Longtime Runner Recalls Harrowing Race Day

Arnie James recounts what it was like to near the finish of the marathon and be plunged into chaos. (Selin Thomas/BU News Service)
Arnie James recounts what it was like to near the finish of the marathon and be plunged into chaos. (Selin Thomas/BU News Service)

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By Selin Thomas
BU News Service

His muscles were tight, his legs heavy, his mind and body were disconnected; it was a bad start.

The excitement of the crowd was not as propelling as usual. Everything felt wrong, until the 17th mile. That’s when Arnie James, a 69-year-old Boston native and self-proclaimed “dude,” felt his legs get strong and his mind get into the race.

“That’s when my training and discipline helped me get it together, and I started having a great marathon,” he said.

James was a mere 1.5 miles from crossing the Boston Marathon finish line with 3,772.8 racing miles under his belt, 144 marathons total, when the runners ahead of him starting piling up and people turned around, yelling, panicking.

“It was confusion, chaos. The crowd was getting thicker and I knew something was weird. Then a man tells us the marathon is cancelled, and that he saw body parts on the ground,” James said, stuttering as he detailed the horrified emotions rippling through the crowd in Kenmore Square.

Only a day before, James was preparing for the route he had run 24 times before. Pasta dinner, gallons of water, neat piles of clothes, supplies and good luck charms for race day – a routine he has perfected since his first marathon in 1985.

His crowded shrine of medals, photos and running shoes sat idly in the kitchen that Sunday as he recalled his most difficult race, not knowing that the next day Boston Marathon 2013 would rise to the top of that list.

In his decades of running, James never imagined the tragedy that struck Monday’s marathon, killing three spectators and injuring over 150 people close to the finish line.

“Had I been at the finish, I wouldn’t have been able to carry myself away. I would just stay there, my heart would be there, and I’d help,” he said.

Instead, when he reached the Massachusetts Avenue underpass, waves of terrorized, injured and confused runners, onlookers and officials headed toward where he stood. The crowds were tense, hysterical, he remembered.

“There were people walking by me, dazed, crying. We saw one guy being taken away in a wheelchair and his legs were shredded, just shredded,” James said.
The shock of the attacks has not entirely faded two days later, James said. Waiting for a sense of normalcy to return, James said he is trying to pull himself together.

The camaraderie of the running culture that drew James back again and again, marathon after marathon, is stronger than before he realized.

“Boston is stronger than ever,” said James. “I know the marathoner spirit and we’re going to come back with a vengeance,” he whispered.

Saddened by the terror that has struck his sport, his city, his state “and even my country,” he is anticipating an upward battle to recovery, closure and, finally, the city’s tradition of celebration on marathon day.

“I’m feeling it now, bearing it later,” he said. “This isn’t about me, it’s about the victims, and we will not forget that.”

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