Richard Harris’ dream of running in the Boston Marathon on Monday quickly turned into a nightmare.
Three people were killed and more than 176 were wounded in the two explosions on Monday on the same street Harris had walked on just about an hour prior.
Harris, a 27-year-old Newton resident and 2008 Lenoir-Rhyne graduate, was running the Boston Marathon for the first time. He had qualified for the 117th historic running of the event by finishing third in the Wrightsville Beach Marathon last March.
“The Boston Marathon is kind of the holy grail of running,” Harris said. “Every distance runner wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon and get to go run in it. I don’t want to say it is a ‘bucket list’ kind of thing, but it is just one of those things you aspire to do.”
Running his inaugural event, Harris felt a lot of different emotions – but nothing related to his personal safety and the safety of others.
“The race itself is organized chaos, but they do such an amazing job with it,” he said. “You think about it. There are 27,000 runners and are all great professionals. They have it down to a T. It’s a point-to-point race. It’s 26 miles away and you finish in Boston. That morning, they load you up on buses and ship you out to this town in the middle of nowhere. The whole time, all you see is that secure environment and police are everywhere. There are medical personnel. Every mile, they have water stops and different workers to make sure everyone is OK. From a security standpoint, there wasn’t a thought in my mind of anything happening.”
After starting the Boston Marathon at 10 a.m. about 26.2 miles away in Hopkinton, Mass., Harris crossed the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston at 12:48 p.m.
Less than an hour later, Harris returned to a townhouse about a mile away from his finish on Commonwealth Avenue. His wife, Kammie, as well as both of their parents and his friends Bryan and Lauren Klimasewiski, were there.
“I took a shower, and we were about to leave to get on the train to go to the airport,” Harris said. “We had a flight out back to Charlotte that night at 7 p.m. We were getting ready to leave.”
Harris, who works at the fitness center at the Catawba Valley Medical Center, remembers receiving a call from a fellow runner telling him about the explosions.
“We started panicking,” he said. “We just grabbed our stuff and figured we needed to get out of the city before anything else happened or before it all got locked down and couldn’t get out. We just ran downstairs. We had all of our luggage and everything.”
All eight persons piled into a car and went straight to the Massport-Logan Airport.
“The whole thing was very surreal,” Harris said. “I would describe it like a nightmare. I was already pretty emotional from finishing the race. You always get emotionally drained. We had several blocks to walk to get in his car. You see people running by crying. You see all the cops and medics. You see the helicopters overhead. There are sirens everywhere. It is something. It is not the kind of thing you can describe. It’s this feeling of uneasiness. You didn’t know if there were more bombs or if anything else was going to happen.”
The feelings of anticipation and anxiousness felt by Harris before the race were suddenly replaced with rage and anguish.
“There was sadness first and foremost for the people that were hurt and who died,” he said. “There are just no words for that. Anger because this is something nobody was doing anything to hurt anybody. We were all just running. I think about the people who trained for several months to run this race and couldn’t even finish because it was blocked. I think about that and it makes me really angry. All of us were just trying to run. It was just a lot of anger because this is one of the most natural and free things to do. It’s harmless. For someone to pick that to target and make us feel insecure to do, it is just unfair. It’s wrong.”
Harris returned to the area on Tuesday, but his life will never be the same after Monday.
As for his future in the Boston Marathon, Harris’ enthusiasm has changed because of the recent bombings.
“Whenever I was running this race, I said I’d never do it again,” he said. “Now, I hope that everyone does just because of these people. We won’t be scared of them and live in fear.”