Marathon tragedy hits close to home for Alexandria businessman

Marathon tragedy hits close to home for Alexandria businessman
(Library of Congress)

By Melissa Quinn

Chris Farley was standing in the security line at Boston’s Logan Airport when he learned the news.

He’d signed into his Twitter account and faced a steady stream of 140-character accounts of the day’s events. Pictures of the finish line at the Boston Marathon consumed his feed. But instead of seeing runners celebrating, their hands raised in fists of glory as they crossed the blue-and-yellow finish line, he saw carnage.

It looked like a war zone.

It wasn’t long before the Alexandria businessman and running enthusiast evolved into a digital newsman — his fellow travelers huddled close around his phone in an attempt to get a glimpse of the scene.

“It was one of those big events in your life that you always remember where you were,” said Farley, owner of Pacers Running Stores.

Explosions mar ‘Marathon Monday’

More than 23,000 runners registered for the Boston Marathon this year, but only a portion of the competitors crossed the finish line. Tragedy struck around 2:50 p.m. Monday.

For many runners, the race is the pinnacle of their year, said Farley, who ran the marathon in 2000, ’04 and ’08. Crossing the finish line is a spectacle unto itself.

Hundreds of friends, family members and supporters line the barricades along Boylston Street, standing six and seven people deep. It’s a state holiday in Massachusetts — Patriots’ Day — and positive energy courses through the crowd of cheering bystanders.

“It’s that powerful of an experience,” Farley said. “You have the city that is Boston, and the event that is Patriots’ Day, and the race that is the Boston Marathon.”

But for more than 5,000 runners, finishing the race is an experience they may never have, at least not this year. About four hours into the marathon, long after the elite runners had finished, an improvised explosive device detonated near the finish line.

The blast, which was followed by a second explosion several hundred feet away, killed three people — including an 8-year-old boy — and wounded more than 170.

Pandemonium erupted in Boston while officials in Washington and New York City heightened security. The Boston Police Department and FBI have not named a suspect in the bombings.

“This was a heinous and cowardly act,” President Barack Obama said in a briefing Tuesday. “We will find whoever harmed our citizens, and we will bring them to justice. … The American people refuse to be terrorized.”

‘I am still a little rattled’

Farley has long been a staple of the running community in Alexandria. His stores span Northern Virginia, and the homegrown company often hosts local races.

Though he’s run the Boston Marathon several times, he traveled to the city this year on business, attending a summit hosted by New Balance at the Lenox Hotel — just 25 yards from the first explosion.

“It’s where we stay every year,” said Farley, who has attended the summit since 2009. “The Lenox is very chaotic and crowded.”

Farley had walked the area near the hotel countless times in the hours before the blast, cheering on family, friends and employees as they completed the 26.2-mile run.

For him, the most unnerving thing about Monday was realizing he had walked past an undetonated explosive without even knowing it.

“I am still a little rattled,” he said. “Events like this are such a great way to bring this community together. I feel like that was all threatened.”

After Farley’s meeting ended, he began to make his way to a waiting cab around 2:30 p.m. — less than 30 minutes before the explosion. He had a 4 p.m. flight to catch and had to run, dragging his suitcases about a half-mile up the road just to reach the taxi.

“It’s a little unnerving that you’re trapped in that area because it is by the finish line, and there’s really no way out of there and there’s such a crowd of people,” Farley said. “It takes you 10 minutes to get 50 yards.”

Farley made his way to Logan Airport without learning about the attack. But once he got inside, the news came pouring in. His friends recounted their stories of the scene, and for many, they just didn’t know whether the bombings were over or not.

Guests at the Lenox Hotel were told to stay put and then evacuate, as fears about a bomb in the building escalated — though there wasn’t one.

“It was frantic and very uncertain for everyone who was there,” Farley said.

Thankfully for Farley, those he knew who were running and watching were safe. But the bomb detonated near longtime friend Colin Peddle’s store, Marathon Runners.

Employees inside reacted quickly, Farley said, running outside with shirts and shorts to use as makeshift tourniquets for the wounded.

“It was a horrific scene,” he said.

Local race organizers beef up security

Alexandria is a hotbed for runners. More than 50 participants represented the Port City at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
Several major races run through the city, including the Marine Corps Marathon, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Run and Pacers’ George Washington Parkway Classic — scheduled for this weekend.

Responding to the tragedy in Boston, race organizers will take extra precautions at the run, said Kathy Dalby, the event managing partner at Pacers. They have been in contact with city officials, local law enforcement and U.S. Parks Police and will enhance an already-robust health and safety plan.

“There will be increased vigilance and police presence,” Dalby said. “We feel very confident we have a very solid plan going in.”

And though no official plans have been made, runners have contacted Dalby with ideas to pay tribute to those affected by the explosions. Many will run in their Boston Marathon gear, and Dalby hopes to have a moment of silence at the start.

“In the running community here, everyone is standing together and is very concerned,” she said. “Something will happen to see what we can do to honor those who were up there.”

The popular Marine Corps Marathon and Woodrow Wilson Run are scheduled, as usual, for the fall, and race organizers have not confirmed any plans for increased security.

Dalby, along with Mayor Bill Euille and Congressman Jim Moran (D-8), are hopeful residents here and across the country will come together in support of Boston and marathon runners.

“What occurred in Boston is a sad reminder that terrorist threats are a part of all our lives. But they will not damper the American spirit that defines us,” Moran said. “Even in the midst of [Monday’s] chaos, first responders, volunteers, runners and spectators rushed to the bomb site to help the injured, putting the lives of their fellow man ahead of their own personal safety.

“That instinctive call to action to help our fellow citizens is part of what makes this country great, and why no act or acts of terror will ever break us.”

‘Very lucky’

As news of the bombings in Boston spread throughout the Port City, Farley received a steady stream of messages from concerned fellow runners and Pacers customers.

But much to the relief of his friends and family, he was OK, and once again took to Twitter — this time reflecting on his near miss.

“Definitely walked by that spot numerous times,” he typed. “Very lucky.”