Randy Clever has thought about this year's Boston Marathon more than a few times. Especially the moment when he'll run down Boylston Street toward the finish line.
"I'm just going to try and hold myself together emotionally," said Clever.
ON PROXIMITY AND CLOSURE
Happenstance landed the Germantown resident within a whisker of tragedy during last year's race, when a pair of homemade bombs exploded on Boylston, killing three people and injuring 260 more.
Still, just hours later, Clever had decided he wouldn't dare miss this year's race.
Boston was supposed to be his farewell marathon. After the attack, though, he simply felt like he had to run it again — for closure and to honor the lives lost and changed by the catastrophe.
"And it's to reaffirm what is good and what is right and just wanting to not be intimidated by events like that and say, 'Alright, you had your day, now I'm coming back,'" said Clever.
THE FIGHT TO RETURN
Returning to the Boston Marathon wasn't easy.
Clever's time in 2013 — 4:09:46 — was too slow to qualify him for this year's race. The 64-year-old would have to run another marathon if he wanted to don a race bib in Beantown.
"I never do two in a year," said Clever.
But there he was in Reykjavik, Iceland last summer, willing his body toward another finish line.
Clever's time (3:50:11) earned him the spot he was seeking. He'll be one of 36,000 competing on April 21.
HOW HE CAME TO BE SO CLOSE TO THE EXPLOSION
The way Clever ran last year's race could have, unknowingly, killed him.
"The first couple of miles are down, so you just take off and you pay for it later if you do," he said. "And it did."
Having overextended himself at the start, Clever struggled through the final chunk of the course.
His pace put him within 30 feet of the finish line when the first bomb went off.
"If I had been wiser, I wouldn't have even been around then," said Clever.
RECOUNTING THE SCENE
In the haze of utter exhaustion, Clever couldn't immediately put a finger on the noise.
Perhaps someone was setting off fireworks or maybe an underground transformer had blown up, he recalled thinking.
The second explosion cleared things up and sent Clever's tired heart racing once more.
"They're saying 'congratulations' and they're putting the medal around your neck, and I'm going, 'Thank you, I think?'" said Clever. "After that, the focus was no longer on what you had done, but what happened."
Clever's thoughts soon turned to his family, who had joined him in Boston to celebrate his recent retirement from the city's Department of Health.
When he reached them, the weight of the moment poured down his cheeks.
"That was total meltdown at that point," said Clever.
It was only later that Clever was truly able to appreciate his luck.
Over and over that day, he watched himself in the same television clip in one newscast after another. It took a little time, though, for the surrealism of it all to fade away.
THOUGHTS STILL WITH HIM
In the year since the bombing, mental images of the event have certainly slipped in and out of Clever's consciousness.
Wearing his 2013 Boston Marathon windbreaker has triggered some of them.
"I would have been more reluctant in the past to put on a Boston jacket because it's like 'I did Boston,' but not now," he said. "It's more like, 'Yeah I was there,' and you don't want to forget."
As for 2015's race, Clever isn't ruling it out.
He'll be 65, which gives him a little more leeway when it comes to qualifying.
Since last year's marathon, running also holds a closer place in his heart. As long as he's physically able, the idea of running again in Boston sounds like one sweet challenge.
"I'm thankful every time I go out because I know it's a privilege," he said.