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All signs pointed to start of something big

HOPKINTON -- The scene at the start of yesterday's Boston Marathon was just like the race itself: Things began slowly, and gradually grew to a rousing climax at high noon.

Yellow buses began pulling into this clapboard community shortly after sunrise. Cool temperatures greeted runners as they disembarked and made a procession to the makeshift runners' village behind the high school.

Early arrivals sought prime locations in the mammoth white tents at each end of the athletic complex. The first groups settled around the wide-screen televisions where they could keep up with the news and, more important, the weather, which played a major role yesterday.

Others sought solitude, immersing themselves in paperback novels. Some tried to sleep, saving their energy.

At 7:30 a.m., the first announcement blared from the public-address system on the stage in the middle of the complex. Runners were welcomed to the facility, then music was pumped in to soothe their spirits during the four-hour-plus wait for the start.

While the elite athletes were sequestered in better accommodations, these runners savored the gathering, meeting people from all around the world who shared the same passion for pounding pavement.

"I couldn't even imagine this," said Pete Weeden, 40, of Ashaway, R.I., who teaches fourth grade in Groton, Conn. "This is my first Boston Marathon. My friends told me about it, but I just couldn't imagine something this big."

Weeden, who ran marathons in East Lyme, Conn., hopes to inspire his students to become more interested in physical fitness with his attempt to complete the race.

Besides the music, the other constant sound was the snapping of doors to the Port-o-lets that surrounded the village as lines formed to use the facilities.

Two other snake-like lines formed at each side of the complex. One led to free bagels, Powerbars, and coffee. The other line was for prerace messages.

Jeff Kravitz, 49, of Lynnfield savored the experience.

"I've run marathons before, but they were nothing like this," said Kravitz, who is a dentist with offices in Wakefield. "I couldn't believe there are so many runners here. It took me 25 minutes to walk from the starting line to where I have to start the race."

Approximately a mile away, at the Town Common, the aroma of fried dough, sausages, and French fries wafted with the slight breeze.

As temperatures crept into the 60s and 70s, the Town Common quickly filled. Spectators who parked at out-of-the-way sites were bused to Hopkinton Center, clogging the leafy park. Television reporters from everywhere offered live shots, with obliging spectators mugging for the minicams.

Besides the unusually warm temperatures, there were other noticeable differences in the 108th running of this race.

First, the top women had a separate start. Actually, there were four starts to the race. At 10 o'clock, a handful of mobility-impaired competitors started down East Main Street toward Boston. At 11:25, the wheelchair portion of the race began, and five minutes later the top women took off.

Another major change at the start was splitting the field into two groups. Traditionally, the runners are corralled into metal chutes according to their numbers. Those with three-digit numbers are in the first corral. Those in the 1,000s are in the second, those in the 2,000s are in the next corral, and so forth.

BAA officials split the corrals this year. Those with numbers 9,999 and under had a straight shot down Main Street, while those with bibs numbered 10,000 and higher began on Hayden Rowe Street.

It worked smoothly. Once the last runner from the Main Street corral crossed Hayden Rowe Street -- it took nearly 10 minutes -- the gates were opened and the runners on Rowe Street followed.

Jeff Keane, 51, a public affairs director for the Pentagon, joined Kravitz and Weeden in the final corral, just in front of the "outlaw" runners.

"I'm just glad to be here and running," said Keane, who was representing a leukemia charity. A native of Braintree, he is committed to the cause -- because he has leukemia.

"For about two years," he said. "It's called hairy cell leukemia and it's quite rare. Running helps it, I think. Well, running helps me."

None of the three minded where they started the race. They weren't there to chase the $80,000 first prize. They were there for the experience.

Wisely, race officials placed plenty of Port-o-lets near the final bins off Hayden Rowe Street. After the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the flyover of fighter planes off the Town Common, there had to be more than 100 runners in line at the Port-o-lets on Maple Street.

Some didn't bother to wait and used residents' yards, which caused a few flared tempers. Some who live near the race's start posted "No Trespassing" signs and guarded their property, even using digital cameras to catch trespassers.

But for the most part, the Hopkintonians welcomed the marathon. A young twosome serenaded runners with heavy metal music, and others sought autographs on a massive sheet. And of course, there was the usual lot of quirky runners, posing as anything from Groucho Marx to Tinkerbell. They have become part of the marathon tradition.

Town officials had things in hand. By the time the last runner crossed the line, the debris along the starting line was being cleared away and this hamlet was returning to its peaceful ways.

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