Nearly 32,000 runners hit the streets in the first Boston Marathon since last year’s deadly bombing, sending a powerful message of resilience amid heavy security that included a battery of surveillance cameras and police officers on rooftops.
In what some saw as altogether fitting, an American — Eritrean-American Meb Keflizighi — won the men’s division on Monday for the first time in more than 30 years, dominating a field that included many athletes who were prevented from completing the race last year.
“I showed up, I’m back, and I am going to finish what I didn’t finish last year,” said Mary Cunningham, 50, of St Petersburg, Florida, who was stopped 1.5km short of the finish line by the explosions on April 15 last year.
The two pressure-cooker bombs that went off near the end of the 42km course killed three people and wounded more than 260 in a hellish spectacle of torn limbs, smoke and broken glass.
This year, police were deployed in force along the route, with helicopters circling above and bomb-sniffing dogs checking trash cans.
“Boston Strong” — the unofficial slogan adopted after the terrorist attack — was everywhere.
At 2:49pm, the time the bombs went off, spectators observed a moment of silence at the finish line. It was followed by some of the loudest cheers of the day as people whooped, clapped and rang cowbells.
Joe Ebert, of Hampton, New Hampshire, was cheering on his son-in-law near the spot in downtown Boston where the bombs went off. He was there last year, too.
“Just wanted to let them know that they can’t beat us down. I think it makes us all stronger when something like that happens,” he said.
Also among the spectators near the finish line was Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the bombing. It was the first time he had returned to the area since the attack.
“It feels great” to be back, he said. “I feel very safe.”
Sabrina Dello Russo, 38, of South Boston, was running her first marathon for a good friend, Roseann Sdoia, who lost her right leg in the bombing.
“She is my inspiration from day one last year when I saw her in the ICU. Every run I do, she is in the back of my head, and she will be keeping me going today,” Dello Russo said.
While Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said there had been no specific threats against the race or the city, spectators at the 118th running of the world’s oldest annual marathon had to go through tight checkpoints before being allowed near the starting and finish lines.
Police along the route examined backpacks, particularly outside subway station exits, and runners had to use clear plastic bags for their belongings.
More than 100 cameras were installed along the course in Boston, and race organizers said about 50 observation points would be set up around the finish line to monitor the crowd.
Race organizers expanded the field from its recent cap of 27,000 to make room for more than 5,000 runners who were still on the course last year at the time of the explosions, for friends and relatives of the victims, and for those who made the case that they were “profoundly impacted” by the attack.
Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the women’s race in a course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes and 57 seconds, as she defended her championship from last year.
She said she had been hoping this year for a title she could enjoy.
“It was very difficult to be happy. People were injured and children died,” she had said of last year’s marathon. “If I’m going to win again, I hope I can be happier and to show people, like I was supposed to last year.”