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The Spirit Of ‘Boston Strong’ Reigns At The Boston Marathon

More than 32,000 runners ran in the 118th edition of the Boston Marathon.

More than 32,000 runners ran in the 118th edition of the Boston Marathon.

On Monday, runners took back Boylston Street in dramatic fashion, culminating an amazing week in Boston.

A year after unthinkable acts of terrorism struck the Boston Marathon and the city of Boston to its core and made every runner feel vulnerable and exposed, 32,408 runners ran the 118th edition of the race with a chip on their shoulder, love in their hearts, and tears in their eyes. Running for the fallen victims, running for a charity, or running for a PR, runners of all speeds and experience levels won the day and helped push the horror of the 2013 terrorist acts into history. But in doing so, the individual and collective efforts of the runners—as well as those all week from the city, the Boston Athletic Association and the Boston Red Sox, among other organizations—ensured the victims and the efforts of the first responders will never be forgotten.

“It was my dream to win the Boston Marathon and I did it, but it wasn’t about me. It was about the people,” Meb Keflezighi said after becoming the first American man to win the race since Greg Meyer did it 1983. “I wanted to win for the city and for the people, just like the Red Sox did.”

It started with the elite races—with Shalane Flanagan going for broke in the women’s race and setting the tone for one of the fastest women’s marathons in history, and Keflezighi’s historic win. But it was the thousands of determined citizen runners, the spectators and the safety crews—police, fire, ATF, bomb squads—that also played a huge role in making the day an enormous success.

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Although temperatures warmed up to the low 70s later in the day and made reaching personal best times much harder for most runners, the expressions on many runners at the finish line were indications of selflessness, that they were doing something bigger than themselves for the collective healing process of the city and its people. Record crowds were reported all along the course, especially on the five-block homestretch along Boylston Street. When the winners of the elite races dashed toward the finish line on Boylston, the enthusiastic support was almost deafening and it continued throughout the day.

“The crowd was awesome and that’s what makes this race,” said Scott Kukel, a runner from Colorado Springs, who finished in 2:52.

“It was incredible. Absolutely incredible,” said Boston resident Carrie Linhart, who ran in a red Greater Boston Track Club singlet. “It meant everything to run the marathon this year. The crowd carried my through the last couple of miles. It’s just incredible.”

A day after the Boston Red Sox honored the victims and first responders with a moving 20-minute ceremony at Fenway Park, thousands of runners personally honored the late Krystle Marie Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, and Sean Collier—the four people killed in connection with last year’s terrorist acts—by raising money, wearing “Boston Strong” shirts, or writing their names on race shirts. While running down Boylston to the finish line, some runners held their hands up high, some pointed to the sky and others sobbed openly. Many stopped to pay homage to the victims at the site of each bomb blast, while others kissed the ground at the finish line.

After much anticipation for the April 15 anniversary date of last year’s race and then this year’s Boston Marathon, the day turned out better than imagined. A week of tribute events and celebrations culminated in one of the most memorable marathons in recent history. It was much more than a race, but a much-needed triumph of human spirit. It was less about individual goals and much, much, much more about part part of something for the greater good.

“We are all Boston Strong,” said Boston resident Terry McGrath, who was wearing a Red Sox hat and a “Boston Strong” T-shirt while watching the race near Boylston and Exeter about a block from the finish line. “This is what we’re all about.”

RELATED: Meb Makes History In Boston

The Boston Marathon will never be the same, but the galvanizing efforts of everyone associated with this year’s race proved that running can help us all overcome enormous adversity, come together as a community and start to heal from the horrible things that can happen in life. The simple—though sometimes very difficult—act of putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles continues to be the barometer among human endurance challenges and that played out on the pavement between Hopkinton and Boston all day long.

Not everyone can run a marathon fast like Keflezighi, Flanagan, or women’s winner Rita Jeptoo, but almost anyone can complete a marathon if they put their heart, body and soul to it and pin a race number to their shirt. When those basics movements and a steely determination are tied to something bigger—in this case, the siren call of “Boston Strong”—the results can be extraordinary. It’s a reminder of why we all do this, a reminder of why we get out there and run on a daily basis. Yes, we all like to run fast times, lose weight and feel good, but our efforts can lead to something much bigger than just our own goals.

Today once again proved the only limitations we encounter in life are the ones we put on ourselves. It started with Keflezighi—a naturalized American citizen who came to the U.S. as a young boy from war-torn Eritrea—running one of the greatest races of his career and a new marathon PR on the verge of turning 39. Also, amid the 32,000 uber-motivated participants, there were roughly 75 people who competed in wheelchairs or handcycles. Plus, 30 of the victims of last year’s bombing incidents ran or walked all or parts of the marathon. To top it off, runners raised more than $13 million for the Boston Marathon’s 30 official charities this year.

Everyone in Boston played a role in making Monday what it was, and that’s what makes the marathon—and especially this year’s Boston Marathon—such an amazing event.

“Last year, what happened here changed the world we live in,” said South Africa’s Ernst Van Dyk, who won the men’s push rim wheelchair division in 1:20:36. “The way we race marathons has completely changed. The last 5 miles was like the human tunnel of emotion. As Tired as I was, I couldn’t give up. The people made me do that. They carried me.”

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