Michael Marquardt said while last year's Boston Marathon was neither his first race nor his last, it likely will go down as the most memorable.
Marquardt, a Vernon Hills trustee, had just made it back to hotel after finishing his fourth 26.2-mile trip across Boston when he heard the sirens.
In his room with a fellow runner from the North Shore Distance Running Club, which sent a handful of marathoners to Boston last year, the pair turned on their TV just in time to see the aftermath of the second blast.
"I just walked inside and went to the elevator, got upstairs, walked in the room, and it just happened," Marquardt said.
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.
"It's a sad thing that happened," Marquardt said. "You have a lot of joy in doing this, your accomplishments of being able to run a race and finish it. And then something like this happens that's devastating."
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.
Marquardt said the 3-hour-30-minute time wasn't one he was particularly proud of — he said he typically runs about five minutes faster — but he feels fortunate not to have been among those killed or injured by the bombs, which went off near the race's end point a little more than a half-hour after he crossed the finish line.
He said he didn't hesitate for a second when registration opened for this year's marathon.
"I try to look at life a little differently, that I don't plan on being caged in my life. I want to enjoy it," said Marquardt, 59.
While Marquardt is still on the fence about whether a bad knee will allow him to run this year — he had surgery in August — he already has a bib number and a hotel room booked.
"This is a freak situation," he said. "You can't be safe from everything."
Still, Marquardt remembered an uncomfortably close brush with the place the bombs struck.
The day before the 2013 marathon, Marquardt said he was watching family members of his running mates take part in a shorter, preliminary race.
He remembers finishing a coffee and having to go inside a restaurant to throw it away, because there weren't any trash cans on the street for security reasons.
He said he was standing just yards from where the second bomb went off.
After the blasts, Marquardt said, his phone started ringing off the hook with friends and family trying to find out whether he was OK. But with poor cell reception, it was hard to get through, he said.
Because he had to get back to work the next day, Marquardt eventually hailed a taxi and made it to the airport.
There, he said, FBI agents were checking planes and interviewing runners before they boarded their flights.
He said that diligence at the airport was an example of how serious the city is about the race's security. He remembers police on the roofs of buildings with radios overlooking the crowd.
"It is watched very heavily," he recalled.
He said he has seen tight security each time he's run the Boston Marathon, and he has no reservations about potentially running it again.
A number of ceremonies are planned to honor last year's victims, but Marquardt said he and others are paying tribute in the way that they know how: Signing up to go back to Boston.
"It's something that happened," he said. "We're saddened by it, but they're not going to get us down."
Tribune reporter Stephanie Baer contributed.