BOSTON – I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
On a day when everything (and I mean everything) spoke to good over evil, the 118th Boston Marathon came back stronger and more stunningly than anyone could have imagined.
Seventy degrees under Marathon-blue skies. So many spectators that the home stretch on Boylston Street was closed off to any post-noon arrivers. The race course from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill had fans lining both sides of the route, yelling and screaming and cheering their feelings out.
The largest field (36,000 runners) since the Centennial race in 1995 wanted to personify Boston Strong, and in that field were victims who lost limbs a year ago, runners on bladed prostheses, pumping only one God-given arm, wheel-chairing with both arms and without their artificial legs.
Ironically, a marathon is a perfect metaphor for what a once-shaken city was trying to overcome. It is 26.2 miles where only the elite runners actually race. The rest of the field just wants to finish, to keep going, to push on through hip-pointers, blisters, dry-mouth and all kinds of crazy thoughts.
“I kept telling myself, if I can just run 2 more miles,” said one woman who had 12 to go.
“At one point, I was going to quit,” said another, whose hips had locked up at the 18-mile marker, “but I did not get to finish last year, so I had to finish this year.”
The last of the runners turned onto Boylston Street well after 6 p.m., and the crowd was still there, the cheers carrying them the last 30 yards to the most meaningful medals of their lives. How many might have hobbled off the course without hearing the inspiring chants of, “You Got This!” and “Way To Go” and “Bring It Home” all along the way.
In Wellesley, the college girls still wanted to be kissed. At Boston College, there were still bottles of beer for any runner who wanted one. At Heartbreak Hill, some runners turned into joggers and walkers, but once over the summit began running again.
Police and Special Forces were everywhere, seemingly along each mile, watching the crowd carefully but in no way inhibiting the atmosphere. From babies in strollers to seniors with canes, no one, it seemed, wanted to stay away. This was their day, as much as the Marathoners’– the day they were going to officially take back their city.
No one personified this more than Shalane Flanagan, who became a long-distance All-American at Carolina and now lives and trains in Portland. But she grew up on the North Shore of Boston in Marblehead and fell in love with racing while watching her parents run Boston.
Flanagan was the first elite runner to sign up for 2014, three days after the bombs shattered the 2013 race. She returned to Boston six times over the summer, fall and winter, running the course each time, training to post the 2 hours and 22 minutes she thought would win. She led for more than 19 miles before falling behind and finishing seventh. Still, she set the record for an American woman in Boston and was a mere two seconds over her personal goal.
“I love Boston so much, I really wanted to do it for my city,” a teary-eyed Flanagan told the Boston Globe. “I was so excited to be part of this city and to feel the love I felt. My insides were shaking. It was so loud my ears almost hurt. It was one of the most memorable days for the city of Boston and our nation. I just wanted to put on the best performance and whatever I had in me to be poured out on the streets.”
By dusk, Flanagan was home celebrating with her family. But it was still 60 degrees and thousands were wandering the streets of Boston, sucking in their last minutes of an historic day. By Tuesday morning, downtown went back to business, unlike the crime scene of a year ago and the lockdown that followed.
A 33-year-old Kenyan, Rita Jeptoo, won her third Boston; an American Citizen (39-year-old Eritrean native Meb Keflezighi) won the race for the first time in 30 years.
And a Carolina girl ran an American’s best time in Boston and cried all the way home.