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Locals near Boston chaos

'It was unreal—the race can't be stopped...'

April 24, 2013 - Bib number 23886 did not complete the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The race identification belonged to Bill Snyder, an educator for 45 years and Brandon Middle School principal for 15 years prior to his retirement in 2012.

On April 15, Snyder, 69, was about five miles away when two explosions ripped through the finish line on the 26.2 mile trek of the Boston Marathon. According to news reports, the blasts have left more than 170 injured and three dead. A massive manhunt for two suspects followed the incident for Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev of Cambridge, Mass. Tamerlan was killed in a gunfight with police overnight on April 19. Dzhokhar was taken into custody on April 19.

Snyder, an experienced Boston Marathoner and runner, flew in from his home in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. the day before, had extra motivation to enter the race.

In October 2012, Snyder had open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and convinced the doctor who performed the operation that a goal of training for the Boston Marathon was a good recovery plan. The Boston Marathon requires a qualifying time of 4 hours and 10 minutes for male runners 65-69.

"I had a heart valve replaced and was planning on still running the 2013 Boston Marathon," he said. "I still wanted to race and the doctor who did my surgery cleared me to go ahead and run."

For the first 20 miles, Snyder was happy with his performance.

"I was going mile by mile and made the first half (of the race) without stopping," he said. "I ran past Wellesley College and started to walk through a few water stops that are about every mile or so. I was doing great and felt better than I did in training. I was coming up on Heartbreak Hill—the last few miles are rolling (hills)."

Snyder said he was between mile 20 and 21 of the race when a young lady ran up beside him and asked him to stop running.

"I was doing pretty good in the race, at that point I was going to finish between five and six hours," he said. "I really did not want to stop, so I just kept going. Then she insisted that I stop and I thought I must look as if I'm going to pass out or something. But I felt good. This was going to be my 26th consecutive Boston (Marathon) why in the heck would I stop?"

"It was unreal—the race can't be stopped," he said. "No one was very happy out there, race workers were coming up and trotting along beside, saying the marathon was cancelled."

"At about that time, I looked ahead of me and there was a wall of Massachusetts State Police with automatic weapons across the road. 'This was serious now,' I thought. Neither the runners on the course, nor officials along the road, had any idea what had happened in the downtown area where the bombs went off. So, they gave us thermal blankets to wrap around us and we walked off the course. But they kept us together."

"There was a group of about 50 runners and we got on buses. They drove us to a public center in nearby Newton (Mass.)," he said. "There was a lot of confusion and we started to hear stories of what was going on and why the race was stopped. Then we went on the bus to Boston College where we stayed for about an hour. They were trying to consolidate the runners into groups. No one had any information—we'd hear different stories from people," he said.

Snyder had come to Boston the day before and was staying at a hotel downtown.

"My hotel was less than four blocks from where the bombs went off," he said. "A few hours after the race was cancelled the bus dropped me, along with other runners, downtown. I walked to my hotel and on the way I saw four or five trucks loaded with Massachusetts National Guard. Not just police or state troopers—soldiers with guns. They were at my hotel and I walked past them on the way inside. All those streets were part of the crime scene—I was on the outside edge. I had some friends that were staying in hotel rooms very close to the bombs and they had to stay in their rooms. They could not leave."

"It was very sobering—just four blocks away from the bombs," he said. "It was a mass of confusion, sirens—I had friends that were in the race ahead of me that heard the bombs go off. There were a lot of people in trouble. Some of the runners that fiinished the race, kept running and went right to the hospitals to give blood to help the victims. There was a doctor that finished the marathon, then ran to a hospital to help people."

The spirit and resilience of the Boston people and those associated with the marathon was amazing, added Snyder.

"I really wanted to finish the race, but when I think about the people who lost legs and arms and those that died, I don't feel bad for myself," he said. "I'll be back next year for another try. Like most all runners, we are a family that provides encouragement to each other to continue—it's not a race against each other, rather against the clock."

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