On Tuesday, runners with ties to the Quad-City area were still recounting their experiences at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
For some like Sheri Giese of Wilton, Iowa, who was making her fourth trip through the streets of Boston, the experience remains surreal.
For Bettendorf native Kevin Schlabach, the frustration of not being able to find his wife, who was in the spectator area to watch him finish his first marathon, was still fresh more than 24 hours later.
Panic, then reunion
Kevin Schlabach was a half-mile from the finish line when the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon.
His wife, Keiko, had a premier seat in the bleachers near the end of the race, maybe 25 yards from the blasts.
Thankfully, neither Schlabach, a 1997 graduate of Bettendorf High School, nor his wife was injured. But there were many moments of sheer panic as the pair tried to find each other in the ensuing chaos.
Running a marathon was a bucket-list quest of once-in-a-lifetime experiences for the 33-year-old Schlabach. He works for John Hancock Financial, the lead sponsor of the annual marathon. He signed up to be a first-time participant and was among 150 members of the John Hancock race team. The former high school and college swimmer only began serious distance running in October.
One of the perks for the Schlabachs of his participation was tickets to the bleachers at the finish line. Keiko, 29, was with a friend when they headed for their seats a few minutes before the blast occurred at the four-hour, nine-minute mark in the race.
The women were just sitting down when the first bomb went off. After the second explosion, people yelled "Get down!" and the two complied. In the panic that followed, they were stepped on by others leaving the bleachers, but they were not badly injured.
Keiko Schlabach and her friend decided to get out of the stands and away from the scene.
In the meantime, Kevin Schlabach and a buddy — who also works for John Hancock — were making their way to the finish line. They were at the 25.5 mile-mark when they encountered a veritable wall of people massed in the street.
When he and his friend heard about bombs going off at the finish line, they grew frantic about their wives.
"Luckily I brought my cell, but the phone calls didn't work. Texts (messages) actually got through," he said.
Schlabach added that his wife had signed up for a service in which she received automatic text messages giving her updates on where he was along the 26.2-mile marathon route. As soon as she got out of the stands, she was able to determine that he was safe.
In the quest to find their wives, Schlabach said he and his running partner were quickly at odds with the Boston police, who herded the remaining runners in the opposite direction from the finish line.
"We jumped the fences and made a circuitous route around police to get to our wives. Along the way, we found my friend's wife," he said.
Schlabach was working on adrenaline at that point. "I would say we were literally running on fumes there at the end. Once we heard about the bombs, I ran like 30 more minutes to find Keiko," he added.
Saw the smoke from both blasts
Neal Smith of Cambridge, Ill., had completed the marathon in three hours and 28 minutes and was standing at the corner of the Boston Commons when he and his wife heard a blast and saw smoke rising from down the street. It reminded them of a cannon being fired.
The Smiths then heard a second blast and saw more smoke, but they didn't learn exactly had happened for a few minutes.
"I just knew it wasn't good news," said Smith, a 1985 graduate of Davenport West High School.
Like Schlabach, this was 46-year-old Smith's first Boston Marathon. He began distance running when he was 40 years old.
"It was a special dream come true," he said. "It was great, but it went from very high to very low really quickly."
The Smiths' flight home was delayed at Logan Airport in Boston for three hours, so the couple didn't get back to Cambridge until late Tuesday afternoon.
Briana Flynn, 25, of Bettendorf, finished the race in three hours and 32 minutes. It was her first Boston Marathon, and she was a few blocks from the finish line when the bombs exploded.
Running the world's most famous marathon was simply on her bucket list, she said.
“It was a great experience up until the explosion,” she added. “It will be a much different memory."
Twenty minutes away
Sheri Giese of Wilton, Iowa, was participating in her fourth Boston Marathon. She finished the race in 3 hours and 39 minutes, and while she usually likes to mill around at the finish line to soak up the atmosphere, she had to catch a plane on Monday.
Giese, 40, pushed her way through the crowd and was driving a car to the airport when she heard about the bombing.
"I got to the airport and my phone was going crazy. That's when I started to get the reports, but we couldn't call out because the lines were blocked," she said.
"It was an incredibly surreal experience," she added.
The Wilton woman is part of a national group called Marathon Maniacs. On Sunday, on the eve of the event, they gathered at the finish line to get a group photo of everyone who was going to run the race. That was the exact spot where the bombs went off the next day, she said.
For her part, Giese said she has qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon and intends to run in the event. "It will be different going out there. But when you think of tragedies like this, that's what the terrorists want. They want people to be afraid," she added.
Flynn does not plan to run the Boston Marathon again, but Smith said he will try to qualify.
Kevin Schlabach also will do the marathon one more time. "But maybe not next year," he said.