B Strong

BOSTON – Barb Crowley said she couldn’t stop smiling as she ran in Monday’s Boston Marathon.

From the start line on East Main Street in suburban Hopkinton, past the cheering students at Wellesley College a mile from the race’s halfway mark, and up Heartbreak Hill to the finish line at Boylston Street, the Jamestown resident sported an ear-to-ear grin.

“It was a perfect day for running,” said Barb, the project coordinator for facility planning at WCA Hospital. “The temperature was in the 50s, the sun was out … and there was a beautiful breeze.

“And what made it so special was the crowd. … Everybody was sticking their hands out, especially the little kids, and slapping our hands.”

With that as motivation – not to mention the generous supply of orange slices, athletic drinks and water she received from the enthusiastic New Englanders who lined the 26.2 miles – Barb, 56, completed the race in 3 hours, 55 minutes, 16 seconds, which beat her personal goal of four hours.

“It was a pretty spectacular day,” she said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”

But 14 minutes after Barb stepped across the finish line – at 2:50 p.m. – the unthinkable happened: Two bombs, detonated 10 seconds apart, left three dead and more than 170 wounded in an attack that President Barack Obama has branded an act of terrorism.

“I had just gone around the corner,” Barb recalled Tuesday night. “When you finish on Boylston, you keep moving, you get some water and your medal. Then when you get to the end of the street, you make a right and I was walking with a pack of other runners.

“That’s when I heard the boom.”

That was bomb No. 1.

“A lady next to me said, ‘What was that?'” Barb recalled. “Another lady said, ‘I think it was thunder. We’re supposed to get a shower later.'”

Barb, who would soon reunite with her friend, Chris, remained quiet and kept walking, but thought to herself: “It doesn’t look like rain to me.”

Very quickly, though, the scene turned into something far more ominous than even the worst storm.

“Pretty soon, I saw some people going by us crying and talking on their cellphones,” Barb said. “A lot of us didn’t know what happened, because we weren’t on Boylston.”

When Barb and Chris attempted to enter a hotel so that she could change out of her running clothes, they were turned away. Finally, the pair ducked into a restaurant where the news of the bombing was being broadcast on a big-screen TV. With no cell service, however, Barb and Chris were unable to reach family that had watched from near the 22-mile mark.

“It was about an hour until we got cell service back so I could get hold of people to let them know I was OK,” Barb said.

A distance runner for more than 35 years, Barb qualified for the Boston Marathon last summer and is “trying to keep a positive attitude, because I appreciate the fact I did what I wanted to do” by beating her four-hour goal. But, she admits, “my mind reverts back to all the (mortally wounded and injured) people and my heart goes out to them. It’s just heartbreaking to think what happened.”

Added Chris: “It’s almost like a 9/11 situation again. You’re just happy to be back in New York and away from whatever happened. It takes away from a lot of great memories, the people and how kind they were. I’ll never understand why they would do this. Why would you hurt innocent people on a beautiful day?”