MARATHON RUNNERS DISPLAY DEFIANCE
BOSTON—Some ran to honor the dead and wounded. Others did it to prove something about their sport, the city or their country. And some were out to prove something to themselves.
With the names of the victims scrawled on their bodies or their race bibs, more than 32,000 people crossed the starting line Monday at the Boston Marathon in a powerful show of defiance a year after the deadly bombing.
“We’re marathon runners. We know how to endure,” said Dennis Murray, a 62-year-old health care administrator from Atlanta who finished just before the explosions last year and came back to run again. “When they try to take our freedom and our democracy, we come back stronger.”
The two pressure-cooker bombs that went off near the end of the 26.2-mile course last year killed three people and wounded more than 260 in a hellish spectacle of torn limbs, smoke and broken glass.
The runners this time hit the streets under extraordinary security that included a battery of surveillance cameras, more than 90 bomb-sniffing dogs and officers posted on roofs.
By late afternoon, as runners continued to drag themselves across the finish line more than six hours into the race, state emergency officials reported no security threats, other than some unattended bags.
In what some saw as altogether fitting, Meb Keflezighi, a 38-year-old U.S. citizen who came to this country from Eritrea as a boy, became the first American in 31 years to win the men’s race.
As he was presented with the trophy and laurel wreath, “The Star-Spangled Banner” echoed over Boylston Street, where the explosions rang out a year ago.
“I came as a refugee, and the United States gave me hope,” said Keflezighi, who wrote the names of the three dead on his bib along with that of the MIT police officer who was killed during the manhunt that paralyzed Boston.
Later in the day Monday, at 2:49 p.m., the time the bombs went off, a moment of silence was observed at the finish line. It was followed by some of the loudest cheers of the day as people whooped, clapped and rang cowbells.
“Boston Strong”—the unofficial slogan adopted after the terrorist attack—was everywhere as the second-largest field of runners in the 118-year history of the race took part. Many of them were runners who had to abandon the race last year because of the attack.
More than a dozen Fredericksburg-area runners participated in Monday’s event, many of them returning after last year’s bombing to show support for the victims.
Jay Harrison, 53, of Fredericksburg said participating in the race one year out from the bombing was “amazingly emotional, overwhelming to be there.”
Harrison, who is an archaeologist and works for the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, finished last year’s Boston Marathon an hour and 15 minutes before the bombs went off and was in the runners’ changing tent, about a half-mile away from the finish line, tying his shoes when the first blast went off.
He originally thought the blasts were Dumpsters being dropped by a truck. “But then there was another one and it didn’t sound right,” he said in an interview last year. “Then the sirens started.”
Monday’s race “was what we needed, as a nation, as a community to move through the tragedy,” he said following the event.
One image that stood out for Harrison was a woman who was injured in last year’s bombing and raced Monday with a prosthetic leg. He said he tapped her on the shoulder and gave her a thumbs-up.
Harrison finished the race in just over 3 hours, 28 minutes and was struck by the number of high-fives coming from fellow runners and the crowd.
“We can’t bring back the lost, or the limbs, or take back those people’s suffering,” he said. “But we can be there and help as friends and runners, and say we’re here for you.”
Among those in the crowd supporting local runners was Greg Greven, general manager of Virginia Runner in Fredericksburg.
Greven is from Boston and took his family there for a vacation during his children’s spring break.
He said he and his family attended the race regularly when he was growing up, always locating around mile six.
While that spot is usually not crowded and easy to find standing room, he said the crowd there was three people deep this year.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “People were going out of their way to high-five runners. There was a lot of positive energy.”
His 9-year-old son Jack and niece had a contest to see who could high-five more runners.
He also brought his 6-year-old daughter Lily and another niece to watch the race.
“The older kids understood what happened last year,” he said. “It was a great thing for them to see these people.”
While Gov. Deval Patrick said there had been no specific threats against the race or the city, police along the route examined backpacks, and runners had to use clear plastic bags for their belongings. More than 100 cameras were installed along the course in Boston, officials said.
Runner Scott Weisberg, 44, from Birmingham, Ala., said he had trouble sleeping the night before.
“With everything that happened last year, I can’t stop worrying about it happening again. I know the chances are slim to none, but I can’t help having a nervous pit in my stomach,” Weisberg said.
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 were “profoundly impacted” by the attack.
Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the women’s race in a course-record 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds, defending the title she won last year.
Keflizighi won the men’s title in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.
On Twitter, President Barack Obama congratulated Keflizighi and Shalane Flanagan, the top American finisher among the women, “for making America proud!”
“All of today’s runners showed the world the meaning of #BostonStrong,” Obama wrote.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is awaiting trial in the attack and could get the death penalty. Prosecutors said he and his older brother—ethnic Chechens who came to the U.S. from Russia more than a decade ago—carried out the attack in retaliation for U.S. wars in Muslim lands.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police days after the bombings.
Staff writer Lindley Estes contributed to this story.