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"There Is No Finish Line"

What the runners did when the bombs went off

Alex Trautwig/Stringer/Getty Images News

Lisa Verrico was passing Mile 21 when her cell phone pinged in its arm holster. Then it pinged again. And again.

Without breaking stride, she took it off her arm and looked: text messages from friends and family. Are you all right? Are you hurt? And then: A bomb went off at the finish line.

Verrico stopped running. "Holy shit," she said aloud.

All through the mass of runners on the Boston Marathon route, the news spread on Monday from those who were connected to the outer world to those who were not. One man heard the news through his earphones, tuned to the radio, and told his friend, running alongside him. Cellphones buzzed and pinged. On the sidelines, people stopped cheering and took out their phones.

Then sirens. Then choppers overheard.

"It sounded like a warzone," said Ellen Goldberg, from Nahant.

She had heard the news as it spread along the race route, but she was still running, coming up on Mile 24. As she ran, army personnel jogged up behind her. "Everybody off the road," they called. "Runners too."

As they passed her, one of them called back, "There is no finish line."

Goldberg didn't slow down. "I'm going to keep going," she panted. "Who's going to stop me?"

Minutes later, however, Beacon Street was closed. Runners met a metal gate set across the road at Carleton Street, flanked by police officers. "We're not letting anyone go down that route," one of the officers told the crowd. "I can't get you into Boston ... the Marathon's over. Done. Finished."

It was Mile 25.

The runners milled around, stymied. Their cell phones, by that point, were useless. Many were from out of town, or even from overseas, clueless as to where they were or how to get to where they were staying. Others, frantic, tried to reach family who had been waiting for them at the finish line. Frat brothers came out of a nearby house and started passing out bottles of water just as the police announced that there would be buses arriving up the road at Temple Ohabei-Shalom to pick up runners and take them to " a staging area."

Soberly but matter-of-factly, the runners walked back up Beacon Street. They passed the remains of a marathon party in a courtyard. Guests stood silently around a flatscreen TV that broadcast images of Copley Square streaked with blood.

At the temple, runners sheltered in the lobby or on the steps while temple staff and Brookline Community Emergency Response Team personnel wrangled food, cell phone chargers and water. Cell phone reception was returning. One runner crouched on the sidewalk, trying to explain to her child what had happened. She was taking it for granted that the bombing had been an Islamist attack. "Never be scared," she said into her phone, "We are the greatest country in the world, and this is not going to stop Mama from running any marathons, okay?"

Around 5:45, two buses pulled up. Clutching foil blankets, the runners filed on board. Standing room only.

The bus carried them down Beacon Street, past abandoned signs: KEEP GOING - GO KATE CUTE SKIRT - NOT FAR NOW

People on the sidewalks turned to watch the buses with their police motorcycle escort pass by. Some took pictures with their cell phones. On a stoop a man held his girlfriend while she cried. Through a side street, a glimpse of Copley Square.

They had passed the finish line.

S.I. Rosenbaum is a journalist living in Boston.