On Monday, the largest field ever to run the Boston Marathon will assemble in Hopkinton, Mass. and head for the finish line on Boylston Street.
As is customary, the 118th running of the race will occur on a state holiday, Patriots Day, and it has become a 26-mile long block party for fans.
Boston Globe sports writer and veteran marathoner Shira Springer, who has run Boston six times and will be in the field on Monday, relishes the race’s small pleasures.
“I’ll often grab a Fla-Vor-Ice from one of the kids who are handing them out,” said Springer. “They’ll have wet sponges that they’re handing runners. It’s a really intimate marathon in that respect, a lot of interaction, which is rare.”
Last year’s race was cut short by two explosions near the finish line. The blasts killed three people and injured hundreds more. Many of the injured lost limbs and required months of hospitalization, and their rehabilitation continues. John Evans, one of the volunteers who provides water to runners near the finish line, remembers the confusion he felt after hearing the bombs go off.
“We saw spectators with children running towards us,” said Evans. “That’s something you don’t normally see. Something really you only see in the movies. So at that moment, a general sense of fear comes over you. What’s going on?”
Immediately after the blasts, police officers, firefighters, and volunteers began helping the injured, and people near the finish line were told to evacuate. Brian Peters is the general manager of The Pour House, a restaurant on Boylston Street where Marathon Day is always the busiest day of the year. Police first told Peters to keep the overflow crowd in the building. Then he was instructed to get everybody out the back door.
“It was crazy,” said Peters. “Obviously the amount of sirens, both police and fire, that were going around, was unbelievable, the helicopters, and then just the mass exodus of people on the street.”
The aftermath of the attack at the Marathon included the murder of a police officer and a manhunt that shut down Boston and much of the surrounding area until police could locate the alleged perpetrators, one of whom was killed. The other is awaiting trial.
But almost immediately after the bombings, it became evident that the attack had made runners and volunteers alike determined to return to the race. The Boston Marathon meant even more to them than they had realized. Among those runners is Renee Opell, who came from California to run Boston. She’ll be in Hopkinton on Monday.
“Absolutely,” said Opell. “You can’t squelch a runner. We are a determined population. We train really, really hard, and we’re gonna show up, and we’re gonna show them, and I think the country is counting on us to do that as well.”
Monday’s race will be about competition, of course. But more than ever, it will also be about community. This year’s race has drawn 10,000 volunteers, and an additional 5,000 people were turned away because there was no room for them on the course. The field will be bigger than ever, too, numbering some 36,000, and the crowd is also likely to break records. Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968. He was 21. He’s currently editor at large at Runners World. Burfoot was prevented from finishing the race last year by the chaos on Boylston Street. He’ll run again this year, and he suggests that this race will continue the positive energy that has come out of the terrible sadness generated a year ago.
“I see it as a symbolic occasion that will ultimately be happy because at the end of it, we will all have come out at the end of a horrific event a year ago, but turned it into a heroic event in many ways,” said Burfoot. “The reactions of the first responders, the citizens, and the people of Boston were just fantastic and for us to be able to finish the marathon will be meaningful and celebratory.”