Bob Ansheles, the director of marketing and membership for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and a former sales manager at Isthmus, had finished the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon and was a couple blocks away from the finish line when he heard the first blast.
"My legs had really stiffened up, so I was trying to walk it off a little bit and get some water, pick up my things," Ansheles recalls by phone from Maine Tuesday morning. "I was walking back toward the finish line to meet my family, and I heard the first explosion go off. Boylston Street has a lot of tall buildings on both sides, so the sound was really contained. It sounded like a cannon, not fireworks or a backfire, but like you'd expect a huge explosion to sound. Everyone just froze. And then within a few seconds, the second blast went off, and everybody realized we're screwed. Something really bad is happening."
Ansheles, a native New Englander, has run eight marathons, two in Boston. As he describes the experience of running the most storied road race in the country, it's clear he loves every part of it.
"You start at Boston Common at six in the morning waiting for the buses," he says. "They drive you way out to this high school in Hopkinton for another two to three hours waiting for your start time. Maybe you wait in the porta-potty line for 40 minutes shooting the breeze, or sit on the bus next to somebody for 30 minutes. You're around all these people and you're just kind of sharing in the glow of, 'Hey, we made it! We're about to run Boston!' I talked to dozens of people before the race. But even during the race, if you see somebody walking a little bit, you might shout out, 'Hey, come on. Get back in, you can run with me for a while.'"
Runners do most of their training alone, so an event like the Boston Marathon offers a rare opportunity to get together. Only two runners, a man and a woman, claim championships, but every marathon is a celebration of attempting and finishing for the thousands who come after, especially in Boston, where simply qualifying for the race is an accomplishment. Ansheles compares the feeling he has now to a "sock in the gut," despite finishing the race with a good time and sharing the moment with his kids and sisters.
"There's a whole community spirit, and it's particularly prevalent at the finish line, because you can imagine that all the nervousness and excitement and lonely hours of training are over;" says Ansheles. "You're about to get your medal, people are comparing notes. It's really just a huge party with the runners and the volunteers and the families all really excited. And in an instant, it just stopped."