013, she heard the explosions. “I kind of said to myself what was that?” she said. “They had a big scaffolding at the finish and I thought maybe that had fallen. You never would think it was a bomb.”
She had to stop near a fire station at the corner of Hereford and Boylston streets. “The police were telling everyone to get on the sidewalk,” she said.
Firetrucks, ambulances and police cars came roaring down the street.
The runners were told to clear the area. It took Duchesney a while to find her husband, mother, a son and daughter, who were in a family meeting area a couple blocks from the finish at the time of the explosions. Duchesney and her family later went to a restaurant where they learned details of the attack watching the news on TV. It shocked her.
“I couldn’t wait to go back in 2014 to say, ‘You can’t stop us,’” said Duchesney, who had a projected finish time of 4:08:11 in 2013.
Referring to the 2014 race, she said, “That was awesome. The crowds were so loud, they almost pushed you along. It was an honor to be there.
"The Boston Marathon is just magical, one of the best marathons.”
Asked if she harbors ill feelings toward the bombers, she said, “I try not to think of them, actually. I think about the victims instead.”
She said the experience has made her much more aware of her surroundings. “I notice backpacks a lot now,” she said.
Johnson, 50, who lives in Port Jefferson, New York, and spends a third of the year at her home in Chatham, is a choral and drama teacher at Comsewogue High School.
She said she’s looking forward to her 18th Boston Marathon, having run Boston three times since 2013. That year, she finished in 3:45:10.
Later, as she was walking toward the family reunion area, she heard two loud bangs.
She saw police cars, ambulances and firetrucks going toward the finish line, but it wasn’t until she and her husband and daughter were on their way home that they learned about the attack, when a former student of hers who was attending Emmanuel College called.
“It makes you so sick to your stomach when you hear something like that,” said Johnson, who learned more watching TV news on the ferry to Orient Point on Long Island.
“I had come right from the race and was still in my running outfit,” she said. “When I walked on the ferry, everyone on the boat knew I had been there. People were very quiet and somber. That was very emotional.”
In 2014, she said, “The feeling at the start was emotional with a little bit of defiance. We were not going to let terrorists of any kind stop us from doing what was right and joyful.”
Houston, 61, of Harwich, teaches U.S. history at Monomoy High School. He said this will be his 30th official Boston Marathon — he ran two unofficially with his wife in the early 1980s — and his 23rd in a row.
He ran the 2013 race as part of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s fundraising team and finished in 3:31:04. Houston heard the blasts while standing next to the Dana-Farber bus waiting to collect his belongings about two blocks from the finish line.
Like many others, he and his wife, a spectator that day, didn’t learn details of the attack until they were on their way home.
He remembers a time that now seems long ago when the world and the race were different. In 1979, he said, "You showed up in Hopkinton on race morning and picked up your number, pinned it on your jersey and jumped in the race.”
Houston visits the places where the bombs went off when he goes in to pick up his number every year before the race.
The Mylar blanket he was given at the finish line, which was draped around him when the bombs went off, is hanging from the front of his desk in his Monomoy classroom along with other items of historical significance, including sand from Omaha Beach.
The 2013 Boston Marathon is a chapter in U.S. history, as Houston’s students are well aware.
“We talk a lot about protecting freedom and democracy,” said Monomoy junior Jason Masiello, adding that both came under attack that day.
“During our class we’ve talked about not only why it happened but what it means for security of the country,” said Perry Comeau, a junior. “We talked about what the legacy of the Boston Marathon is and why it was chosen as the target.”
Julia Rioux, a junior, said the race’s enduring popularity, despite the horrible events of 2013, underscores the nation’s resiliency.
“And it’s not just the bombing,” she said. “Every year it commemorates the shot heard round the world. It’s all about patriotism and what we stand for as a country and as a people.”