The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, founded in 1897 by the Boston Athletic Association. Runners come from all over the world to compete in the race. This year, it fell on April 15.
For the fourth time in her running career, Amy Perkins of Leesburg was one of more than 26,000 runners competing. She finished in three hours and 41 minutes. But at 2:50 p.m., about 30 minutes after Perkins crossed the finish line, her marathon experience forever changed.
At that moment, just seconds apart, two pressure cooker bombs went off within 225 feet on the finish line on Boylston Street.
Perkins and her friend Tonya Stotler were at a street parallel to Boylston when the bomb exploded. Initially, both women thought nothing of the loud boom and shaking ground.
“I grew up in Fairfax, so I don't know what bombs sound like,” Perkins said. “The streets, even one street over, are packed, and we're all just looking around like, 'what is that?'”
The women thought one of the large construction cranes had fallen or maybe the Jumbotron had collapsed.
The pair had made it to Exeter Street, which intersects Boylston, when the second explosion occurred.
“There was a lot more smoke,” Perkins said. “All the runners and spectators started running down the side street. You could see in their faces and the way they were running that something was wrong.”
As police and first responders rushed to the site, Perkins and Stotler ducked into a Marriott Hotel located off Copley for safety.
The Marriott connected to a mall which connected to the Sheraton that both women were staying in. The mall, Stotler said, was already on lock-down.
“You could see the panic in everyone's face,” she said.
Perkins and Stotler met Stotler's husband Chris, who also ran the marathon, at the Sheraton. The three stayed glued to a television for hours, before finally leaving to find food.
“I'd never seen Boston that somber,” Stotler said.
The next day, the trio left for the airport amid a sea of police and federal agents.
And though the women arrived here safely, they both are still trying to wrap their heads around what happened that afternoon.
“I feel guilty,” Perkins confessed. “All these poor people, some are dead, some are maimed for life. I feel like my race is so insignificant in comparison to what happened that day. People ask me, 'Aside from that how was your race?' and it doesn't matter.”
Stotler noted she couldn't even run a race she had previously entered, not because she felt unsafe but because she felt numb, though the death and capture of the alleged perpetrators has helped.
“Now maybe me and others can start to heal,” Stotler said.
Both women emphasized, however, that no matter what happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon, they will not let the event interfere with a sport and event that they love. Perkins said she will eagerly run the race again and Stotler, who qualified this year but chose not to run, has already reserved a spot.
“I'll be back. I'll be shaken up and be thinking about the people from this year as I run,” Stotler said. “I'll be running for them.”