HOPE, Maine — Theresa Withee was less than a half mile from the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon when she heard two loud explosions.
“When I heard them, I thought maybe they were cannons going off as a part of the Patriots Day celebration,” Withee said.
But a minute later, police officers quickly approached the group of runners she was with, hands raised, telling the runners to stop.
She questioned one officer who said there had been an explosion but the participants were not told specifically what had occurred. Another five minutes passed before race helpers informed the group of about 50 runners in her cluster that the race was over. The race officials removed barriers that had been erected on the sides of the race route and told the runners to go home.
For the next 90 minutes, Withee and her husband, Charles Weidman, both of Hope, tried to find each other in the confusion.
Weidman was on the subway, trying to get to the finish line to watch Theresa complete her second Boston Marathon. The train stopped at Kenmore Square, well short of the destination, and riders on the packed train were told to get off because the train was no longer in service. They were not told anything else.
Weidman said the train earlier had been delayed about five minutes and if not for that delay he would have been walking along the path where the explosions occurred.
From the Kenmore station, he walked until he came upon thousands of runners who had been stopped.
“I was milling through the crowd trying to find her because I knew she would be cold,” Weidman said.
Meanwhile, Withee and the runners she was with were directed to go back to their buses where their belongings were located.
“At first I sat on a bench and put my head in my hands. I was cold, and I knew I was probably dehydrated and needed water.” Withee said. “But I knew I couldn’t get anything where I was.”
She followed the other people along the eight blocks to where the buses were located.
“The farther we walked the more information we got,” as runners encountered people who had been closer to the blast sites, Withee said.
On the way, one runner gave Withee an extra pair of socks that she used as arm warmers. A college-age male runner gave her his sweatshirt to help her get warm and told her to keep it.
Eventually, Withee made it to the bus and collected her items, including her cellphone. But the phone did not work because of the volume of calls being made.
“I thought, ‘Where would my husband go?’ I was pretty sure he would go to the hotel, so I decided I would go to the hotel,” Withee said.
Weidman said after he had gone through the crowd of runners where he was, he realized Withee was not there and must have made it farther along the race route. He said he knew his wife probably would have gone to the medical tent set up near the finish line if she had completed the race because her knee had been hurting. But, he said, he was told the medical tent area had been evacuated and no one knew where the people were relocated.
“I tend not to worry about things I have no control over. I was concerned for her safety but I wouldn’t say I was worried because there was nothing I could do. If she had been blown up I knew people would be caring for her. And if she had made it past the explosion and made it to the medical tent then I know people would be caring for her,” Weidman said.
He said his main worry was that she was wandering around without anything to keep her warm.
Withee said there was a time when she was worried about her husband.
“Initially I was worried because I didn’t know if he had made it ahead of me and was waiting at the end,” Withee said.
Along a section of Commonwealth Avenue, people were coming out of the homes and offering food, water and items to keep the thousands of runners warm. Weidman had already given out the items he had in his pack to other runners.
At 4:30 p.m., a little more than 90 minutes after the bomb blasts, Weidman saw three people sitting near the doorstep of one of the homes and he asked if he could use their bathroom. As he went into the home, he received a call from Theresa.
They agreed to meet at the hostel on 40 Berkeley St. where they were staying. He arrived the Berkeley Street lodging place first because it was only about four blocks from where he received her call.
Withee said she got lost trying to find the hostel but Weidman texted directions to her and went out to meet her. They eventually met and got back together at Berkeley Street about 5 p.m.
Withee telephoned her daughter Shani, a University of Maine student, to tell her that they were fine. She also texted her brother that they were safe.
Withee was one of several midcoast Maine residents who trained together for the race. She said she and her husband arrived in Boston on Saturday night but did not see any of the local people during her stay there or during the race. But she said they sent text messages to each other, letting each other know they were safe and where they were.
Withee said she plans to run the Boston Marathon again.
Withee has been running all her life, she said. She ran her first Boston Marathon in 2011 and finished the 26.2-mile route in four hours and one minute. She said her goal had been to finish the course in less than four hours.
Withee has been running barefoot for the past six years. Weidman said his wife was the first woman in 2011 to run the race barefoot.
But her knee began hurting during the race and she realized she was not going to finish in less than four hours. The slower pace prevented her from being near the finish line when the explosion occurred.