Beneath the famed Citgo sign that Red Sox fans know and love (and Yankee fans know and might love to hate), the first runners crossed the line of blue paint on Commonwealth Avenue shortly before noon on Monday. They had just one mile left of the historic 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Copley Square in Boston's ritzy Back Bay neighborhood. The elite runners' arrival seemed to act as a sort of signal to the thousands of spectators waiting on the sidelines: The 2015 Boston Marathon was here, and both runners and spectators were staying strong.
"Stay strong" was the refrain that continued to reverberate through the tunnel of brownstones from Boston's Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle in Brookline, Massachusetts. Spectators yelled it out to the 30,000 runners — whether elite, experienced, or racing for foundations such as the local Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — as they powered through the last few miles of the world's oldest marathon.
It was especially needed in the afternoon, when the elite runners were finished yet waves of thousands continued to hustle past "Heartbreak Hill" — the route's toughest section — in the harsh rainfall. From an apartment window on Chestnut Hill Avenue, runners were greeted with perhaps the best, simply-stated sign at Monday's marathon: "WE <3 YOU."
"We're out here because of the camaraderie," said Boston resident Lori Rivas, who was attending her first marathon, having only watched it on TV in the past. "It feels like we're one big family."
Two years after a pair of pressure-cooker bombs detonated near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring nearly 300 more, the Boston Marathon is still on high alert. For the second year in a row, police conducted bag inspections at well-guarded security checkpoints — a measure that will most likely stay in place for years to come. The marathon also prohibited spectators from having suitcases, backpacks, and other over-the-shoulder bags along the route, as well as "props," costumes that cover one's face, and even large blankets and comforters. (I did, however, see an almost-life-sized cut-out of Samuel Adams floating around near Chestnut Hill.)
In an outline released by Massachusetts state police Monday morning, security officials assured spectators that there would be "significant" police presence, including plain clothes officers patrolling the route. The Associated Press reported that about 3,500 police officers would be in uniform. Security officials also asked viewers to carry their personal items in clear plastic bags. "In all cases, spectators should keep their personal items under their immediate control at all times," the state police guidelines read.
The tighter security measures may be a far cry from marathons of the past, where access was relatively easy and relaxed. But for many spectators the policies didn't deter from the storied race and its 105-year legacy.
"There's heightened security and more police around, but to me, the marathon hasn't changed," spectator Kay Miller told Bustle. She described the marathon as having a "momentum of greatness."
"Look at this," Miller said, pointing to the dozens of runners hustling down Commonwealth Avenue. "The human spirit will not be broken."
For Elizabeth, a New York resident who ran in the 2014 Boston Marathon, the event has changed over the last two years — but it has changed for the better.
"There's more spirit," she told Bustle. "As a runner [in 2014], everyone was out there to support you. Runners and spectators have gotten a lot tighter. Closer."
She believes the bombings didn't intimidate runners or spectators. "Now, people are more interested in the marathon," Elizabeth said. "We're not scared. We're not going to stop. We're going to go out there and run and cheer."
Boston resident Angela Case agrees. "It's gotten more popular," she told Bustle. "I know more people who want to run now."
For Sarah Onori, there was a more somber tone. "I think people are trying to remember what happened in 2013," Onori told Bustle.
"Boston Strong" posters bobbed above raincoats and umbrellas along the busiest parts of the marathon route, though there weren't as many as you would expect to see just two years after the city and its neighboring towns shut down for a massive manhunt. The operation ultimately captured convicted Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; killed his brother, Tamerlan; and left residents of Boston, Cambridge, and Watertown on edge.
Yet no one seemed on edge Monday. And some spectators didn't need the constant reminder of "Boston Strong."
"A horrible thing happened. We'll never forget that day in 2013," Eileen Gordon, who was viewing the race near Cleveland Circle, told Bustle. However, she said the marathon was very different now: it's "more joyous."
"It's an even more beautiful sight to see this constant stream of runners," Gordon said.
Gordon was waving blue and silver pom-poms with her friend, Sandy, who periodically broke out into high school-like cheers: "YOU-ARE-AMAZING. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!"
Sandy lives right here on Beacon St., and has watched the Boston Marathon from practically her front yard for over the last 40 years. On Monday, she was watching her daughter run the historic route for the first time.
"She always wanted to do it. She's been watching it for 26 years," Sandy told Bustle. "This year was the time."
Later in the afternoon, when 2015 winners Lelisa Desisa and Caroline Rotich had long accepted their medals and hung up their sneakers, hundreds of runners were still making their way toward the Citgo sign — a beacon leading them through the freezing rain. The wall-to-wall crowds had thinned, with only patches of spectators remaining. Some still waved cowbells and American flags as they chanted the names of the stragglers, most of whom, at this point, were racing for charity. A man dressed in a Superman-esque costume redesigned to say, "Marathon Man," elicited a booming ovation.
I'll refrain from saying something along the lines of, "Today, we are all Marathon Man," but it sure came close to it on Marathon Monday. As the world's oldest marathon, the Boston Marathon will never lose its importance, nor will it lose its luster among long-distance runners — after all, this year's race appointments did sell out in about eight hours. But in the two years since the 2013 bombings, it seems like running toward that blue-and-yellow finish line in Copley Square is a team effort.
Images: Lauren Barbato