Justin Krebs and Christine Geiselman
Justin Krebs and Christine Geiselman

A diamond ring arrived in the mail in time for Easter, but Justin Krebs held onto it for weeks before tucking it into his bag for Boston.

For a couple of avid runners, there was no more perfect setting in which to pop the question than the Boston Marathon.

He got the blessing from girlfriend Christine Geiselman's mother on Sunday, the day before the two would run the marathon together for the first time.

The finish line would have been ideal - a place drowned in celebration, symbolizing a deeply valued accomplishment for both runners.

But Krebs was afraid to wait. The 38-year-old Spring Garden Township man has running-induced hip and back problems. He said he feared "if it was a bad day," he or Geiselman might not finish the race.

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Contemplating the timing until the last minute, Krebs finally decided to pull the ring out of his pocket about 20 minutes before the couple started the race.

He later realized the fortuitous nature of this decision, however spontaneous it was at the time.

"I did it, actually, at the high school before we left to walk to the starting line," he said. "We were sitting there for an hour and a half, two hours, and it just worked out right."

He told her he didn't think there was a better time or place to do it, as they had been brought together through running, their shared passion.

She tearfully accepted. They kissed and hugged, the crowd of people around them oblivious to what had happened. They asked a friend to shoot a picture, and the friend overlooked the ring despite Geiselman's attempts to flaunt it.

She said she had been suspecting Krebs would ask her to marry him, though the race was to be the day's main focus.

"We met running, and I knew it was coming sometime soon," she said. "(At the race) kind of fit our interests. But I was surprised when he did it. I was more expecting it after the race."

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Krebs, an assistant manager at a Sprint retail store, met Geiselman, a 30-year-old nursing student, through a group of runners in Lancaster.

Over the past year, the couple grew closer and moved in together in Spring Garden Township in January, he said.

They started in the second wave of the race around 10:20 a.m. and ran together for its entirety, with him adjusting his pace to stay near, he said.

They stopped a couple of times to stretch and use the restroom. She was hungry and wanted a Coca-Cola, he said.

"At one point, I told her we might as well just keep running because the finish is in front of us and that's where we have to go to pick up our stuff so we could leave," he said. "The quicker we got there, the quicker we could stop."

After nearly four hours, they finally approached the finish line and saw family members standing on the side of Boylston Street.

"They were, incidentally, standing where the second explosion went off," Krebs said. "So if we had finished later..."

He didn't finish his sentence.

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In the minutes after the race, Krebs and his fiance milled around in the streets around the finish line, collecting their belongings and talking with friends.

They were separated when the first bomb exploded at 2:50 p.m., just short of the finish line on Boylston Street.

"I was about a half mile away on a parallel street," he said. "When the first one went off, I just thought it was a car wreck. When the second one went off, I thought, 'That's kind of weird.' She came up crying and said she thinks it's a bomb. I told her to settle down, that it couldn't be a bomb."

An exhausted Geiselman was on a nearby street at the time of the explosions, but she said she lost track of her exact location in the chaos.

"We had to get our baggage and were on separate streets," she said. "I truly cannot remember where I was when it happened. You heard the first one go off and everyone just sort of stopped. There were two other girls in front of me and we all just looked at each other like, 'What just happened?'"

While Krebs is "the calm one," Geiselman said she sensed something was very wrong and she wanted to leave the city immediately.

She found him, then verified the rest of her family was safe.

"My family had been standing near the site of the second explosion," she said. "I said I thought something bad had happened and we needed to get out of here, just find my family and leave."

She had been planning to meet a friend and have some lunch before leaving town, but she, Krebs, and family members instead began walking to their vehicles to leave as fast as they could.

On the long walk, a television they stopped to watch through a restaurant window confirmed their fears.

Geiselman, still wearing the medal around her neck, broke down in tears.

"I just had to walk away," she said. "I was crying and two complete strangers came up to me and gave me a hug."

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So as friends might be congratulating the couple under normal circumstances, most people have just been telling them they're glad they're still alive, she said.

They're both still reconciling how to share their engagement anniversary with a tragedy.

"It was a roller coaster of an emotional day," she said. "It started out so happy. It was nice to be able to run with him. We crossed the finish line together and then ... it's very bittersweet. There's no words... I'll try to focus on the good aspects of it. We were happy, but something bad happened that day."

Added Krebs: "It is kind of tough to look at anything like that. We're both just happy that everyone is all right. It's kind of weird and it will probably take a little bit to sink in. We got to run the whole thing together and enjoy the whole experience, but it's definitely there and you think about it."

The two will probably marry after she finishes nursing school next year, they said.

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.