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Finishing line: spirits high

Weather has little impact on marathoners, fans

Despite a soggy, blustery morning, thousands of fans lined the course of the Boston Marathon, many in coats and slickers. It wasn't exactly comfortable, and the crowds were decidedly thinner than in years past, but many still managed to create a festive atmosphere along the way.

"My dad would be proud," said Christina Thompson, 32, of Cambridge, who was shivering in shorts, tank top, and a plastic garbage bag for protection in the rain, as she waited near Heartbreak Hill in Newton. Her father, a runner, was to pass by, and she planned to join him for the last 6 miles of the race.

"It's all in your attitude," she chirped as she bounced from foot to foot to stay warm.

For days, fans and runners of the marathon steeled themselves for what forecasters said could be among the worst conditions in the event's 111-year-history.

But even as coastal areas dealt with floods and as rain and gusting wind whipped contestants and spectators in the early morning, conditions had become more moderate by the time runners were crossing the finish line a few hours later.

"It was actually nice to have the rain drizzling on your face," said 32-year-old Marjorie Janvier-Bellerand, a Jamaica Plain runner, as she passed Cleveland Circle. "It's refreshing."

As the wet and windy morning quickly dissipated into a slightly damp, cool day, many runners began peeling off the layers they had piled on for the race.

By mile 5, Kathleen Walsh, 41, of North Reading, had shed two rain coats.

"I was prepared for an adventure," said Walsh, who had imagined gusting winds and runners slipping on a slick course. By noon, the rain and wind had subsided, and some runners admitted they might have to exaggerate the severity of conditions in order to impress their loved ones.

"When I go and tell my family about it, I'm going to tell them it was very, very windy," Walsh said, as she stretched after the race in a Boston Common parking garage. "My kids will believe anything."

One New York couple stopped long enough to get married in a wedding tent near the course on Heartbreak Hill.

Few runners dashed to emergency medical stations for hypothermia, and medical attendants mostly kept busy working out knots in participants' arms and legs.

Still, the forecast chased away the big crowds of years past. Many who did show were shivering, bundled in heavy coats and ponchos.

Those not scared off by predictions of frigid, downpour conditions often found they were rewarded for their bravery with good views and few battles for position along the course.

"This is nothing, nothing," said Marc Fortin, 50, of Merrimack, Maine, surveying a thin crowd on Commonwealth Avenue at the crest of Heartbreak Hill in Newton, usually one of the more popular and congested stretches of the course for spectators. "You're usually five people deep," he said.

A single line of spectators bordered the roadway, and some spots were vacant.

Fortin, who has come to watch the marathon since he was about 20 years old, shielded himself from the elements in thermal underwear, four layers of shirts, and wool pants.

"We're dressed like Mainers," he said proudly.

He and 11 friends distributed orange wedges to runners and kept themselves warm with beef stew, beer, and "a little brandy in the coffee."

Jen Manell of Worcester, 28, also came prepared. She wore leg warmers underneath her running pants, a rain hat, waterproof boots, and gloves.

But as she stood on Washington Street in Lower Falls near Mile 16 of the race, she still had to rub her arms for warmth.

"The moral of the story is, I'm still cold," said Manell.

Volunteers for the American Red Cross set up 25 medical tents along the course. There were also three disaster management stations to attend to the runners.

The cold and damp conditions sent at least two runners to the emergency room of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where they were treated for hypothermia. Some chilly participants dropped out of the race and were driven to the finish line in heated buses.

But, by late afternoon, volunteers said they were relieved the day had not been worse.

"I'm so happy, so pleased with the way it ended up," said Kandi Finch, an emergency medical technician who coordinated the Red Cross First Aid stations yesterday. "It had all the makings of a disaster, but it ended up being great."

Jack Fleming, spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association, said 307 people did not finish yesterday's race.

Most dropped out because of typical problems runners encounter during the race, including blisters, cramps, and starting too fast only to become exhausted midway through the race.

"That's an incredibly low number," Fleming said. "In the end, the weather conditions turned out be pretty good for running."

At the finish line in Copley Square, the streets were lined with runners draped in silver heat sheets. Some participants' lips were blue, and many snuggled with relatives as they limped to their cars.

"My legs are just out," said Marty Holland, 52, of Dallas, who sat in a wheelchair near Boylston Street, her legs wrapped in a heat sheet. Her husband Roger stood at her side, rubbing her shoulder.

"No more legs," she lamented.

It was her fourth marathon and her first one in Boston, a race she said she never thought of skipping even when the forecast had called for 50-mile-per-hour winds.

"This is the marathon of marathons," she said. "This is the Super Bowl."

But it was also her swan song, she said.

"This is my last marathon," Holland said.

Her husband scoffed at the pronouncement.

"She said that last year," he said.

Maria Cramer can be reached at