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Smolar visiting a memorial for victims. Photo: Brad Smolar

Personal best: accident of time helps Boston runner survive

Heady with euphoria, a runner crosses the finish line faster than expected, not knowing it would be one of the luckiest accidents of his life


While many runners commit, sacrifice and train for years to earn the monikers of "Boston Marathon qualifier" and "Boston Marathon finisher", I will now always be first and foremost, a Boston Marathon 2013 survivor, one who can still live to run another day.

As the dust settled over the city, with the shelter-in-place order lifted following the day-long manhunt for the bombers and the streets deemed safe to return, a sign of normalcy slowly returned to my beloved hometown. I feel blessed to have narrowly escaped the chaos at the finish line and be able to share my story of triumph before the senseless tragedy.

Brad Smolar after the race. Photo: Brad Smolar
Having raced constantly against the clock for months to get here, this day was all about "living" in these moments and celebrating with the 500,000 people who would line the streets of Boston. The city had proudly graced me with "rock star" status, jumping me to the front of the line wherever I went and presenting me with an honorary membership at a local health club.

Being a Boston Marathon Qualifier is a big deal. Now fully indoctrinated into this special family, I was ready for the 42.2-kilometre victory lap through the storied streets of Boston, retracing the footsteps of the world's greatest runners.

I soaked it all in, stopping intermittently along the course for the customary high-fives, photos, hugs and even a few memorable kisses from the brainy Wellesley College girls.

As billed, it was a street party like no other.

As the miles seemed to slowly drift away, I too slowed down to desperately try to hold on to any last moments of this incredible journey. Flashbacks of my training, the setbacks and new relationships that brought me here, all came flooding in.

As I sailed across the finish line some 31/2 hours later, just before 2pm, and dancing through the strong headwinds which contributed to some of the slowest winning times in years, it hit me that it was now over. But before the realisation could sink in too deeply, two bombs exploded near the finish line at 2.49pm, only 30 minutes before I would have been handed my official medal and guided through the other post-race formalities.

I thank God for blessing me to move at the right pace, right speed ...  that would allow me to live to run another day

What's most haunting is that I was meant to cross the finish line between 2.30pm to 3pm as originally planned with my parents, a time when VIPs and other dignitaries would have been escorted out of the area, allowing my mum and dad to better witness their son's epic moment up close. They had been on their way to the finish line with my sister, and would have been waiting there long after I had left the area, around the precise time of the bomb blasts.

Miraculously, the car dropped them off on the wrong side of the road and they were unable to get through. I went straight to the family waiting area (two blocks from the finish line) to look for them.

Several minutes later, when we found each other, we heard the two loud explosions and the sudden influx of sirens as roads were quickly closed, mobile phone lines shut down and police cars and ambulance filled the streets.

With extraordinary assistance from employees at a major Boston bank which somehow was still open at the time, we were able to locate our ride and safely navigate our way on to the family home - my first visit in two years.

I thank God for blessing me to move at the right pace, right speed and for the incomprehensible intuition and chain of events that would allow me to live to run another day. It just so happened that I finished early, having no real awareness of time, and I was not quite ready for the story to end.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: One minute yields a second chance