‘I have to get out of here’

Pat Sauter was about 100 yards from another Boston triumph when he was stopped cold. There was a sharp blast just up ahead. A large, smoky plume dispersed. He couldn’t understand what it was, and had the thought: Celebration?

Sauter had just started to continue forward when 13 seconds later — boom — a second blast. “Right then and there, I knew this was major problems.”

He spun around, unsure what to do and where to go, but his sense was the bombings might be moving in succession down Boylston Street. Runners were hemmed in by the security fencing, and people were yelling for them to stay in the street.

Sauter vividly recalled seeing a person whose pants were blown off to his knees, smeared with soot. “I couldn’t put it together. ... I thought, ‘What was this person doing in the middle of the Boston Marathon?’ ”

“At that point, then I thought, ‘I have to get out of here.’ Sirens, screams, noise. I was rattled.”

He realized his only way out was the intersection ahead, where the second bomb had just gone off. Once there, he saw “a lot of horrible stuff.”

The response also was dramatic. Medical personnel were quickly engaged, treating the victims. Sauter clearly regretted that he wasn’t “more productive or helpful.” But weary, cold and confused, his instincts told him to “get out of there, because I didn’t know what was coming next.”

Sauter’s brother, was waiting with his own two girls near the finish. By good fortune, they all met up amid the chaos on a street. Once a few steps from elation, Sauter’s finish was not at a historic line, but instead inside a hotel room. “I didn’t feel safe until then,” he said.

'I am uncertain'

If Sauter is trying to put some meaning to the depth of his experience, the answer might come Monday when he’s back on the streets.

“I am uncertain of how it is going to impact me,” he said. “... I did have a lot dreams and thinking about that for the days immediately following the race. I’ve been able to block it out, some of those thoughts. I think about it, but I don’t dwell on it.”

Under ordinary circumstances Sauter said he wouldn’t have returned to Boston this year. Then, a return became imperative.

“A big part of my motivation for running is to send my own, small message to the terrorists or the bad people out there that they can’t keep us from doing this,” he said. “It’s not just Boston. It’s virtually every activity in which large crowds gather.”