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The Boston Globe

Sports

Christopher L. Gasper

One step at a time, Boston reclaimed its Marathon

Keep going. It sounds so simple, but it never seemed so hard.

That’s how this city and this community got to the 118th Boston Marathon unbowed a year after the horrific and horrifying attack on Boylston Street during the 117th Boston Marathon.

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A world-class event had a world-class comeback and out of the nightmare of 2013 came an American dream — 38-year-old Meb Keflezighi, who immigrated from Eritrea, becoming the first American male champion since 1983.

Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan captured the spirit of the day and the journey back to this celebrated race in her comments in the Boston Marathon media guide. “Each step we take closer to the finish line is a victory in and of itself,” said Flanagan, who led the women’s elite race from the gun to the 19-mile mark, flirting with becoming the first American woman to win Boston since 1985 before finishing seventh.

Everyone took it one step at a time, the brave survivors who endured surgery after surgery and learned to walk again with steely determination and prosthetic limbs, the grieving families who courageously kept going while never leaving the memory of their loved ones behind, the admirable first responders and medical personnel who together saved lives and restored faith, the runners who pounded the pavement fund-raising and training with dedication to a higher calling than a 26.2 mile crucible.

That’s what a marathon is, a test of strength, endurance, resiliency, and the sheer will to keep moving forward, whether it’s quickly, haltingly or agonizingly. Just keep moving, whether it’s with determination or trepidation, on quaking legs or sure footing, with full lungs or a heavy heart.

You can look back to see the ground you’ve covered and the people you’ve left behind. You can look beside you to see who is running or standing with you, sharing the marathon experience.

The one thing you can’t do is stop. Stop running. Stop cheering. Stop congregating on the third Monday in April for the most recognizable marathon in the world, a race that is uniquely and quintessentially Boston.

The 118th Boston Marathon was all about not stopping. So, in a lot of ways this felt like a race already won. So many lives have been inexorably altered by the bombings, but so many moved forward to make sure a way of life, a rite of spring remained memorable for good reasons.

“We’re standing up for Boston. We’re not going to let this happen to our city,” said spectator Mike Poitras of Dracut, who arrived at 7:30 a.m. to stake out a spot near the finish line, not far from the storefront of Marathon Sports, where the first bomb went off last year.

Poitras was holding a sign that parroted the famous “No more hurting people. Peace” poster that 8-year-old Martin Richard, one of those killed in the Marathon bombings, created. Poitras, who was at the race with sons Andrew and Nick, had a yellow and blue mohawk and the words Boston Strong painted on the side of his head.

This city did what it does best — paying respect to history while shaping the future.

There were 32,408 runners who started the race, according to the Boston Athletic Association, considerably more than last year’s fateful race, because of the increased interest and the need to accommodate those who did not finish in 2013.

There was an ebullient, vocal crowd lining the course. Spectators staked out spots on Boylston Street shortly after 8 a.m.

“Obviously, the fans were out-of-this-world phenomenal, almost deafening,” said Flanagan. “I felt like my insides were shaking it was so loud. My ears almost hurt. It was obviously a most memorable, amazing day for the city of Boston and for our nation. I just wanted to put on the best performance and whatever I had within me to be poured out on to the streets.”

The mood of the day was defined by resiliency and a return to normalcy. On Boylston, there was nothing on the sidewalk marking the sites were explosions shattered lives and the barrier between heinousness of the real world and the idyllic and iconic enjoyment of a great American race collided.

But what happened last year was inescapable.

A Boston Police K-9 officer and his companion were randomly checking bags in the crowd. Purses and backpacks and tote bags were thoroughly sniffed. Bags that had been checked got tagged with labels that said “Inspected.”

The bombings took the lives of Richard, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell and injured more than 260 people. The manhunt for alleged perpetrators Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev took the life of MIT police officer Sean Collier.

But their spirits and the spirit of the event lived on.

Hanging on the facade of Abe & Louie’s were two banners that read Strength Lives Here and Humanity Lives Here.

At 12:22 p.m. as Keflezighi was feted as champion, the Star-Spangled Banner blared on Boylston Street. The finish line desecrated by hatred and wanton disregard for human life reclaimed in rebirth for its purpose as a sight of joy, pride, accomplishment, and celebration.

“When the Red Sox won [the World Series trophy] and put it on the finish line, I wanted to do that for runners,” said Keflezighi.

It was normal to be a little fearful of returning to the Marathon course.

Defending women’s champion Rita Jeptoo had originally said she was not going to run Boston again, referencing the fear she felt as a result of the bombings. But she returned and won her second straight Boston Marathon and third overall in record fashion, finishing the Hopkinton to Boylston Street journey in 2:18:57.

Many followed Jeptoo’s lead, including John Corrigan of Plymouth, who works with Bill Richard and was standing in front of the Uno’s on Boylston Street last year when the bombs went off.

Corrigan was wearing a bright yellow MR8 running shirt, standing about 15 feet from where he was last year.

“People asked me last year if I would go back? Absolutely,” said Corrigan. “We will not be defeated. We will win this war.”

Victory belonged to Boston on Monday. Those who were lost will never be forgotten, but we regained our race.

More from the 2014 Boston Marathon — Photos: Marathon scenes | The ‘Scream Tunnel’ and Heartbreak Hill | The elite runners | Boylston Street | Videos from the Marathon | Full coverage

Follow Christopher L. Gasper on Twitter at @cgasper.
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