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Surviving Boston

Southwest Portlanders make it through marathon bombings


The Boston Marathon has always been a test of endurance, but at the 2013 race on April 15, both runners and spectators were tested like never before. Two bombs detonated at the finish line, and two Southwest Portlanders were there — and lived to tell the tale.by: CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Sue Strater (right) shares her medal with Claire Carder, who was kept from completing the Boston Marathon after two bombs detonated at the finish line.

Claire Carder, 60, of Maplewood, and Sue Strater, 56, of Arnold Creek, first met when Carder's daughter Mary and Strater’s son Max were classmates at Wilson High School. They were fast friends, sharing a longtime passion for long-distance running.

“This was my eighth marathon, and this was my third Boston ... and what was interesting is, the first two times I did Boston, I had the exact same time ... 4:07, for both times” Strater said. “And so I was hoping to get better than 4:07, that was all this time. I didn't know if I was going to be able to, but I was hoping I might.”

Carder, meanwhile, had spent the past four years attempting to successfully finish one marathon in each state. With 46 already under her belt, she chose Boston as her Massachusetts marathon, and Strater as her starting line companion.

“We were there together, but ... most of the time it's this odd thing where when you get on the course, people just have different speeds ... it kind of comes down to being mostly a solitary event,” she explained.

Strater quickly surged ahead.

“This one actually physically felt before me than the other two I had done,” she recalled. "I did a technique I had read about where you find somebody ahead of you and you just kind of focus on them, and they're pulling you forward. It seemed to help.”

Carder was happy with the speed she was maintaining.

“If I get into a negative mindset, then I mess up. I'll miss it, I'll stumble or something, so I really try to make sure that I'm kind of in the zone,” she said. “I just think about a lot of different things, but I also run to music ... I don't use my music until I get to the halfway point, and then ... that's kind of my help that gets me through those miles ... and once I put my music in, my pace picks up.”

With the song “Born To Run” as her soundtrack, Carder truly was ‘in the zone’, thinking that the sirens she heard vaguely in the background were just responding to a house fire, or perhaps a few overheated runners. She was being propelled forward by the music and everyone around her.

Then, all of a sudden, the runners up ahead were coming to a halt.

“I was about four miles away, and I didn't know. Nobody knew. We were still running. We didn't get diverted, we just were told to stop. It was word of mouth; it was rumor.

“I just had no idea until we were stopped that there was anything else, and then all the little pieces started coming together, and it was like, ‘Oh, oh my gosh’,” said Carder.

Initially, the runners felt puzzled and a little irritated that they were being told they couldn't finish the marathon, and not even by marathon officials, but civilians.

“It was like, ‘What, who are you to tell me we can't finish?’,” she recalled, “ and then people's ... reaction, where I was, was a concern.”

That concern, it quickly became apparent, was warranted.

“It was after people got on their cellphones that people started realizing,” she said. “We didn't want to believe that it was a bomb. Nobody wanted to believe that it was an intentional act.”

Whatever the reason for the bombings, Carder had a pressing question: Where was Strater? Was she okay?

She was. She had finished the marathon in 4 hours, 2 minutes— five minutes faster than her previous two Boston Marathons — and just five minutes before the bombs detonated.

“A couple times along the run, I just thought to myself, ‘I am so fortunate that I am able to do this run at the ages that we are.’ I mean, there's people running who are older than us, but just, it's weird, because usually I don't have that kind of a thought, but this particular run, multiple times, I had that thought. I said, ‘God, are we fortunate that we can do this’ — I mean, just fortunate that we're physically healthy enough to do something like this ... because there are so many people who aren't — and thought to myself, ‘I’ve never had this thought before’.”

As it turned out, she was fortunate for another reason.

After finishing the Boston Marathon, runners file through a chute with stations for food and water. Strater was about two blocks away from the finish line when she heard an explosion.

“The woman next to me, who I didn't know, grabbed my arm, and said, ‘What was that?’ And I said, ‘I don't know. Maybe a transformer blew,’ and we turned around and looked back and saw the plume of smoke, and while we were looking at it, the second explosion went off,” Strater said. “ And then people ... looked really worried in the chute — like, really, really worried, and no one knew what it was.”

Strater made her way to the marathon's family meeting area to join a friend who had come to cheer her and Carder on.

“We still did not know what was going on even when I met up with her, and then, that's when there was tons of sirens and all the different police cars,” said Strater. “I called my sister in Indiana saying, ‘I’m here, I'm okay’ ... she turned her TV on, and said, ‘Sue, people have been injured'.”

That was when they knew it was time to leave the area and head back to their rented apartment.

Strater and Carder returned to Portland the day after the marathon, participating in the Portland Triathlon Club's Boston solidarity and remembrance run, joining numerous other runners in covering the Leif Erickson Trail with messages of sympathy and support for Boston, and starting to get a grasp on what they had lived through.

On April 19, Carder said, “I'm sure as this kind of unravels, we'll hear more and more,” and indeed, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the bombings, was found and captured later that same day.

But even as culprits are brought to justice and motives come to light, Strater, Carder and all the survivors, much like running a marathon, will have to come to terms with the tragedy at their own pace.

“It definitely was something, that's for sure,” Strater said. “It's just going to take a while to process.

It was a very sad event.”