KU grad finishes Boston Marathon just before explosions

Kansas University graduate Patrick Mathay was a half-mile from the finish at Monday’s Boston Marathon when he noticed the middle-aged man running step-for-step with him.

Without saying a word, the two knew an informal race was on.

A few hours later, in a friend’s third-story apartment on Newbury Street in Boston, Mathay couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened had he not been pushed to run faster by that man — the one he’d never met.

Mathay, 26, crossed the finish line about 45 seconds before the first of two explosions went off about 75 yards behind him.

“If I had run about a second slower a mile or if I hadn’t run as fast as I did with this gentleman at the end,” Mathay said, “maybe circumstances would be different.”

At first, Mathay didn’t react much to the “big boom” that he heard. As an avid marathon runner — he’s taken part in four since October — he knew that many times event organizers shot off cannons when famous people crossed the finish line.

“But then, I could tell people were concerned. People started screaming,” Mathay said. “And right when I turned around was when the second explosion happened.”

Mathay said he noticed a plume of smoke about 70 to 100 feet in the air. People were running past the finish line — not a common sight following a 26.2-mile race.

Some women were crying around him, and an older man was very angry, saying he didn’t know why someone would do this. “Just a lot of very human emotions going on,” Mathay said.

That included panic.

Because runners are confined by gates past the finish line, many people were trying to run to break free of the crowd.

A few older people around Mathay worked to keep the order, telling folks they needed to walk or everyone was going to get trampled.

Despite the confusion, finish-line volunteers continued their routine, handing out medals and bananas to competitors while other runners were wrapped in space blankets.

“No one could say what had actually taken place,” Mathay said. “Over time, as you saw the looks on everyone else’s faces, and of course the sirens started … so you knew something had gone wrong.”

Afterward Mathay — he lives in Boston and ran in the race as a “bandit,” meaning he didn’t sign up and didn’t have an official time — walked a block and a half to his friend’s house, continuing to look over his shoulder to try to piece together what had happened.

Mathay, who triple-majored in history, European studies and Spanish at KU, said he’d always wanted to run in the Boston Marathon. “It’s weird to think that if, at any point, a shoelace had come untied, or if I had slowed down for any reason, that I would have maybe been closer to that,” he said.

Other local connections

As news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon’s finish line spread Monday afternoon, Lawrence’s close-knit running community compared notes on the whereabouts of friends they knew who were participating.

While seven Lawrence runners were signed up to run in the marathon, only four actually participated, according to the Boston Athletic Association’s athlete tracker at BAA.org.

Tiffany Francis, John Frydman and Benjamin Jones all finished the race before the explosions, with each completing the 26.2-mile event in less than four hours.

The status of the fourth Lawrence participant, Jodie Cochrane, was confirmed Tuesday afternoon when she contacted the Journal-World via telephone to say she was OK. She had a half-marathon split time of 1:51:29.

“I have been getting several inquiries as to whether we have any Dog Day people at the marathon,” Beverly Gardner, wife of community workout leader Don “Red Dog” Gardner, whose group includes Frydman and Francis, wrote in an email. “We know that everyone is OK but that is the only information that I have received. This is such a terrible thing that has happened, and everyone involved could use your prayers.”

According to Dan Harris, former athletic director at Baker University, his son and daughter-in-law, Kit and Sarah Harris, were at the Boston Marathon with their 13-year-old son, Cael. Kit Harris teaches English at Baldwin High School. Dan said Sarah ran the marathon, and was about two and a half miles from the finish when the bombs went off.

Kit later posted to his Facebook account: “We are all 3 safe at our hotel now. We finally got cab ride out of city and are fine. Thank you everybody for texts/calls. Sorry could not reply. Cell service was awful and everybody was on their phones. And Cael & I were trying to get to Sarah, we didn’t know where she was & vice versa for a while.”