Most SLO County runners had finished before blasts at Boston Marathon

Local runners describe being at scene of tragedy

clambert@thetribunenews.comApril 15, 2013 

Kerry Morris of San Luis Obispo had finished Monday’s Boston Marathon and was a few blocks away at a bar when two explosions shattered the excitement near the finish of the 26.2-mile race.

“My boyfriend heard it,” said Morris, chief operating officer at San Luis Obispo-based insurance agency Morris & Garritano. “He said, ‘Stay right here,’ and walked outside. By the time he walked back inside, it was on the news.”

Morris’ cellphone was flooded with calls and text messages shortly afterward. The couple decided to leave the area.

“There are literally helicopters, cops and sirens everywhere,” Morris told The Tribune on Monday afternoon. “They shut down the T (the subway).”

Like most of the other San Luis Obispo County residents who participated in the 117th Boston Marathon, Morris crossed the finish line well before the explosions happened about 2:50 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, or, 11:50 a.m. here.

Stan Rosenfield, co-founder of the San Luis Distance Club, said he was tracking all of the runners from San Luis Obispo County, including five club members and nine others, via the Boston Athletic Association’s online system.

All but one had finished by about three hours and 40 minutes, and one other person was on track to finish in more than five hours and wouldn’t have been near the explosion, he said in an email.

Several runners reached by cellphone Monday described the range of emotions they experienced throughout the day — excitement to participate in one of the sport’s most prestigious marathons, followed by shock and sadness after they learned of the explosions.

“I ran a fast race, and it’s kind of ruined,” said Morris, who finished her second Boston race in about 3 hours, 33 minutes and 21 seconds. “It’s hard to celebrate when you know there were a lot of people unable to finish.”

Arroyo Grande High School teacher Sam Vonderheide accomplished a longtime goal by qualifying for the Boston Marathon two years ago. He ran it Monday for the second time, finishing in about 3:13:37.

“It’s a day that most people would never forget for a good reason, and unfortunately now, it’s different,” he said. “I was happy with my finish time, and I love sharing my experiences with other people, but I don’t even want to talk about it because it seems wrong.”

Vonderheide’s inspiration is his aunt, Dawn Vonderheide of Orange County, who was running her 10th consecutive Boston Marathon. She was just a few blocks from the finish when the explosions hit and was stopped from completing the race.

Paso Robles High School teacher Geoffrey Land finished his first Boston Marathon in just under 3:00:06, and he spent about a half-hour in the medical tent recovering from the effort. Later, he said, he was grateful that so many medical personnel were on scene to help those injured in the explosions.

Land and his family were driving out of the city by the time the blasts happened — though, he said, his mother and uncle had tickets to the stadium seating near the finish but weren’t able to get in.

“It’s really remarkable that more people weren’t injured or killed, that finish line area was just packed,” Land said. “It’s really unfortunate that such a historic race is marred by this tragedy.”

David Fleishman, an Atascadero resident and Pismo Beach’s city attorney, had finished his run in 3:06:58 and was having lunch and a beer with friends when the news of the explosions started being broadcast on television.

“At first I thought someone was having a heart attack, but then I saw a pile of blood,” he said. “There are just ambulances flying down the street,” he said after the explosions.

The explosions happened on the north side of Boylston Street — one of the best parts of the marathon, said Fleishman, who has completed the race five times.

“It’s never going to be the same again,” Fleishman said. “You’re never going to have that screaming crowd down Boylston, right at the finish chute. … I’m thinking about all those people at the finish line and how horrible that must have been.”

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