Thousands roared again Monday along the most famous 26.2 miles in sports, celebrating an unexpected American victory, the fall of a course record, and the return of Patriots Day to its rightful place as New England’s most joyful rite of spring.
One of the largest fields in Boston Marathon history — 32,530 participants — took off from Hopkinton for the 118th running of the prestigious road race, with elite athletes and weekend plodders together renewing a determined pursuit of the finish line in Copley Square, amid greater-than-ever security.
Race Day 2014, the unofficial kickoff of spring for this sun-hungry region, followed an especially bleak and brutal winter, as well as a series of emotional ceremonies in Boston last week to honor victims and survivors of last year’s Marathon bombings.
“It truly has been a long, hard 12 months,” race director Dave McGillivray told a crowd of thousands jammed into Hopkinton town center for the start under near-cloudless skies. “We’re taking back our race today. We’re taking back the finish line.”
Other than a Red Sox comeback falling short at Fenway Park, Patriots Day was everything it is supposed to be, and a little more.
“There is a different energy this year,” said Jeff Morris, a spectator on the route in Ashland who hasn’t missed a Boston Marathon in decades. “This year they all have something different to run for. You can feel it.”
Last year’s victor in the women’s race, Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, repeated as champion in course-record time.
In the men’s race, 38-year-old Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years.
Beyond those headline moments came thousands of personal victories and stories of perseverance, a year and a week after two bombs killed three and wounded hundreds near the finish line on Boylston Street.
Celeste Corcoran, who lost both legs in the attack, and her daughter, Sydney, who was injured, ran the last block of the course with Celeste’s sister Carmen Acabbo. They were among a number of survivors who participated.
“I did this for every single person who can’t run this race,” said Celeste, balanced on prosthetic running blades. “Negative power is officially gone from this spot. Terrorists never, ever win.”
A week after the anniversary of the bombings, Monday’s race felt more like the enormous all-day block party it always has been.
“It’s all about the runners today,” said former mayor Thomas M. Menino. “It’s a new day in Boston.”
No official crowd estimate was available, though race officials had expected record attendance.
The Marathon is always a challenge for runners; this year, it was also a challenge for police charged with making the race more secure while retaining the spirit of an event known for easy interactions between fans and runners.
“I don’t think we could have had a better outcome from what we had all day,” Massachusetts State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said after the race. “It’s a great celebration and a great victory for everybody.”
Alben said police responded to a number of reports of suspicious packages or unattended bags along the route, though none turned out to be threats.
“We had tremendous cooperation from the public,” said Alben, adding that spectators along the course generally abided by the Boston Athletic Association’s list of restricted items. “From what I saw, people were quite attentive.”
Officers fortified the starting line in Hopkinton with security checkpoints, police dogs, and hand-held metal detectors. By the time Amy Nauman got past the new security measures at the start, she had a yellow band on her wrist, a pink ribbon on her bag, and had been checked with a metal detector three times.
“Every time you went through a corral, you were checked again,” said Nauman, 25, of Hopkinton.
But to Debi Bentley, who also lives in Hopkinton, the extra security was the “right thing to do.”
“I feel absolutely safe,” she said. “I think it’s exciting to see people continuing to fill in here and support these runners.”
The mood in Hopkinton was festive, setting the stage for the day. Runners wore colorful gear for the long journey. Music blared from loudspeakers. Vendors sold Boston Strong T-shirts.
On the other end of the course, hours before the first elite runners were expected to arrive, the Poitras family of Dracut had already staked out a spot at the finish line, just steps from where the first bomb went off.
“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,’’ said Michael Poitras, 53, wearing a freshly painted blue mohawk haircut and a mustache dyed in Marathon colors. “We’ve been waiting all year.” Poitras said he has brought his sons — Andrew, 21, and Nicholas, 23 — to the Marathon since “they were little guys.’’ The attack affected them deeply: Six weeks after the bombings, Andrew joined the Army National Guard and Nicholas decided to become an EMT.
Michael Poitras held a sign saying, “No more hurting people. Peace,” the haunting words written on a poster by Martin Richard, the youngest person to die in the attacks. A photo of the Dorchester boy holding the poster spread across the Internet last year, becoming a symbol of the city’s heartbreak.
With the added security, the elder Poitras said the finish line was “the safest place on earth.’’
Hopkinton native Matt Ellam said he had watched the race 16 years before last year’s attack inspired him to run.
Once a “carefree day,” Marathon Monday now “takes on a certain gravity to honor the victims,” said Ellam, 26, who ran to raise money for the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions, where he is studying nursing. “I’m not here to have a good time as much as to show my support.”
At Mile 6 in Framingham, runner Todd Green stopped to hug his wife and their three children, ages 8, 11, and 13.
“You want to come with me?” he asked the children.
An avid runner who has participated in several Boston Marathons, Green last ran alongside his wife, Cindy, in 1996.
Cindy Green’s eyes flooded as she explained that while the family lives in Pittsburgh, she is from Boston, and they wanted to come back this year as a tribute.
“This is the king of the marathons,” she said. “This is the special one.”
On Commonwealth Avenue in Back Bay, where runners were stopped last year after the bombs went off, a crowd three rows deep swung cowbells and hooted encouragement.
Runners shouted their appreciation right back.
“Thank you, Boston!” shouted Kirk A. Wright of York, Pa., as he trudged toward the underpass at Massachusetts Avenue. “Thank you!”
Tom D. Osterbuhr, of Grand Island, Neb., filmed the crowd of spectators as he slowed to an exuberant walk toward the underpass. “For you,” he said, pointing to the crowd. “For you guys!”
Hundreds of people stopped at the Ladder 15 and Engine 33 firehouse on Boylston Street to pay tribute to Lieutenant Edward Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, who were among the first to respond after last year’s bombings and were killed in a Back Bay fire last month. The crowd was four-deep outside the firehouse, where people cheered from the windows overlooking Hereford Street as runners turned the corner onto Boylston.
Caleb Bernhardt of Green Bay, Wis., stood on the sidewalk across from the firehouse, wearing red, white, and blue shorts and waving a large US flag.
“I just wanted to bring the flag to show pride in our country,” said Bernhardt, 23, who was visiting Boston for the first time and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. “It’s been a really great experience. I’m proud of this city.”
Near the finish line, when Keflezighi became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since Greg Meyer in 1983, staving off a hard-charging Kenyan challenger in the home stretch, race fan Joe Corbitt pumped his arms in the air, shouting for joy.
“It’s a poetic finish,’’ said Corbitt, 49, of Grafton. “Boston’s just crazy. You cannot describe a finish like this. We are Boston Strong!”
At 2:49 p.m., the exact time the bombs exploded on April 15, 2013, the announcer at the finish line asked for a moment of silence followed by a cheer so loud “they will hear it around the world.” The crowd fell silent as runners streamed by, then erupted in applause.
Mick Blosser didn’t get to finish the Marathon last year. The Middleton man and onetime Penn State fullback had about 2 miles to go when the runners were halted. His wife, Shona, was between the two explosions near the finish line with their three daughters — an experience that gave the 3-year-old twins nightmares for months. This year, they didn’t tell the girls Daddy was running again. The kids stayed with a baby-sitter on Monday. Shona cheered her husband along Commonwealth Avenue. She had reservations about coming back, thinking it might be traumatic, but decided it would feel worse to give in to fear.
Mick approached, grinning. The finish line was a half-mile away. How would it feel to cross it?
“It’s going to feel awesome,” he said, and then seemed to quickly reconsider: “It’s going to be bittersweet. Very emotional.”
More from the 2014 Boston Marathon — Cullen: Just like the days we used to know | Gasper: Boston reclaims its Marathon | Photos: Marathon scenes | The ‘Scream Tunnel’ and Heartbreak Hill | The elite runners | Boylston Street | Videos from the Marathon | Full coverage
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