Running partners share ‘surreal’ experience in Boston

MARSHALL – This year’s Boston Marathon was Christine Fenske’s fourth. And it’s a given that it will be her most memorable, only not for the right reasons.

Fenske, a Title I reading and math teacher at Lakeview, finished Monday’s marathon with her running partner Stacie Lienemann in 3 hours, 45 minutes – about 35 minutes before what would be the first of two explosions to rock the area around the finish line.

“Since I’ve done the marathon before and had never heard anything like that I knew something must have been going on,” said Fenske, who along with Lienemann had been training for the Boston Marathon since early December. “My first reaction was that I needed to find my husband.”

“I didn’t know what to think,” said Lienemann, an eighth-grade paraprofessional at Lakeview. “Everybody had that surreal look on their face, and Christine goes, ‘That’s not normal.'”

Then, 12 seconds later, a second blast.

“That’s when we both knew that something wasn’t right,” Lienemann said. “There was kind of a silence where we were, and the sirens started. We knew we needed to find our husbands.”

Meanwhile, Chris Fenske and Phil Lienemann were fighting their way through the crowd, headed toward the finish line and the designated gathering place for the runners and their families in an effort to reunite with their wives. They were about two-and-a-half to three blocks away went the bombs went off.

“We were far enough away that people around us really didn’t know what was going on,” Chris Fenske said. “We were coming out of the train station and heard the first boom and looked at each other. About 10 seconds later we heard another one. As we were trying to make our way to meet the girls, there were police and emergency responders telling us to go back the other way. We were going upstream, so to speak, with all the people filing out of there.”

Stacie Lienemann said the two women were told they needed to leave the area they were at and, “we no more than turned around to start walking and they just kind of showed up.”

“It was a great relief once we saw them,”?Christine Fenske said.

Not able to comprehend what had just happened, Chris Fenske called finding the two women a blessing. After being briefed on the situation by a police officer, his first thought was will there be more explosions.

“There was a lot of chaos between all the family members and runners at the end, people trying to clear the roads for emergency vehicles to get through. The response was amazing – as soon as we heard the first boom, it sounded like a cannon being shot, we heard sirens right away.”

Once the couples found each other, they headed back to their hotel. Lienemann said that’s when she was able to get a grasp of the situation.

“When we turned on the news we realized that we had stood in that exact same spot 24 hours earlier watching the 5K finish,” she said. “I think that’s when it hit – like ‘Holy crap, we stood there.’ Then there’s the whole, ‘How could this happen?’ Knowing that we were kind of part of it, there’s really no words to explain what we felt.”

Chris Fenske said the explosions resulted in a several-block crime scene, with streets and train stations blocked off.

“When we turned on the TV and actually saw what was going on, it really did get emotionalbecause you’re there,” he said. “Your heart just aches for the runners and families affected. After awhile, we really needed to turn the TV off and get away, because it really did sink in at the hotel.”

Stacie Lienemann said there was no sense of panic where they were at. She credited law enforcement and security for directing the massive crowd where to go.

The trip to Boston was part of the Fenskes’ celebration of their 15th wedding anniversary. They, along with the Lienemanns, flew to Boston last Wednesday and spent the next four days touring Boston – checking out the Freedom Trail, hitting a Red Sox game. When all was said and done, Chris Fenske called the whole situation – and seeing it on TV shortly after – surreal.

“It really is,” he said. “When you’re out there, the one thing people say since 9/11 is that cities have really bonded out there, and you feel a real sense of community. And the running community, it’s really different (at a marathon) than at other athletic venues. There are so many people supporting you and cheering you on. It’s wall-to-wall people for the whole 26.2 miles, and the finish line area, it’s just amazing the amount of people down there. It’s really a family-and-friends environment, that’s what makes it so sad.”

There were 539 Minnesotans registered in the marathon.