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'I just have to get over the finish line': Runner speeds past bomb to complete marathon

Susie Eisenberg-Argo was just minutes away from finishing her tenth consecutive Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. She and her friend talk about the attack as Susie vows to run the marathon again.

Just before the bombs went off at Monday’s Boston Marathon, Jo Anne Rowland rounded the corner to the straightaway on Boylston Street. After just over four hours, the finish line was finally in sight.

“And in front of me, to the left, it might’ve been 10 seconds in front of me, the explosion went off,” said Rowland, a 65-year-old runner from Concord, Calif.

Some runners and spectators assumed the noise was part of the race festivities – a cannon blast or fireworks – but Rowland says she immediately recognized that a bomb had just gone off, right in front of her.

And she kept running, anyway.

She passed the smoke and debris from the first explosion, and she passed spectators and race organizers who were no longer cheering her toward the finish line – they were screaming at her to turn around.

And then the second bomb exploded, this time just behind her.

“That’s when I stopped, and thought, what should I do?” says Rowland, who was about 15 seconds away from the finish line. “And I just decided, I’m going to finish the race.”

At 2:50 p.m., she crossed the finish line, by now a bloody and chaotic scene. She was the 17,112th runner to finish the race; 468 more finished behind her and after the bombs, out of the 23,336 who started it.

All she could mentally register was that she was exhausted, freezing and unable to find her husband, Jim Rowland. Jim knew she had crossed the finish line at about the time the bombs went off because as she finished the race, her timing chip sent him and several other friends and family members a text. After a terrifying and confusing separation, the two eventually reunited at the marathon reception area, and walked the four miles back to their hotel in Cambridge, Mass.

Hours later, Jim said his wife speeding past two bombs to get to finish her race does match her personality. “That sounds very much like her,” Jim Rowland says.

John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via AP

Bill Iffrig, 78, lies on the ground as police officers react to a second explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Iffrig, of Lake Stevens, Wash., was running his third Boston Marathon and near the finish line when he was knocked down by one of two bomb blasts.

But anyone who’s finished a marathon knows the tunnel vision that kicks in, especially toward the end of the race. Jo Anne’s blinders were heightened by the  pain in her feet and calves, which had cramped around mile 16. After that, she says, “All I could think is, I just have to get over the finish line. My whole focus was that.” 

Rowland's experience was echoed by Bill Iffrig, the 78-year-old man seen in one of the most replayed videos of the tragedy. The Lake Stevens, Wash., man was knocked off his feet just 15 feet from the finish line.

“The force from it just turned my whole body to jelly and I went down,” Iffrig told The Seattle Times.

Right after the iconic image of him sprawled on the ground was taken, he rolled over and walked through the smoke to the finish line.

Isolde Raftery contributed to this report.