News footage of the fateful day shows Volker Fischer coasting into the finish of the 2013 Boston Marathon, wearing black shirt and shorts, tall black socks and black sunglasses, bib number 19793.
As the 61-year-old Highland Park resident crosses the threshold, he taps his watch to stop his running time. And then, just behind him, the first bomb explodes.
Dark smoke billows skyward as chaos ensues on Boylston Street. From another camera angle, Fischer's body instinctively pitches forward, as if shielding himself from the blast.
Everything that came after was surreal, he said.
"By the time I turned around, I saw only the smoke. I didn't see the fire," Fischer said. "You knew something blew up, but you don't think of a bomb right away."
Like others who were there, Fischer will return to Boston this year in honor of those killed and wounded, and as a show of support for Boston and its marathon.
About four hours into the 2013 Boston Marathon, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line on Boylston Street, killing three people and injuring 264 others, authorities have said. Two brothers were suspected of the attacks. One was killed in a shootout with police. The other was arrested and is awaiting trial.
The 2014 marathon has drawn about 36,000 registered runners, the maximum that organizers allow for the race and 9,000 more than last year. The entrants include more than 1,000 runners from Illinois and hundreds from the Chicago area.
Jennifer Grosshandler, another Highland Park resident, was just a few blocks away when she heard the explosions. She immediately decided to return once she learned they were bombs.
"It's not just a race anymore. It's a response," said Grosshandler, 47. "All of us need to answer to all kinds of beautiful of people who were wounded or killed. I don't know if it's a fight or a demonstration or a revolution. But we feel the need to be there."
Last year, before tragedy struck, she had finished with a new personal record of three hours and forty-five minutes, her arms outstretched in triumph and happiness. She made new friends along the way and raised money for her favorite charity, Bear Necessities, a Chicago-based pediatric cancer foundation.
Her husband, John, waited for her after the race.
By the time she returned home, Grosshandler struggled to even discuss what happened before the bombings.
"We couldn't even talk about the good parts of the race itself because of the bombings," Grosshandler said. "We were totally in shock."
After the first bomb exploded, Fischer said he didn't hear any screams or see any people injured. He saw people running toward the smoke to help.
In that moment, his mind went to a friend who runs the race with him but is a bit faster, and his friend's wife, who typically waits near the finish line. They were all supposed to meet up just a few blocks away for a post-race beer.
But race officials told him to keep moving.
"I remember thinking, 'It's a great idea to keep moving, but which direction should I go?'" Fischer said.
Incredibly, Fischer said he was then handed the usual assortment of post-marathon rewards — the water bottle, the heat shield, the goody bag, the medal — as he was directed toward the designated area for runners who had finished the race.
"These people who were giving out the medals, they didn't know what happened either," Fischer said.