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April 17, 2013

Neil Bernstein: 'I never felt endangered'

SWAMPSCOTT — In 2005, Neil Bernstein of Swampscott ran his first Boston Marathon with a makeshift replica of the Pesky Pole perched on his head.

The Snail, as he calls himself, even has a picture on his website of him standing with Johnny Pesky, the late, legendary Red Sox player and Swampscott resident, for whom the right-field foul pole at Fenway Park is named.

Bernstein, a member of the North Shore Striders, was not racing for a personal best Monday, just running for the Jimmy Fund, doing his “Pesky Pole shuffle” and having a good time, he said.

At about mile 22 or 23, past the famed Heartbreak Hill, he heard sirens and saw police cruisers and ambulances going by.

He noticed that every police officer he passed was on a cellphone. As he passed Cleveland Circle, he noticed the crowds had thinned out. As the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square came into view, the sidewalks were almost empty, and he noticed other runners were on their cellphones. He heard talk about explosions, and that people were injured at the finish, but there were few details. He felt concerned and anxious.

“Just before we reached Mass. Ave., they say the race is over,” Bernstein said. Runners were flooding off the course on the western side of Massachusetts Avenue, but Bernstein wanted to reach his bag, which was on a bus parked on Berkeley Street, so the Pesky Pole jogged on. He somehow skirted a path around the closed-off streets and found his bag. With the Arlington Street MBTA station closed, he walked to the Chinatown stop and took the Orange Line to North Station and the commuter rail home.

“I never felt endangered or unsecured,” he said.

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