'Poster child for courage'
Bill Iffrig — the now-famous 78-year-old Boston Marathoner who was knocked down by the first bomb blast — says he won’t be back at Boston again next year.
He’s not worried about another attack like the one that killed three people and injured nearly 200 more when two bombs exploded at the finish line of last week’s marathon.
“It’s just the fact that my wife put up with it for a couple of years. She’s not too happy with going back,” Iffrig said.
And he prefers a smaller, less-crowded race.
He will continue running marathons though. And his next race will be the 12K Lilac Bloomsday Run on May 5 in Spokane, Wash.
Iffrig is not just a Boston Marathoner. He’s a top master’s track and cross country competitor as well.
He won his age group at the 2011 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships, running the 10K course in 47:44. He placed third in his age group in both the 10K and 5K races at the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships, running 44:14 and 21:20, respectively; and he was fourth in his age group in the 8K cross country championship at the meet, running 38:21.
“Bill is a world class runner, winning three medals in the WMA meet in Sacramento a couple of years ago,” Don Pratt of Monticello said about Iffrig. Pratt knows Iffrig from running with him at masters’ competitions.
“Since we run the same track events in the USA Masters Track & Field, he wins first and I get what I can,” Pratt said. “He still runs the 10K in the low 40 (minute range) and the 5K in the low 20 (minute range). Quite a guy.”
But Iffrig prefers road racing to the track. Iffrig ran the 2011 Skagit Flats marathon in Burlington, Wash., in 3:42:10.
He has run 45 marathons, including three Boston Marathons. He first ran Boston in 1984, when the race was considerably smaller, he said.
He ran it in 2012 and suffered through the heat, walking much of the race and finishing in 7:33:40.
“The weather conditions were just ideal and it was great day for a marathon. I had trained hard for it for about four months and had some goals set up,” he said.
Things were going slow in the first five to 10 miles, he said, because the roads are narrow and he couldn’t run very fast.
“Once things started opening up little bit, and I was able to get out and run a little faster, I moved up and was moving along quite well,” Iffrig said.
He ran well on the Newton hills, including Heartbreak Hill.
“I was charging up the hills and feeling really energized,” he said.
And he was on pace to meet his goal of finishing under four hours.
“When I finally got up to nearing the end of the race, I came around the corner onto Boylston Street. I could see the finish mats up ahead and the end of race, and I was really feeling good about it and wanted to get it done,” Iffrig recalled. “I kept my speed up and even tried to race a little faster, in front of grandstands especially.”
He was about 20 feet from the finish line when he felt the bomb blast and was knocked off his feet.
“It was so loud, and I felt it was really close to me,” Iffrig said. “The debris flew out in the roadway right where I landed. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t hardly hear anything.
“On my way down to the ground, I thought, ‘This could be the end of me,’” he continued.
As he lay on the ground, he took stock and found he was able to move his joints and he didn’t see any blood. A finish line volunteer offered to help him to the finish line, and Iffrig completed the race in 4:03:47.
“That was my whole goal. You’re out there for four hours, naturally you want to finish,” he said. “I was not going to lay around there.
“Once I finished, I felt better, but I felt really bad about the carnage and all the people that were hurt,” he continued. “I didn’t even realize how bad it was until later when I saw the TV coverage.”
The finish line volunteer offered to find Iffrig a wheelchair, but “I said, ‘Why don’t you save that for the people who really need it. I think I can get back to my hotel OK,’” Iffrig recalled. “By that time, it was becoming a battle zone. All the emergency vehicles were coming in and policemen were all over the place. It really changed fast.”
Iffrig slowly made his way back to his hotel and reassured his wife that he was not hurt.
Since then, he’s been inundated with media coverage. A photo of Iffrig on the ground, with three Boston police officers standing over him, reacting to the bomb blasts, appeared in newspapers around the world and is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. President Barack Obama mentioned Iffrig in a speech last Thursday at a memorial for the victims of the bombing.
Masterstrack.com called him the “poster child for courage at Boston.”
Iffrig has spoken with a lot of reporters since the marathon a week ago, but not other participants.
“I imagine there are a lot of disheartened people, who weren’t able to finish the race,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll never have another situation like that. It’s terrible.”
Photos: Top: Police officers react to an explosion at the finish line of the April 15 Boston Marathon. Bill Iffrig, 78, of Lake Stevens, Wash., was knocked down by the first blast but got up and crossed the finish line. AP Photo/The Boston Globe, John Tlumacki. Bottom: Bill Iffrig, center, with Don Pratt of Monticello, left, and Carl Tuck of California, right, after the three finished a 5K in Honolulu in 2005. Photo provided by Don Pratt.