At marathon, buoyant crowds declare Boston is back

BOSTON — This Boston Marathon, a year after the bombs went off at the finish line, was one that nobody wanted to miss.

Elise Conner, 58, who was near the end of the course when the explosions rocked Boylston Street, struggled through an injury to make this year’s race. “If I had to crawl,” she said. “No matter what. I’m coming.”

I understood perfectly.

I got hurt in October — torn knee cartilage — and really shouldn’t have come back to Boston. (My doctor said it was a “terrible idea.”) But like thousands of others, I had to return.

There were about 36,000 versions of the same story, as runners flocked to Boston to reclaim the iconic race after the attacks last year. Conner and I shared our stories on the bus taking us to the starting line, and it seemed all around people were sharing similar stories.

This year’s race had a new sense of purpose, and of celebration. The crowds were bigger than in previous years, and as we ran past, it was obvious the crowds, though always happy, were lustier and louder.

The 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to the Back Bay neighborhood was lined with "Boston Strong" signs and yellow and blue T-shirts, the marathon colors. The message was clear and unmistakably Bostonian:

“This Is Our Effing City,” one bedsheet banner said.

The race, with an expanded field, had a noticeably heightened security presence, with military police standing on rooftops and bomb-sniffing dogs near the finish line.

Runners had their bags checked and were screened with wands before being allowed to get on the fleet of school buses that transported them to the start line.

But the mood along the course, on a brilliantly sunny and warm day, was anything but grim. People whooped for runners and the runners shouted their thanks back. Because of my knee, I wasn’t focused on time this year so I let myself soak up atmosphere more, enjoy the crowd more. I slapped a lot more kids’ hands, did a lot more high fives.

I never did see Conner after our ride to the starting line. But in our brief talk, she shared her experiences from a year earlier. Conner, a veteran marathoner from St. Charles, Ill., wasn’t far from the finish line when the first bomb detonated.

“I looked up at the sky,” she recalled, having thought it was a plane.

Then the second bomb went off and she started running. Conner said she has lived with guilt ever since: “Why didn’t I turn toward it, and go help people?”

Over the past year she too got injured in training — an Achilles' tendon — but not making the race never seemed like an option. She, like me and I presume many others, had decided soon after the race to return in 2014.

The tragedy moved others to make their Boston Marathon debuts.

Ben Bobrow, 50, of Phoenix, said he had put off a trip to Boston for years, even though he had repeatedly qualified for the race. But that was before the bombings.

“That was the first thing that popped in my mind: I’m going to go,” he said. Bobrow said he ended up raising $10,000 for the MR8 Foundation, the charity founded in the memory of 8-year-old bombing victim Martin Richard.

“This is not something that anybody can take away,” he said. “It was something I felt pretty strongly about.”

As for me, the knee felt a little tweaky the first few miles, and eventually cramps set in. But I was able to join thousands of others and, in a way, all of Boston in crossing that finish line.

Twitter: @JTanfani

Tanfani, a reporter in the Washington Bureau, wrote about his experiences at last year's Boston Marathon here. He finished this year’s race in 3:57:17.

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