Nearly 36,000 runners have set out from the Boston Marathon starting line with security tight along the 42-kilometre course, in a show of resilience a year after the bombing that turned the race into a scene of carnage.
To the delight of many in the crowd, an American won the men’s division for the first time in more than three decades, dominating a field that included many athletes who were prevented from finishing last year.
Meb Keflizighi, a former New York City Marathon champion and Olympic medallist, won the men’s title in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.
Keflizighi had the names of last year’s victims written in black marker on the corners of his race bib.
Last year, the two pressure-cooker bombs that went off near the finish line killed three people and wounded more than 260 in a hellish spectacle of torn limbs, smoke and broken glass.
Police were deployed in force along the route, with helicopters circling above and bomb-sniffing dogs checking through bins. Officers were posted on roofs.
Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray said it had been a long and difficult year.
“We’re taking back our race,” he said. “We’re taking back the finish line.”
At 2:49pm, the time the bombs went off 12 months ago, spectators observed a moment of silence at the finish line. It was followed by some of the loudest cheers of the day.
A total of 35,755 athletes were registered to run – the second-largest field in its history.
“I can’t imagine the number of emotions that are going to be there,” said Katie O’Donnell, who was stopped less than a mile from the end last year. “I think I’m going to start crying at the starting line, and I’m not sure I’ll stop until I cross the finish line.”
Buses bearing the message “Boston Strong” dropped off runners at the starting line.
Among the signs lining the end of the route was one paying tribute to 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest of those killed in the bombing.
“No more hurting people. Peace,” read the sign. A photograph of Martin holding a poster he made for school with those words was published after his death.
“I showed up, I’m back, and I am going to finish what I didn’t finish last year,” said Mary Cunningham, 50.
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.
Spectators had to go through tight checkpoints before being allowed near the starting and finish lines.
Fans hoping to watch near the finish line were encouraged to leave strollers and backpacks behind. Police set up checkpoints along the marathon route to examine backpacks, particularly outside subway station exits. And runners had to use clear plastic bags for their belongings.
Among the spectators cheering runners 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.”