Before the Boston Marathon was battered by bombs, killing at least three people and changing one of the world’s most famous races forever, Thomas Madut was having a wonderful day.
The former Lincoln High School track and cross country standout finished the demanding course Monday with a personal-best time of 2 hours and 29 minutes, placing him 73rd in the men’s division amid a total field of nearly 27,000 entrants.
By the time a pair of explosions staggered the finish line area, sending Copley Square into pandemonium, Madut was two blocks away, trying to locate friends who had finished behind him, oblivious to the blasts.
“I did not hear it,” said Madut, a 27-year-old native of South Sudan who graduated from Dakota Wesleyan and lives in Mitchell. “There were too many buildings, too many people. But then I heard all these sirens and saw police and ambulances rushing past where we were. I thought maybe a generator exploded or something; I didn’t know it was a bomb.”
He soon realized that something sinister had occurred, amid a crowded downtown scene that up until Monday added to the event’s charm. On Patriots Day, the Red Sox play and then comes the race, lining Boston’s streets with spectators and family members lending support to the marathoners.
This time, the faces Madut encountered were filled with panic.
“Everyone was being pushed back, and there was a lot of confusion,” said Madut, who made his Boston Marathon debut last year, finishing 46th with a time of 2:35:18. “Everybody was just packed in and confused on the street, trying to find their loved ones and wondering what was going on.”
It was a striking contrast from what the Lincoln grad encountered earlier on the course, where spectators shout encouragement along the route from Hopkinton to Framingham, past Wellesley College and Heartbreak Hill. In other words, the scenes that the Boston Marathon unique.
“From the starting line to the finish, the entire city is just phenomenal,” Madut said after last year’s race. “Everybody shares, from the beginning to the finish. There are people everywhere — handing out water, Gatorade, slapping your hands on both sides, just going crazy. It’s so beautiful. You don’t even feel like you’re running.”