"When I first saw the people running toward me, I thought, that looks just like the makeup they use for bomb victims in movies," recalls Boston Marathon participant Allison Pattillo.
After a taxing 26.1 miles, Pattillo, a Colorado native and contributing editor for Women's Running magazine, was focused on the finish line when the first explosion occurred. With all attention focused on pushing her muscles through the final stretch, it took a moment for her head to catch up to her eyes. After the second boom, Pattillo realized, "Those people were injured in a bombing."
Kristina Scaviola, a laboratory supervisor from Dracut, Mass., recalls a similar moment of disbelief. Also a few dozen meters from the finish when disaster struck, she says, "The first responders acted quickly, but there were 30 seconds where everyone was just standing there not knowing what to do." For Scaviola, these moments were marked by images: a shredded dollar bill floating in the air, a shirtless man with a good luck message on his chest bleeding through torn pants.
Monday's tragedy, in which two homemade bombs detonated at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 170 people, left the nation and the running community reeling. But as the mood of the collective consciousness slowly brightens -- with Facebook feeds across the country beginning to repopulate with the normal fodder of food photos and baseball updates -- runners who witnessed the carnage remain focused on Boylston Street.
Both Pattillo and Scaviola feel thankful that they were able to escape the scene physically unscathed. Dozens of injured bystanders remain in critical condition in hospitals in Boston. "What I saw was horrible, but people died; people were maimed; people were injured. I'm fine," says Pattillo.
Still, the images are impossible to shake. "Randomly something will pop into my head and it reminds me of everything that's happened," says Scaviola.
How does a person recover after seeing too much? Like many runners around the country who have come together for memorial runs in the days following the tragedy, Pattillo and Scaviola both hope that their passion for the sport will help them heal.
The morning after the marathon, Pattillo ventured outside of her hotel with a goal: to cross the finish line. Knowing that the area would be blocked off as a crime scene, she went to the former finish, next to the Prudential Center, where the race ended before a course change in 1986. "I just wanted some closure," she explains, but was unable to perform the symbolic act due to an FBI presence in this area as well.
Instead, Pattillo says she is determined to cross the line in 2014. "There's nothing that could stop me from running it again if I qualify," she says.
Scaviola agrees: "This is my city. I'm not going to let a terrorist keep me from running this marathon. ... A lot of us work through our emotions on our runs. I think it will be good for everyone who was there to get back out on the roads."