By Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff
It’s the crowds.
Always the crowds.
In 2014, it was most certainly the crowds that spurred thousands of runners to the finish line at the 118th Boston Marathon, one year after many of the same people who streamed across the finish line Monday afternoon, more than four hours after sprinting off with the starting gun in Hopkinton, sat in confusion footsteps, blocks, and miles away from Boylston Street. In 2013, Copley Square was the site of tragedy and broken dreams. One year later, it was simply the Boston Marathon. Again.
Of course the crowds returned. Nobody expected anything different.
“It was inspirational,” said Jerry Dowers of Dorchester. “I’ll tell you, I trained for it, and at Mile 21, it hit me right there, but that crowd carries you through all the way. All the way to the end.”
For Dowers, running in his first marathon in honor not only of Martin Richard, the young Dorchester resident who died in last year’s bombings, the afternoon was even more special, as the firefighter also ran for his fallen colleagues, Michael Kennedy and Edward Walsh, who perished in a Back Bay blaze late last month. Dowers had never even been to the marathon before, let alone run one.
“It was always a long time goal to run the Boston Marathon, and couldn’t have picked a better year to come out here,” he said. “This is just a way for me to come out here and pay tribute to all of them.”
For the thousands who ran for last year’s victims, there were also the personal stories of triumph and tragedy. Christine Keefer ran with a T-shirt that read, “For Sean,” her 19-year-old son who took his own life just three months ago. She said she felt his presence the entire 26.2 miles, up and down the hills of the route that challenged so many to overcome them on Monday.
“Amazing,” she said. “People were so supportive.”
Obviously, this isn’t a “in the wake of current events” reaction on the part of Boston Marathon spectators. Ask any runner who has run this race to compare it to other marathons around the world, and Boston comes out on top every time. It’s the course. It’s the history. It’s the 11 a.m. Red Sox game.
It’s all that. But it’s the crowds that define the race. Even in the threat of terror, they returned on Monday, and like the race itself, it was bigger.
“Honestly, I was thinking about running with earbuds in, and I’m so happy I didn’t because it was just like…it was incredible,” said Tufts University student Laura Garbes, from Buffalo, N.Y. “I used to always be here as a spectator the last three years, but I feel like even more spectators were here this year.”
They stayed. They erupted after there was a moment of silence at the finish line at 2:49 p.m., the moment the bombs went off on the city’s annual party last year. Tens of thousands laced them up for the day. Tens of thousands more lined the course in support. It’s a city-wide tailgate, cheering on the athletes, their stories and their triumphs.
“It was always something I wanted to do,” said New Jersey’s Josh Maarlevled, who ran with colleagues from the Port Authority police department. “Last year’s events made me want to do it even more.”
It’s the crowds that keep them wanting to come back for more. It always has been.
If 2014 proved anything, it’s that they’ve not going anywhere. Ever.