A personal account: Williston runner shares experience of Boston Marathon tragedy

Mark Amondson was recuperating in his Weston Hotel room when two bombs exploded near the finish line at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Amondson, a Williston resident, finished the 26.2-mile course at about 12:40 p.m. Eastern time and was in no rush to get back on his feet.

A friend, who had also finished earlier in the afternoon, called Amondson about 20 minutes before the bombs detonated at about 2:50 p.m. The pair discussed meeting for an impromptu lunch.

“I second-guessed myself and called him back and said I’d better stay here and stay around the hotel and relax,” Amondson said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The 30-year-old native of Centralia, Wash., may have made a life-saving decision. The Weston is within a one-mile radius of the blasts and the pair would have met on street level near the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, which is across the street from the first explosion.

“I immediately looked out the window and nothing seemed to be happening,” said Amondson, who was on the 35th floor of his hotel, “and once the second bomb hit, I saw people running. They were coming out of the mall and hotels there.

“I took a picture on my cell phone of probably 100 emergency vehicles that were there within probably 45 minutes and they stayed there throughout the night.”

Amondson has friends from five states who participated, including his girlfriend Alexis Nees, of Ann Arbor, Mich. None of Amondson’s friends were injured.

It was still a nerve-racking afternoon as Amondson initially struggled to communicate as hundreds of thousands of people attempted to call and locate loved ones. One friend of his, who was not at the race, tried calling Amondson unsuccessfully about six times.

“I was just kind of remembering 9/11 and that’s the only thing,” Amondson said. “That’s the closest thing I could compare it to. I had my family calling just to see how the race went and they hadn’t heard about it yet. My mom was at work and didn’t realize the magnitude of it, and they were pretty thankful.”

Amondson flew back to Williston on Tuesday and said he could barely watch the endless TV coverage of the tragedy. Monday was his third running of the world’s most prestigious marathon, which attracted 26,839 entrants this year.

“It just started out as a beautiful day,” Amondson said. “We got the race day excitement. … You just really don’t know until you experience it.”

Amondson, who ran a personal best in Boston of two hours, 40 minutes and 29 seconds, was the first of 30 North Dakota finishers and 280th overall. He plans to compete in the Chicago Marathon, which draws more than 40,000 runners, in October, but is undecided on whether he will return to Boston in 2014.

“I don’t want to be afraid of it because it could happen anywhere, but I’ll see,” he said. “I don’t want to be paranoid. I do two big races a year and it’s what I look forward to all year.”

The bombings killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded 176 others. On Wednesday, authorities reviewed video surveillance near the blasts and are trying to identify a suspect, who may have planted the bombs, according to multiple reports from the AP, the Boston Globe and other news outlets.

“They may have found the guy and hopefully that will bring closure to the people who lost someone there and bring heightened awareness of big events,” Amondson said.

Kyle Sturdefant and Jeffery Steen, both of Minot, also competed and finished the race unharmed. Neither could be reached for comment.