Alaska marathoners escape injury, vow to return to Boston

khopkins@adn.comApril 15, 2013 

One of at least 34 Alaskans racing in the Boston Marathon Monday, Samantha Wuttig of Fairbanks, had just finished the race when she heard the first blast two blocks away.

"I didn't want to believe that it was an explosion," said Wuttig, who knew her sister, also a runner, still trailed behind her somewhere on the race route.

At first bystanders thought a sewer cap had blown, she said. Or maybe it was some kind of electrical blast. Then Wuttig saw two plumes of smoke. People started running.

"It sort of reminded me of the pictures of 9/11," she said.

As news of the bombings flashed on television screens and erupted on Facebook, friends and families in Alaska scrambled to make contact with runners who had traveled 3,500 miles to Boston's iconic marathon.

No injuries had been reported among the Alaska runners as of Monday night.

"Everybody from Anchorage that has gone is fine," said retired kindergarten teacher Sarah Kleedehn, who was about half a mile from the finish line when the runners in front of her mysteriously snapped to a stop.

The 60-year-old Anchorage runner shivered in the breeze as race officials carrying bullhorns walked up. There had been an explosion, they said. Kleedehn sat on the curb, listening to the sirens and helicopters. A man ripped a hole in a garbage bag and gave it to her to wear as a poncho.

She now feels lucky to be alive, she said. And numb. And sad.

"Boston was on my bucket list to do. I had told people I would crawl to the finish line to finish, if I had to," Kleedehn said.

She doesn't know if she'll try to run the marathon again. Others, like 49-year-old Juneau doctor John Bursell, who finished two hours before the blasts, hope to return.

"I wouldn't want to let folks who do things like this win," he said.

Mary Diel, a nurse for Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, was nearing the end of the race when the explosions sounded.

"I should have been crossing the finish right at that time. But Heartbreak Hill did it in to me and slowed me way down," she said.

A couple who lived in the area invited Diel, 55, into their home, she said. They made her tea. All three watched coverage of the attack on TV as Wuttig, the Fairbanks runner, walked to a meeting area and found her sister's husband. He had received a text message. The sister, Heather Royer, was safe at a nearby fire station.

Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at khopkins@adn.com.

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