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A day for Kenyan ... fans

By Staff (2:30 p.m.)

In the end, it was a day for the Kenyans.

No, not the ones that won the men's and women's Boston marathon today.

We're talking about their fans, who gathered in a couple of sections near the end of the Marathon route and cheered loudly as runners from Kenya took both races.

Let's put it this way: They screamed as long and loud at the finish line today as anyone along the route. And they had a reason to do so: Elijah Labat of Kenya held off two other runners to take the men's race, and Catherine Ndereba roared ahead of Fatuma Roba at the end of the race.

A gusty wind kicked down Boylston Street, snapping the national flags representing the homelands of all the runners. Particularly boisterous were the places where Kenya's supporters watched a giant TV screen.

Fans of Ethiopian runner Fatuma Roba dashed into the street to follow behind her today, waving flags, as other fans who remained on the sidewalks cheered lustily as the runners chugged on by.

Although the lead among Marathon runners bounced back and forth all afternoon, one thing was certain: The crowds lining the streets near the end of the 26.2-mile route loved them all.

Along the final stretch, bleachers were packed and full, and a crowd 10 people deep lined the street.

Among those watching in Newton near Heartbreak Hill was Mike Foley, 53, of South Boston. A member of the L Street Running Club, Foley said the organization has about 540 members, of whom 230 are running in today's race.

"When I'm not running, I'm here," said Foley, who has run five Marathons. "Usually I run it."

Instead, he was handing out pieces of fruit and other snacks to runners as they went by.

Nearby stood Jack Carroll, a Falmouth resident who remembers seeing Marathon races as a child. "My father took me here when I was about 7," Carroll said. "I ran from '78 to '88."

And he knows what the runners today went through: Carroll said he has run 20 marathons, 10 of them in Boston.

A veritable wall of sound preceded and then followed the runners as they made their way toward Boston, fighting a headwind that slowed the pace of today's race.

It started off in the distance, a faint cheer that grew louder and louder as the first runners approached, peaking as they went by, then fading out after them.

The fans and supporters who lined the streets cheered on friends, family members, co-workers, and even strangers who had entered today's run.

Before the race had even started, people were gathering up and down the route.

In Framingham, more than 2,000 spectators clustered near one spot in Framingham Center. Among them were Bill and Barbara Matthews, who turned out to cheer on their son, his wife and a granddaughter. The trio was running on behalf of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Also in the crowd was longtime Marathon watcher Lisa Griffin, who brought her two daughters and one of their friends to the race route. Griffin, from Franklin, said she has been watching marathons for 29 years.

As the race leaders reached the area about 12:30 p.m., the throng of onlookers broke out into loud boisterous cheers, applauding and yelling their support as the runners raced by.

In Wellesley, at the halfway point of the route, excited viewers waited in lawn chairs and on blankets for the runners.

Among those in the crowd was Mike Proctor from Milwaukee, Wisc., who sets up timing and tracking devices at various marathons. The devices are embedded in a rubber pad that runners cross, and send out a signal as they pass by, he said.

The tracking devices can count 2,000 runners per minute, Proctor said.

Another face in the crowd was Monica Henville, a Natick, Mass. woman who, with her three grandchildren, set up at a park bench to watch the runners go by. It's the same bench she's used to watch the race for the last 20 years in a row.

Henville's favorite sight? Watching the wheelchair racers glide by, and spotting the frontrunners on foot.

The top men runners in this year's field are Kenyans, including No. 1 Joseph Chebet, last year's Boston winner; No. 2 Moses Tanui, and No. 3 Ondoro Osoro.

In fact, one of the Kenyans was favored to win this race, a feat that would mark the 10th year in a row someone from Kenya has won. Staff members Christopher Szechenyi, Tim Allik, Jeff Burke, and Amy Berlin contributed to this report.

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