By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
Bill Iffrig of Lake Stevens was just short of the finish line in the 26-mile Boston Marathon when he heard a horrific noise and found himself on the ground.
He didn’t know what happened. It sounded just like what it was — a bomb, he said.
“It was only … feet away from me,” he said. “It was really loud.”
Iffrig, 78, was running in his third Boston Marathon. He came out of the incident with little more than a scrape on his knee.
“Just the shock from the blast was the only damage,” he said from his hotel room.
A now widely-seen video of the race captured the blast and Iffrig, wearing bib number 19200 over an orange tank top, crumpling from the shockwaves. Video and photos showed him lying on the ground surrounded by police and race officials.
Most of the runners were on the other side of the road at the time of the blast, so Iffrig was the only one who went down, he said.
“A lot of them just kept on going,” said Iffrig, a retired mason worker.
Iffrig briefly saw a remnant of what he believes was the bomb, a casing that looked like a coffee can, he said.
“Then all this smoke was coming from someplace, and I wasn’t able to see too much.”
A race official came to check on him and helped him up.
Then, accompanied by the official, Iffrig walked the last 12 feet or so across the finish line.
“I ended up second in my division,” he said. “After you’ve run 26 miles you’re not going to stop there.” His timing chip marked his finish at 4 hours, 3 minutes, 47 seconds.
Then the commotion really started.
“The officials came flying out there and they stopped the race and they wouldn’t let anyone through. And then the place got busier all the time after that.”
Afterward, Iffrig walked the half-mile to his hotel room.
“It was a close one though, boy. I’ll tell you, that scared me.”
Iffrig took up running in the late 1970s to stay in shape for another of his passions — mountain climbing. Although his climbing eventually tapered off, Iffrig continued to run.
In 2009, Iffrig raced at the USA Track and Field cross country national championships in San Francisco. He dominated his 10-kilometer race, winning the masters men 70-74 age division in a time of 44 minutes, 48 seconds. For his efforts, Iffrig was named one of four finalists for The Herald’s 2009 Man of the Year in Sports award.
“He’s won a number of national championships,” said Doug Beyerlein, 62, of Mill Creek, a running partner of Iffrig’s. “He’s one of the top runners in the country in his age group.”
Iffrig said he has logged every mile he’s run, practice or competitive — more than 46,000 to date.
“Not many old guys are as fast as me.”
Iffrig’s family and friends were relieved to find out he was unharmed.
“I was walking across campus (at Central Washington University) and somebody ran up to me and asked if I’d heard about the bombing at the Boston Marathon,” said Iffrig’s granddaughter, Amanda Kilburn of Ellensburg. “I kind of freaked out and ran home to call my dad. He said my grandpa was OK.”
Iffrig’s neighbors Patti and Jim Larson, Mike Erickson and Tyler Tarailo said they were shocked to watch television video of Illfrig falling because of the first blast.
“This is just terrible,” Erickson said.
Tarailo, a young man who has known Iffrig most of his life, said he is relieved to know that his Lake Stevens neighbor is not seriously injured.
“Bill used to jog all the way down to Kimberly-Clark and back. He’s a great guy and always helpful,” Tarailo said. “It’s good to hear that he is OK.”
Patti Larson teared up as she watched her television.
“I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t see Bill and his wife Donna walking the neighborhood each day,” she said.
Herald reporters Aaron Swaney and Gale Fiege and sports editor Kevin Brown contributed to this story.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org