The first bomb exploding was loud, unbelievably loud, unbearably loud, piercingly loud. Rock concerts, fireworks, gunfire, dragster racing, space shuttle launches: All produce noise levels approaching 150 decibels. The explosion on the north side of Boylston Street most certainly was near that level. That is loud enough to cause serious ear damage, even to pierce eardrums. Several runners unlucky enough to be near the first explosion realized several weeks later that they still could not hear out of their left ears. They were not bleeding, they had not been struck by shrapnel, they were not among the count of "victims," but they were among the injured, even though they failed to realize that fact at the time.
A wide-angle image published several days later in the New York Times captured the moment of horror. The image came not from a photograph, but from the WBZ-TV broadcast of the race. Several dozen finishing runners appear in the image. A diligent researcher at the Times dutifully recorded many of their names, tagging them for online viewers: Vivian Adkins. Hillary Anderson. Alan Hagyard. Joe Curcio. Demi Clark. Those are just a few, and none of them yet have reacted to the horror. Tracy McGuire is in the photo just in front of Adkins, although the Times failed to tag her. A yellow explosion behind the barricades, behind the row of flags beside the course, behind the spectators. The cloud of smoke had not yet started to rise over the heads of those who would be critically hurt. The time on the finish line clock shows 4:09:43, indelibly setting that time in the minds of all runners, not merely those shown in the picture, not merely those who had finished, not merely the 23,000 who started Boston that day, but every runner, you, all of you, every one of you, everybody reading this book.
The horror! The horror!
And 13 seconds after that:
The second bomb exploded with a noise as piercing as the first. Because the explosion was farther down the course, away from the mass of photographers hovering over the finish line, it was not recorded as readily by the Times and other news sources. On CNN and other channels that over the next several weeks would play and replay and replay the images of horror surrounding 4:09:43, the second explosion appears only as a cloud of smoke in the distance.
But it was no less real.
And the sport of running never again would be the same.