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Canadians in Boston: 'I don’t think I’ll ever get that sound out of my head'

The day after: A woman crosses an empty street near the site of the two explosions on Tuesday, as a large part of downtown Boston remained cordoned off as a crime scene.

GRETCHEN ERTL/NYT

The Globe and Mail's community team asked Canadians who were at the marathon or who live in the U.S. to share their experiences. Below are some of the responses.

We flew out of Boston at 1 p.m. on Tuesday and just landed in Chicago. Nice to be back en route to Calgary.

Reflecting back, there is definitely a feeling of being lucky, and honestly, it still doesn't feel like it has sunk in. Our daughter (who is seven) has been peppering us with questions about the bombing and the eight-year-old boy who died. Those are tough questions to field and explain. One minute she was standing on top of Heartbreak Hill cheering her dad on in the world's most prestigious marathon; and two hours later, we are confined to our hotel room with the city on lockdown after two bombs exploded. That's a lot to absorb for a seven-year-old.

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I really feel like the running and marathon community are coming together. I have just learned that there is "Run for Boston Calgary" being organized for Saturday to celebrate the race and running through adversity.

Blaine Penny, Calgary

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I returned to Toronto Tuesday morning, and was interviewed twice at Logan airport by police officers who wondered whether I had any photographs or video or saw anything unusual near the finish line (I didn't). I finished seven minutes before I heard the explosions and saw the smoke. I had been given my finisher's medal but hadn't picked up my checked clothing bag.

Those of us who were still in the finishing area immediately thought it was a terrorist attack. The mood changed dramatically from one of celebration to one of dismay and concern. My thoughts are of course with the innocent victims who were there to celebrate the athletic achievements of their friends and loved ones but who have lost their lives or limbs.

But let me react also as an amateur athlete who has qualified for and run the Boston Marathon a dozen years in a row: The Boston Marathon is a wonderful, unique event, meticulously planned and executed by the efforts of selfless volunteers. It is an event in which amateur athletes who earn the privilege compete on the same course at the same time as the greatest distance runners in the world. Few athletic events have the sense of tradition and lore of the Boston Marathon. I wonder whether it will ever be the same. But we can't live in fear, or the bad guys win. So maybe I'll come back a 13th time next year after all.

Gavin MacKenzie,Toronto

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I finished almost an hour before the blast, but had walked back to the finish area one last time just before 3 p.m., when I met my husband and three sons in the lobby of the Westin, a block south of the blast. It is very disconcerting to realize how close we were to the tragedy. There was chaos at the time, but it was more a sense of confusion as everyone tried to make sense of what was happening. The emergency response was overwhelming in both its volume and level of efficiency.

The whole experience was particularly upsetting to my eight-year-old, who is old enough to sense that something was seriously amok. While we have shielded him from much of the media reports, he has seen enough. I suspect we will be having some very serious discussions together in the days to come.

Sarah Strickey, Ottawa

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I took the first flight out to Toronto this morning. I'm just walking around my neighbourhood here because I need some normalcy. What happened Monday, no one would have ever thought.

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On the plane ride home, they were quite a few marathon runners. They were very quiet. No one wanted to talk about their race. Their thoughts were more with those who got hurt and killed, including (she says through tears) an eight-year-old boy.

If I can take a bit of comfort, it's in how many people pulled together so quickly to help. I was amazed at how quickly they stopped runners from getting anywhere close to where the explosion happened. And runners who had cellphones were throwing them at other runners so they could contact family that were waiting for them at the finish line, telling them "you need to get out of there." It says something about human behaviour, everyone so quickly and collectively reaching out.

Tanya Wharton, Toronto (finished the race at the three-hour, 33-minute mark)

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I am still in Boston and the mood is still one of utter disbelief. Late into the evening, sirens were going off and the feeling was rather unnerving. At the time of the explosion, I was about 500 metres away getting some food. After the explosions, we stayed inside, as many people were saying there were potential other bombs. Over the past 24 hours I have had a mixed bag of emotions. Starting with the typical pre-race nerves, to excitement when I crossed the finish in under three hours, to shock and sadness only a few hours later.

The city as a whole is rallying together. At about 9 p.m., I saw a line of fire trucks, and one family had made the firefighters spaghetti and were going to each truck giving them a meal. This morning, a car stopped on the side of the road where I was walking and the driver said, "Good job yesterday."

There are other signs of how people are feeling. The cashier at Starbucks said "stay safe" when he passed me my coffee, and I am currently travelling with a rather large bag and have been receiving some extra looks as many people are questioning what could be in there. There is also heightened security in the city, with police officers in some of the subways and on the street.

The running community is resilient and that can be seen by many people going to the hospital to donate blood. It is shame that this event that brought together such a diverse crowd, in such a positive and peaceful way, was turned into the complete opposite. The race in the end is of little importance, and thoughts are with all those who were directly impacted by the tragedy.

Terrence Teixeira, Mississauga, Ont.

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I left Boston early Tuesday morning. There was increased police at each major hotel and around the city. The border crossing at Holton from Maine to New Brunswick had several police vehicles with flashing lights and delays in afternoon.

I feel very disappointed and sorry for the runners who had yet to cross the finish line, as well as the runners and spectators who were unfortunate enough to be near the scene of the explosions. It's made me more hesitant about attending major athletic events in the future.

Chris Linstead,Victoria

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We're still in shock at what happened. My wife accompanied me down to Boston for the marathon. It's my seventh time running Boston, and it's always the "carrot" that gets me out the door for my long runs in Toronto's cold, dark winter mornings. The mood in around the finishing line went from festive to tragic in a matter of seconds. I had already crossed the finish and had met up with my wife. Our hotel is one block from the finish line on Clarendon Avenue. We were just walking up the street when we heard the first of two horrific booms. We looked down the street and saw plumes of smoke and everyone started running in panic.

My wife and I jumped on the closest subway station to get to safety. The subway was jammed with exhausted and bewildered runners and their families. I was crying on the subway thinking that my wife had been standing in that exact spot for over an hour waiting for me to cross the finish line. I don't think I'll ever get that sound out of my head and the absolute vulnerability we all felt. We just wanted to be home in Toronto surrounded by loving family and friends.

The airport was eerily quiet and all flights were grounded. We were bumped up to the first available flight and we finally got out of Boston around 9:30 p.m. I've run 63 marathons and always held a special place in my heart for Boston. By attacking the marathon community, you're picking a fight with some of the most resilient, peaceful people on earth. We are strong as individuals, but even stronger as a united running community.

Jean-Paul Bedard,Toronto

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While working out at my university rec centre, I looked up to see students huddled around the multiple televisions in the gym. While the news of the bombings in Boston covered the screens, the hundred or so students and faculty members in the gym stood silent with mouths agape. Being a historian, I watched the various reactions and facial expressions of the shocked viewers.

While personally horrified, having been to the Boston Marathon on numerous occasions to cheer on my parents, the reactions encompassed the entire spectrum from astonishment to tears to anger to fear to an "oh, well" shrug of the shoulders. While surveying the responses to the gruesome scenes flashing across the TVs, I questioned myself, "Are Americans becoming indifferent to the violence, or has it just become a part of accepted daily life?" I do not know the answer. However, with the shootings in Denver and at Sandy Hook Elementary School, among other recent acts of violence, these bombings heighten an already tragic year.

Timothy C. Winegard, expat from Sarnia, Ont., Grand Junction, Colo.

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I am on the phone every week to people in Boston as most of the administrative offices of my company, John Hancock, are located there. John Hancock (the U.S. division of Manulife Financial) is the lead sponsor of the Boston Marathon, so there are many colleagues who get involved with the event in some capacity every year. Our company president in Boston sent out an e-mail this morning letting everybody know that no one in the organization was harmed and that we are operating on our Business Continuation Plan (something that financial companies have in the event of unusual events that might disrupt normal business functions).

Whether it is the Centennial Park bombing in Altanta during the 1996 Olympics, Monday's events in Boston, or the countless times that this has occurred in public squares and sporting events in other countries, it is always so tragic. I have always loved the community-centred spirit at the heart of sport. I completed a half-marathon in Miami a few years ago and I remember the finish line as such a happy, even euphoric place where people of all ages and backgrounds share common achievement and community.

I wonder if the NRA has any rationalizations for defending bombs as instruments of freedom, as they surely would if this carnage was unleashed by somebody with an AR-15?

Ashley O'Kurley, expat from Alberta living in Miami

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My response to the attack at the Boston Marathon is very personal. My nine-year-old son loves to run road races. He ran the 5K Race for Raleigh on Sunday and placed third in his age group. He plans to run another 5K in two weeks. Marathons and other road races should celebrate accomplishment. How devastating to see the Boston Marathon turn into a tragedy.

Unlike gun control, which sparks so much debate and so little consensus, Americans tend to be united in both their resolve against terrorism and the protection of freedom. I think we'll see renewed vigour from the White House regarding the War on Terror, but I don't think we'll see many changes at the local level as to how these events are run. I would hate to see spectators barred from race routes or from the finish.

Let me say, however, that every runner will start his next race with a heavy heart and their loved ones will be awfully happy to see them finish safely.

Meredith Nelson, expat from Ottawa living in Raleigh, N.C.

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I returned from Boston Tuesday morning.

The scene early this morning was calm and quite somber at the airport. I was not wearing a marathon jacket, so the fellow behind me in line wearing his was questioned by Homeland Security about what he might have seen or experienced, and all passengers getting on the flight were asked similar questions by police at the gate.

It added to the heartbreak to feel so useless. All the runners were focused on the performance, or, in my case, focused on enjoying the great celebration of running culture that is the Boston Marathon. And so none of us could offer much in the way of information much as we would like to have.

For many of us, the images of a perfect day at Boston are forever scarred by the images of horror broadcast as we arrived back at our hotels. For the victims we will carry on, we will keep running and cheer loudly as spectators whenever we can.

Blake Paton, Haliburton, Ont.

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Today I woke up feeling much better than yesterday. The chaos and siren-filled streets had settled. I realized how blessed I was to have been safe and how much worse the situation could have been. The citizens of Boston are truly amazing and were willing to step up to help in an instant. I was brave enough to step out of the condo I was staying at this morning (after locking myself in due to Monday's events). I took the subway to meet my friend at the Park Plaza hotel, from which we were going to taxi to the airport together. There were cops and security on every corner and they even ushered me to the subway and then again to my friend's hotel. The city of Boston will pull together. It is such an unfortunate event, and my prayers are with those affected. Because of how amazing the response was to this horrific event, I do feel safe enough to return to run the Boston Marathon in 2014.

Nicole Mikhael, Ottawa

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I am still in a bit of a state of shock and disbelief. Being so close to the initial blast was definitely a surreal moment. My mind went from joy and anticipation to absolute horror in an instant. It's hard to cope with the images of those spectators in front of me, who at one moment were smiling and cheering, to the next where they were scattered, disarrayed, terrified or worse. It is still hard to digest the gravity of the situation, but at the time my only instinct was to escort my mother to safety. Sitting where we were, there was a very real belief that we could be next. Once we escaped the bomb site, my next thoughts were with my father who was scheduled to be running by at the time of the explosion  and my sister who had finished about 45 minutes prior. There were a couple of tense hours before we all regrouped. Luckily my father was about 500m behind the blast and was safely rerouted. I'm just grateful that we are all safe. And grateful to the city of Boston for facilitating such a safe evacuation and to the people who remained so calm and collected while fleeing.

I was in Boston until 6 p.m. Tuesday. From about noon to 4 p.m. we walked around the vicinity of the attacks as we were staying close by at the Park Plaza hotel. The mood was very somber, with a feeling of hope and optimism. There was a great scene I witnessed as a runner was walking the streets with a friend, both draped in their aluminum towels from the race. One guy had a saxophone and was playing the star spangled banner while the other was holding a little flag. I'm happy to be home in Toronto, but feel very separated now from what happened. It's a very strange feeling right now, like it didn't really happen. Like it was just a movie or something and now I'm home back to reality.

Stefan Graci, Toronto

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