Making her way on the bus to the starting line four hours before the Boston Marathon began, Irene Kok chatted away with fellow runners from big cities to small, middle-America towns.
Four hours after finishing, she sat confined to her locked-down hotel, desperately trying to recall bib numbers and names to determine whether her new friends were among the day's casualties.
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"You're not on the bus for long, but you inevitably bond with people from all over the world," Kok, 42, said. "Everyone has a story, and everyone is so excited."
From the weather and the atmosphere to her energy and performance, the mother of four from Huntley said the day had been perfect until the explosion. She finished 218th in her division with a time of 3:29:36.
She finished about 30 minutes before the first bomb detonated but hung around to get her medal and soak in the moment. Together with her husband and another couple from home, she headed to an indoor pedestrian mall to get back to her hotel, located half a mile away.
The bombs went off, and none of the dozens of people inside heard -- or felt -- a thing.
"We got back to the room and I was going to take a shower, and that's when we saw what happened," Kok, a personal trainer, said. "I was just baffled."
Kok said she remembers being nervous running the New York City Marathon a couple of years ago thinking about the possible dangers.
"It was a world event in New York, and it just seemed like a prime target for an act of terrorism," Kok said. "I remember thinking how sad it was to live in a society where we have to worry about that."
Kok said it's tradition for Boston runners to wear their medals and jackets on the plane ride back home, but she's not sure she'll be up to taking part in the custom.
"It's just so sad for everyone, for the people who were hurt and for all the people who didn't get to finish after working so hard to earn their spot there," Kok said. "I'm not sure it feels right."