After escaping Boston tragedy, Newport marathoner to keep running
Everything about the morning of Monday, April 15, was ordinary for Newport resident Nycole Schneider, except she was preparing to run the grueling 26.2 mile course of the Boston Marathon for the first time.
The lifelong athlete and avid runner qualified for the New England race with her times at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2010 and the Chicago Marathon in 2011. As she sat poised for the shotgun start in Boston, she never thought that shortly after crossing the finishing line she would be running for something more important than a medal.
"It was a beautiful day and such a great race," Schneider remembered. "We never thought a terrorist attack would happen."
It had been a hard year of training, Schneider said, and several minor injuries, one major, along the way threatened her bid in the race. But, she powered through the pain and continued training at a pace faster than she was used to.
"It was my best time by like 10 minutes," Schneider said of her finish time at the Boston Marathon. "I definitely had runner's high."
Just before 2 p.m. Boston time, about 45 minutes before the twin explosions rocked runners and spectators on Boylston Street, an exhausted yet excited Schneider crossed the finish line with her Minnesota RED teammates in toe. The group revelled in their accomplishments at the finish line and made their way to the community gathering space down the block.
After catching their breath, the team of about 10 then made their way to Skipjacks, a restaurant on Clarendon Street a few blocks from the now infamous Copley Square, to continue their celebration. A well deserved high-calorie lunch was on the menu when the first explosion ripped down Boylston Street, sending shockwaves through Skipjacks.
"We heard the loud explosion but there was a construction site just down the street so we thought something fell or dropped," Schneider said. "We didn't think anything of it until we heard the second explosion. That's when we said 'Oh, that's weird.''
Another patron in the restaurant suggested that maybe the loud booms were fireworks, prompting Schneider to go outside. What she saw next she described as total chaos.
"There were ambulances and people running and screaming. It was just intense," she said. "At the time we still didn't know that the explosions were bombs. The (local media) wasn't as fast here as it was everywhere else. We ran back inside and that's when they started showing on the television what was really going on."
The smell of smoke and fire quickly spread as Schneider and her teammates began to comprehend what had actually happened just a few blocks away.
At one point, law enforcement briefly shut down cellphone service but Schneider was able to access a social media site to let family know she was safe.
"We tried to make sure there was a way to post something or at least get a hold of one person and thankfully I could still use my data on my phone to post on Facebook," she explained. "It was nuts."
Engulfed in chaos, the city shut down all transportation services in an effort to lock down the blast site and prevent more casualties. That left Schneider and her team without a way to get back to their hotel, nearly three miles away.
"After we'd already run 26.2 miles, we had to walk another two-and-a-half miles to get back to our hotel," she said. "The police evacuated the restaurant and the family gather area, which was right by the restaurant. It was just insane."
Transportation services and cellphone reception came back later that evening, but because the city was on an emergency lockdown, there was nowhere for Minnesota RED to go besides the hotel lobby. Dinner was spent watching the news, calling loved ones and trying to figure out how anything like this could happen.
"We were all together and we were all good. That was the positive," Schneider said.
The next morning when the smoke cleared, Schneider and her team headed back to Minnesota, grateful for their lives and accomplishments amid unspeakable tragedy.
Like so many other runners who crossed the marathon finish line before the explosions, Schneider expressed remorse for those who were not able to finish or receive the commemorative medal. Yet, despite her first memories of the world marathon and the city of Boston have been tainted by tragedy, Schneider said it's important to stay strong and keep running.
"For those of us in the elite running corral, this is as elite as we're going to get," she said. "I feel horrible for all those that didn't get to finish but hopefully they will all come back next year. Because that's what we do, we run."