Ron Roppelt was a quarter-mile from finishing his sixth Boston Marathon when he saw a plume of white smoke billowing from Boylston Street. It was a quarter-mile he’s glad he’ll never run.
Roppelt, 61, of Forest Hill was among 15 Harford County runners who participated in the marathon Monday, and was still on the course when a pair of bombs ripped through the crowds of spectators near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 180.
Turning off Commonwealth Avenue and onto Hereford Street, Roppelt had only a few blocks to go before making a left onto Boylston Street and heading for the finish line when he saw large amounts of white smoke drifting up from that area.
He said he was among the first runners stopped by Boston police.
“It was the strangest, surreal scene,” he said. “Cops put their arms up and we were trying to get around them to finish. It became like a traffic jam, with people backing up.”
As the moments passed, several runners became agitated, halted so close to their goal.
“Then one of the cops said there was a bomb blast at the finish line,” Roppelt recalled. “I tell you, everyone that heard that felt like they won the lottery. Every guy and girl within 50 feet froze. It was the strangest thing.”
Roppelt and his fellow runners soon encountered spectators fleeing the scene of the bombings, and said their faces “were like what you saw on 9/11 with people running away.”
Someone handed Roppelt a post-race space blanket and, realizing that more bombings could be imminent, he headed back to his room at the Marriott near Quincy Market.
In the days since the bombings, Roppelt said he’s considered a number of factors that put him where he was at the time of the attacks—rather than a short distance further along the course, where the bombs went off, or further behind on the course and out of the area completely. Roppelt said his age and qualifying time meant he started the race at the beginning of the third wave of runners, rather than the end of the second wave as he has in the past. Also, Roppelt said he started out more slowly than usual, nursing a slight hamstring injury, putting him on pace to finish a few minutes behind his goal time.
After running at least one marathon for the last 34 years, and waiting 25 years before qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2007, Roppelt said the attacks have him reconsidering participating in future “big-city marathons”—but that the allure remains.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “It’s hard to give up, it’s like being on the Olympic team, it’s pretty cool to be among an elite group.”
Above Forest Hill resident Ron Roppelt, following the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon in January.