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Bolingbrook HS teacher, Boston Marathon runner: 'Tough to comprehend'

John Sullivan crossed finish line hour before bombs blew, back in school Wednesday

BOLINGBROOK – Bolingbrook High School teacher John Sullivan checked his watch as he rounded the home stretch, striding down the left-hand side of Boylston Street and crossing the Boston Marathon's finish line.

Sullivan was ecstatic. The web design, animation and graphic design teacher – who celebrated his 50th birthday in March – had set a personal record at the nation's oldest marathon, breaking the three-hour mark and clocking in at 2:59:08.

He then stood at the finish line, panting, taking in the breadth of his accomplishments.

But, the Clarendon Hills resident recognized something was different about the 2013 Boston Marathon – his wife was not at the finish line to greet him.

"My wife, Amy, usually travels with me when I run marathons," John Sullivan said, adding that he has been a competitive distance runner for the last 15 years. "She came with me to Boston when I raced in the 2011 and 2012 marathons. But, this year, we couldn't find anyone to look after the kids, so she stayed home."

Following the race, Sullivan went through his cool down routine and walked six blocks from Copley Square to his hotel – the Park Plaza Boston.

About an hour later, sirens blared and scores of ambulances zoomed past his hotel and toward the marathon.

Sullivan said at the time he brushed it off, assuming an athlete was suffering heat exhaustion.

Shortly after, he was standing in the Park Plaza lobby when two fellow marathon runners arrived, noticeably shaken.

"They sat down right where I was sitting," Sullivan said. "One of them was noticeably distraught and the other asked me, 'Did you hear the explosions?' I was in shock, I had yet to hear or see anything."

Sullivan and others huddled around a lobby television and began piecing together information about the two explosions. He then checked his phone and saw multiple texts and voicemails.

But, cellphones were inoperable, according to Sullivan, who then took out his iPad and sent his wife an email letting her know that he was safe.

Sullivan describes the next 24 hours as a "whirlwind of emotions," and says he was overcome with grief for the injured and their affected families.

He recalled running right by where the two bombs are believed to have detonated.

Three were killed in the explosions as of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 200 injured, some critically.

"It is just so sad and really tough to comprehend," Sullivan said. "But, it's uplifting to see the running community come together and show their support. Distance runners are a very tight group of people."

He left Boston Tuesday and resumed teaching at Bolingbrook High School Wednesday.

Sullivan said that while no marathons are on his immediate schedule, the bombings will not deter him from running any future races.

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