Phil Kenkel could see the finish line. He was staring at it, until white billows of smoke and a loud noise broke his stare.
A professor in economics, Kenkel teaches Agricultural Cooperatives at Oklahoma State. On Monday, he traded his teaching for racing and he said he was 20 feet away when the second of two bombs went off in a building off Boylston Street.
He saw the first explosion, but he kept running.
At age 56 and running his first Boston Marathon, he was wondering whether to attempt to finish.
The male runner next to him asked, “What do we do now?”
What do you do when the world around you is shattering glass and scattering people? Do you keep running? Do you turn around?
It didn't make sense to Kenkel to stop and wait for more explosions. When the second bomb exploded, his decision was almost made for him. The street of Boylston had turned into a human marathon — of runners and spectators — and they were all running for their lives.
‘Everyone began to cry'
Susan Phillips of Oklahoma City sat in a wheelchair and bent over to loosen up the laces on her gray and blue Asics running shoes.
She was one of 86 Oklahomans who registered to run in this year's Boston Marathon. She just finished the 26.2 miles and wanted to go get her finisher medal and personal bag with her phone and clothes. Moments after she stood up, she felt the ground shake.
A nearby female runner grabbed hold of her.
“I immediately thought, ‘Oh my god,'” Phillips told The Oklahoman from a Starbucks about three blocks from the explosion. “Everyone began to cry.”
They were just a few blocks away from the explosions.
“There was a sense of panic in the beginning,” Phillips said. “It was scary.”
Phillips said all subway and bus lines closed in Boston, leaving her stranded from her parents, who were both OK but were a few miles away. They had watched her run by at mile No. 23.
Sadly, this isn't the first explosion Phillips felt. While living in Edmond in 1995, she felt the explosion from the Oklahoma City bombing.
Phillips now lives in Oklahoma City, about five miles from the Oklahoma City Memorial.
The last time she ran past it was Sunday.
Waiting to hear a voice
Phil Tucker had yet to hear his wife Noel's voice, but he received multiple text messages from numbers that weren't Noel's that indicated she was safe.
Phil was receiving text messages from numbers across America, but it was the one that came 30-45 minutes after the bombs exploded that gave him the most relief:
“At last half mile, 2 bombs went off at finish. Here for 45 minutes. Held on course. ...”
The next one came from a new number telling Phil that they were with his wife. He responded but found out that the person was no longer with Noel, so he responded, “Thanks for your kindness.”
Monday was a flashback, as for many Oklahomans, to April 19, 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred.
Eighteen years ago this week, Phil and Noel, who have a law firm in Edmond, were at the state courthouse, located directly down the street from that explosion.
“I remember some of those feelings,” Phil Tucker told The Oklahoman. “As soon as I heard, I flashed back memory wise to those days. It's a deal where you just don't know until you know. We're just glad she was kind of slower for that finish hill.
“A block can be all the difference in the world.”
Serenity never came
Phil Kenkel didn't want to admit his final time was more than 4 hours. He was just trying to enjoy the race.
He previously ran nine marathons, but the Boston Marathon was one he was really excited run, especially after all the years it took to qualify and the training it took to make it to April 15.
When the blast went off, Kenkel said he just focused on the mile in front of him. When he crossed the line, he was handed a medal and told to “keep going.”
He had planned to collapse at the end of the race, grab some water and food and watch other runners finish their dream.
“I wanted to enjoy the moment,” he said.
But that moment of serenity never came.
That final part of his last mile, he ran in the same direction as volunteers in white coats, police in black jackets and civilians in street clothes who ran for their lives and to help others.