78-year-old runner survives bomb blast on way to finishing Boston Marathon

John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In “The Quiet American,” Graham Greene writes about what it’s like to be sitting next to a bomb when it goes off:

Two of the mirrors on the wall flew at me and collapsed half-way. The dowdy Frenchwoman was on her knees in a wreckage of chairs and tables. Her compact lay open and unhurt in my lap… A curious garden-sound filled the cafe: the regular drip of a fountain, and looking at the bar I saw rows of smashed bottles which let out their contents in a multi-colored stream—the red of porto, the orange of cointreau, the green of chartreuse, the cloudy yellow of pastis, across the floor of the cafe. I gave it her and she thanked me formally, sitting on the floor.

In Boston on Monday, 78-year-old Bill Iffrig is the man in the red tank top who flopped to the pavement on Monday after the first of two explosions ripped through Copley Square during the final stages of the Boston marathon. He was steps from the finish line when the bomb next to him went off, but his description captures the same sense of shock and disorientation:

I got down to within 15 feet of the finishing apron and just tremendous explosion, sounding like a bomb went off right next to me… The shock waves just hit my whole body and my legs just started jittering around. I knew I was going down and so I ended up down on the black top.

Iffrig, a resident of Lake Stevens, Washington, says that he’s run 45 marathons and that Monday’s race was his third effort in the Boston marathon. Just 15 feet from the finish line when the first improvised explosive device ignited, Iffrig described the blast as “deafening” and said that it made his legs turn into “noodles.”

Rescue workers on hand—not to mention the millions of people who saw the blast replayed numerous times on television—were worried that the retired stone-mason had suffered a terrible injury. Iffrig was undeterred, however, and proceeded to cross the finish with a total time just over four hours while placing second in his division.

“After you’ve run 26 miles, you’re not going to stop there,” he said.

A scraped knee was about the only injury Iffrig reported sustaining in what experts say is just the second successfully executed bombing in the United States since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Many others, of course, were not nearly as lucky. Three people were killed in Monday’s blasts that ripped though the longest-running marathon event in North America, while over 170 people are being treated for injuries, with many losing legs, calves and feet.

78-year-old runner survives bomb blast on way to finishing Boston Marathon