Metro

At the finish line

An emotional race for the sake of running, and healing

It didn’t take long for exhaustion to make itself known at the end of the grueling 26.2-mile run from Hopkinton.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

It didn’t take long for exhaustion to make itself known at the end of the grueling 26.2-mile run from Hopkinton.

Terry McCluskey made a stiff-legged, zigzag course across Copley Square after finishing yet another Boston Marathon, his 16th overall, and gazed toward an unending herd of runners streaming past the finish line.

McCluskey pursed his lips and shook his head. His eyes began to water.

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“There isn’t a day that goes by that runners don’t think about what happened,” McCluskey said. “Everyone who was there at that moment has had a very difficult time.”

McCluskey, a wiry 65-year-old from Youngstown, Ohio, is a perennial contender in his age group at the Boston Marathon. But on Monday, the race was not about running fast, he said.

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It was about the race itself, and the community, and all the runners who come back, year after year, and look for their children and wives and husbands and friends on the street where two bombs exploded last year.

“It’s emotional for me,” McCluskey said. “My son was 8 years old the first time I brought him here.”

McCluskey compared the age of his son with that of Martin Richard of Dorchester, who was 8 when he died in the first explosion near the finish line. “Every one of us feels the pain,” McCluskey said.

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But that pain, for the most part, was used as unspoken motivation. Outwardly, the mood at the finish line was a combination of thousands of personal celebrations and a collective sense of quiet defiance.

“Forget those guys,” said David Miller, 48, from Vandalia, Ohio, in a quick, dismissive reference to the suspected bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. “That’s not what this is all about.”

Miller, wrapped in a heat-retaining cape that the finishers received, looked around the swarming crowd of staggering, stumbling, shuffling marathoners for four buddies who also had run the race.

Last year, the group finished before the bombings, and they were locked down briefly in the Prudential Center during the chaos afterward. Then and there, they pledged to run again in 2014.

“Everyone was totally focused on this,” Miller said.

Over and over, finishers said the bombings had motivated them to gather in Hopkinton again this year. Even Dennis O’Sullivan, a 51-year-old Boston Marathon rookie from Glengarriff, Ireland, was beaming despite lying prone on the grass beneath the John Hancock Tower as his wife worked out the cramps in his aching legs.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

But for many of the tens of thousands who endured the course despite Heartbreak Hill, there was exaltation.

O’Sullivan looked to the sky as his wife, Margo, carefully changed her husband’s socks. At last, when he could stand, she placed the medal of a Marathon finisher around his neck and gave him a gentle pat on the back.

‘It’s an unbelievable race to begin with, but I think this year it was very uplifting and very emotional.’

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Stiffly, slowly, O’Sullivan straightened himself and began to walk.

“Last year, I came home and turned on the telly and saw the tragedy. I said then that if I could qualify, I’d come over,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m so proud.”

Jeff Kolb of Oshkosh, Wis., walked from the finish line with an experience he can replay as much as he likes. Attached to his head was a tiny camera, which Kolb used to record two hours of memories from a Marathon he wanted to run since the attacks.

The reception along the course was intense and supportive, Kolb said.

“It’s an unbelievable race to begin with, but I think this year it was very uplifting and very emotional,” Kolb said. “I think everybody was just kind of unified in showing that this is our city.”

That mood also permeated the final hours before the race in Hopkinton.

“I’m not going to let anyone dictate where I can run in my own country,” said Doyen Brinker, a lean, 52-year-old Texan as he relaxed on the cool grass of Hopkinton Common before his first Boston Marathon.

Down the street, Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau, 57, about to run his fourth Boston Marathon, changed from sandals to running shoes as he and 11 other officers from the department dressed for the 26.2-mile trek.

“I thought I was retired from this,” Deveau said with a smile. “But following last year, I had to do it.”

David L Ryan, Globe Staff

For others, there was little left to do but collapse — and get a helping hand from a Marathon worker.

Near Deveau stood Watertown police Sergeant John MacLellan, who provided a motorcycle escort to Hopkinton for his colleagues. A year ago, a bullet narrowly missed MacLellan’s head during the shootout in which alleged bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev died.

“That shooting was the easy part,” MacLellan said Monday. “But this — the training, all the extra stuff they’ve done for the Marathon — that’s the hard part. I’m so proud of them.”

Nikolas Franks had his own reason to be proud as he awaited the start of his first marathon.

Franks had been Martin Richard’s first-grade teacher at the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, and he had also taught Jane Richard, Martin’s younger sister, who lost a leg in the first explosion.

“Physically, this is harder than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” said Franks, who ran as part of the MR8 team, a group of 100 runners who raised money for a charitable group in Martin’s name. “But I said that even if I’m not a runner, this is my race to run.”

One runner who made his name in this Marathon, four-time winner Bill Rodgers, reflected that even a grueling marathon can provide the mental balm of a job well done.

“There was the dark side, but this helps heal the tough stuff,” Rodgers said. “That’s why we all love this sport.”

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

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com
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