St. Charles resident Eugene "JJ" Schmidt remembers how quickly the mood shifted at the Boston Marathon last year when two bombs exploded near the finish line on Boylston Street.
The atmosphere at the race village that morning was unlike any other, said Schmidt, 66, who is running the Boston race for the fourth time next week, despite the horrific events that ruined what was supposed to be a triumphant day filled with celebration one year ago.
"I've never seen a more upbeat crowd before a marathon," he said. "Everyone I talked to had a great run. The day was just euphoric."
"It went from that to this other extreme, to what do we do now."
Shortly after the first bomb exploded, Schmidt, who had finished the race about 40 minutes prior, located all but one of his running group from the Fox Valley: his friend Tammy Hartje hadn't finished the course.
There were about a dozen of them who had trained and traveled to Boston together.
Hartje, who was running her first Boston Marathon, had been stopped by the bombings about 100 meters before the finish line. The previous year she had traveled to Boston but fell ill the night before, forcing her to wait another year for a race she said was a "really big deal" for her.
Hartje, like most runners who were stopped before the finish line, didn't have her cellphone.
"I was so excited. I thought, 'Oh finally I'm getting to run it and finish and then I ran it and I could see the finish line but I didn't get to cross over," said Hartje, 49, of St. Charles.
Not knowing what had happened, Hartje begged police officers to let her finish. After missing the 2012 race and suffering from four pelvic fractures just months before this day, she was hell-bent on finishing the 26.2-mile course. She was so close.
It wasn't until a boy, whose face was covered in blood, ran past her that she realized what had happened.
"And then everything went crazy," she said. "You're expecting to get a blanket and some water and I had nothing and I was freezing. I couldn't remember anything. I couldn't remember anybody's phone numbers."
Eventually, Schmidt found Hartje, who had waited out at a Dunkin Donuts with other runners, and took her back to her hotel.
And while most of their friends are running again this year, the panic and trauma of that day were enough to keep Hartje away from Boston next week.
"I'm just not ready to go back," she said. "I still think about it. It was very traumatic. It was scary. It was just, I had never experienced anything that big and horrible before."
While some runners didn't hesitate when registration opened for this year's marathon, others, including Angie Dudman, who trained with Schmidt and Hartje, took pause.
"I wasn't going to go, and then when it was the deadline, I decided I really wanted to go back and be part of the race again," said Dudman, 51, of Geneva.
Other Tri-Cities residents registered for the marathon next week include Elizabeth Sacrey, of Geneva, Elena Shemyakina, of Geneva, Heather Corcoran, of St. Charles, Phillip Anderson, of St. Charles, Hernando Morales of St. Charles, Brooke Williams, of St. Charles, and Meghann Gorman, of Batavia, and Kelly Jo Golson of Batavia.
"Most of us, and I can't quantify it, I can't explain why, felt compelled to go back this year," Schmidt said. "It's just a way to honor all the people that were hurt and the first responders."