Kenneth Williams

Credit: Courtesy photo

Southern Marathoner, Held Up at Last Mile Last Year, Back To Finish

April 20, 2014

Kenneth Williams is 72 years old and runs his family business in Corinth, Miss. – bottling Coca Cola.

“And you can point out that he drinks about 10 a day and he just climbed Kilimanjaro and he just swam with Great Whites so it really hasn’t hurt much," he said.

Williams is a runner and a coach. He’s competed in 12 Boston Marathons, including last year’s.

“Pretty good for a country boy from Mississippi," he said.

But last year, Williams never got to finish.

“I was nearing the end, I was past 25-mile mark and heard this massive explosion, then another," he said. "I looked up against a black building, I think it was the Prudential Tower, and sure enough there was a mass of gray smoke and I knew something was amiss.”

He was stuck in Kenmore Square with 5,700 other runners.

“It was traumatic, everybody was very upset," he said. "It was cold. The people that lived along the route were as generous as they could be. They came out with coats, jackets, garbage bags for us to put on.”

Eventually, Williams made his way back to his hotel room at the Back Bay Sheraton. And he caught his flight home the next day. His immediate thought was that he would be back to finish in 2014.

“It was the worst thing that could have happened and the worst group that they could have messed with because marathoners are not going to be intimidated,” he said.

But in the days and weeks that followed, Williams felt changed.

“I have never had a catastrophic event occur to me like this that really had an effect on me," he said. "I had issues. I was very emotional, had trouble sleeping. Big, loud sounds frightened to me. I wasn’t able to shake it off.”

And talking with fellow southern runners, Williams found he was not alone. Some even cancelled plans to run the New York marathon.

“Of the 18, 10 or 12 were having real emotional problems dealing with this," he said. "I do know a person or two that did not go to New York because they were not comfortable. But no one I know of is not returning to Boston for that reason.”

In an effort to share stories and boost morale, Williams started a website – He spread the word on social media that he was looking for people to write their marathon story — no matter how long ago they ran.

“It’s a wonderful way to record one of your life moments," he said. "We have stories that go back to 1975 and 20 different states, all age groups. It’s been great.”

Williams has had more than 60 contributors, and he hopes that will grow to thousands. He’s coming back to Boston this year, along with a large group of friends. He says it’s hard to overstate the significance of this race.

“It’s kind of thought of as the Master’s, the final game of the World Series, center court at Wimbledon, Indianapolis 500, and yet we get to play there," he said. "We’re at center stage with the greatest runners in the world.”

And Williams plans to finish this year.

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