One moment Monday afternoon, a dehydrated Winston Samarasingha was lying in a daze in the medical tent at the Boston Marathon finish line. The next moment, he was being asked to leave so that emergency personnel could use his cot for something unimaginable.
“It was pretty bad....terrible. Just terrible,” Samarasingha said Monday evening. “I saw things.....people....losing their legs. You don't think about something like this after a marathon.”
Samarasingha, age 39, had completed his first Boston Marathon roughly 30 minutes before the two, separate blasts rocked Boylston Street near the finish line. Two people, one an eight-year-old boy, died and over a hundred were injured.
“This little boy? Eight years old? He was probably there watching somebody like his dad or mom run the Boston,” Samarasingha said, his voice rising. “As a runner, you dream of Boston. You come to Boston, this great city with great people, and celebrate the greatest race. I don't know how anyone could do this.”
Samarasingha has run the Chicago and New York City Marathons along with six other marathons. But nothing has ever matched his experience Monday. During or after the race. Despite severe cramping, Samarasingha finished in 3 hours, 37 minutes and 49 seconds and finished 10,594th out of 17,580 finishers. An estimated 5,000 runners were diverted from the course and unable to finish the final half-mile of the 26.2-mile event.
“It really was all I expected,” the native of Sri Lanka said. “The people and the crowds were amazing. This is the most famous race, the most famous course.”
“I had a good race for 23 miles and then I had to walk,” Samarasingha said. “At the finish, they had to help me because I couldn't stand.”
He was immediately from the finish line to the medical tent within 100 meters of the finish line. He was given an IV in order to replace fluids and he lie down to soak in his achievement.
“I heard this explosion, but we didn't know it was an explosion,” Samarasingha said. “It was just a loud sound but we didn't know what it was. Then all (the medical personnel) left. There was lots of screaming and yelling outside (the tent) and then volunteers were rushing back into the tent saying we had to go.”
Little did he know, his journey was only halfway complete. After his nearly four-hour run from Hopkinton to Boston, it would take another four hours to get back to his hotel.
“We had to go to the baggage busses and then they were trying to help us get on the right bus,” Samarasingha said. “It was confusing because some people were looking for family or other runners.”
To add to the confusion: the nearly 5,000 runners coming from a different direction. From there, runners had to be directed to the family greeting area and the baggage busses where they could claim their running gear. (Runners place their warm-ups and other gear in baggage busses at the starting line and then reclaim them near the finish.)
Long after the blasts when he was finally on a bus, Samarasingha was still numb.
“The people on our bus were all very sad. Their children were crying. Even the bus driver was very upset,” Samarasingha said.
Once back at his hotel and able to use his cell phone (service was temporarily shut down in Boston), Samarasingha spent several hours connecting with family from his homeland and running friends from around the world.
“I had over 40 messages and calls,” Samarasingha. “So many people were worried about me.”
Throughout his conversations, Samarasingha referred to Monday's race as his “first Boston” and so he was asked if he would go back.
“Definitely I want to go back. This will not stop people from coming to Boston,” Samarasingha said. “We are runners and we have a great spirit. We will all come back. And so will the crowds.”