BOSTON — Running the Boston Marathon has become something of a tradition for Michelle Kennedy.
After running America’s oldest marathon course for five consecutive years, the Greenfield native has come to learn what to expect.
There is the thrill of joining thousands of fellow runners, unleashed on the course in spectacular waves of color, each clothed to stand out to friends and family. There is the roaring crowd, lining the route to cheer on those they know and most they don’t.
At first, Monday was no different as Kennedy, 41, a local attorney, took to the course that’s come to feel like home.
She crossed the finish line, exhausted and exhilarated, after three hours and 53 minutes.
Minutes later, the first bomb went off.
Kennedy, surrounded by dozens of other runners, was about three blocks away from the finish line, heading to pick up her gear from that morning when she heard the explosion.
The boom stopped everyone in their tracks. Dizzy with exhaustion from the race, Kennedy and many of those around her were still in a daze.
But another explosion, seconds later, quickly turned confusion to panic.
“Once the second one went off, then, we knew this was certainly not right,” said Kennedy, who now lives in Fishers. “We knew there was an emergency.”
FBI officials would later confirm the bombs were set off intentionally near the finish line at a time believed to have maximum impact. As of late Tuesday, three were dead and more than 170 were recovering from injuries after the bombs, contained in pressure cookers full of shards of metal, ball bearings and nails, exploded into the crowd.
Kennedy, out of harm’s way, headed for her designated meeting spot, where she had planned to reunite with boyfriend Bryan Wade, who was also running the race.
But Wade, 42, of Fishers, wasn’t there, and he couldn’t be reached by cellphone.
What followed next was an agonizing two-hour wait.
Kennedy’s own phone was flooded with messages from friends and family, sending texts and posting messages to Facebook, praying for her safety.
Learning Kennedy was not among the injured, that network of people then began filtering news of the explosion her way.
A quick check of the marathon’s online tracker, which traces individual runners as they make their way along the route, brought dreaded news.
Wade was last tracked about four-tenths of a mile from the finish line.
“I had a long moment of panic,” Kennedy said.
News traveled a little more slowly to Wade. Though he was closer to the site of the explosions, between the music on his iPod and the road of the crowd, he couldn’t hear the bombs go off.
Wade’s watch told him he was at 25.7 of the 26.2-mile course when there was a sudden backup of runners. At first, most of them were angry, not understanding why they were denied access to that golden finish line.
After a few minutes of standing, Wade switched his iPod to a radio station and found out what had happened.
The runners would stand there, corralled for an hour, by law enforcement and race officials, with no means of contacting their family or friends.
Wade’s mind was on Kennedy, whose text messages and calls were going to a phone that was blocks away.
“During the hour, I was just scared to death because I didn’t know,” he said. “In today’s world you’re not usually helpless like that.”
The couple reunited at their hotel, which was in the lockdown area near the finish line.
As Kennedy and Wade left to return to Indiana Tuesday morning, the armed guards by the hotel door served as a grim reminder of what they had experienced.
At the airport, police stopped the couple – wearing their Boston Marathon jackets – to ask if they had any video or photos from the race that might aid the investigation.
Kennedy doesn’t know if another Boston Marathon is in her future. As a mother of four children, Kennedy said she has her family to think about.
A painful reminder of that fact came when Kennedy learned an 8-year-old boy was among the dead. The news hit home.
“I have an 8-year-old son,” said Kennedy, who grew up in Hancock County and is a 1989 Greenfield-Central High School graduate. “My 8-year-old son loves to watch me compete. I think about this little boy that died, and I’m just sick.”
Kennedy’s run time at Monday’s race didn’t qualify her automatically to participate next year. If she does want to run, she’ll have to first decide to go through the qualifying process again.
But she has a lot of soul-searching to do before then.
Kennedy said she can’t imagine the atmosphere of next year’s race, now that the nation’s most celebrated 26.2-mile run is synonymous with a terrorist attack.
But the Boston Marathon stands for resilience, if nothing else, she said. Runners who have trained for months, if not years, to reach that goal are not the type of people who give up easily.
The tradition will live on; if not for her, then others.
“I believe it’s the greatest marathon our country has, and it will come back,” she said. “It will come back.”