Perhaps the promise of even a quintessentially perfect Boston day cannot be fulfilled. Even on the sunniest and most satisfying Patriots Day, the scars from the soul-rattling Marathon bombing tragedy four years ago never entirely fade. The first step onto Boylston Street on race morning inevitably brings the sad memories sprinting back. It always will.
But does this city ever wear the scar with grace and distinctive beauty. Monday's 121st Boston Marathon carried that permanent tinge of solemnity, but the vivid blue sky and warm temperatures that greeted the 30,000-plus runners set a tone of determined optimism.
With the Red Sox playing their traditional 11 a.m. game roughly a mile down Boylston Street, and Game 3 of the Bruins’ playoff series against the Senators scheduled as a nightcap at TD Garden, it was a reminder that this day is an annual sports cornucopia unlike anything offered elsewhere.
If there are finer days than this is Boston, they are one-offs that involve duck boats and multiple championship trophies. Maybe it’s imperfect, but this day is the best of us, even if it once brought out the worst.
Part of the charm of the race itself is that it reacquaints us with some familiar names while revealing the newly inspirational. We salute Bennett Beach, running for the 50th straight year, and Kathrine Switzer, who ran again Monday, 50 years after making those who dare underestimate women look foolish.
We see Bobby Carpenter pushing Denna Laing’s wheelchair, smiles on both of their faces after crossing the finish line, and marvel at the resilience, just as we do for Rick Hoyt and Brian Lyons. We cheer for our friends, and we cheer for those we have never met, hoping the support and adulation can carry them up Heartbreak Hill and all the way home.
There is suspense to be savored in the competition, too. Marcel Hug, a.k.a. the Swiss Silver Bullet, won the men’s wheelchair race in record time (1 hour, 18 minutes, 4 seconds) for his third straight victory, beating 10-time champion Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa by just a couple of rotations of a wheel.
And there was Hug’s countrywoman, Manuela Schar, making a name of her own, ending Tatyana McFadden’s bid for a fifth straight women’s wheelchair victory while becoming the first woman to break the 1:30 barrier in 1:28:17.
It was a Kenyan sweep in the elite races. Edna Kiplagat removed all suspense long before the finish line in cruising to a winning time of 2:21:52 in the women’s race. The 38-year-old, who had two of her five children — Wendy Jemutai, 9, and Carlos Kipkorir, 13 — waiting for her at the finish line, defeated runner-up Rose Chelino of Bahrain by 52 seconds.
For the men, Geoffrey Kirui became the first Kenyan champion since Wesley Korir in 2012. Kirui pulled away from American Galen Rupp — “my friend from the USA,’’ the genial Kirui called him — with 2 miles remaining, winning in a time of 2:09:37, 21 seconds faster than Rupp.
It should be noted that sixth-place finisher Abdi Abdirahman, who trained with Rupp while the latter was in high school, dropped an “it is what it is” while talking about his own result. He must be the top choice on Bill Belichick’s marathoner draft board.
It was a remarkably hopeful day for American marathoners. Six of the top 10 male finishers represented the United States. Rupp, of Portland, Ore., and women’s third-place finisher Jordan Hasay, of Beaverton, Ore., making her marathon debut, assured that this would be the first time since 2009 that Americans made both podiums.
“I had an incredible time out there,’’ said the earnest Rupp, who won the bronze medal in the marathon at the Rio Olympics. “I heard so many great things about this race and it exceeded any expectations that I had.
“The crowd was just phenomenal the whole way. It’s just such a fun race. The atmosphere here I really had never experienced before at a marathon.”
The experience was, of course, nothing new for Meb Keflezighi, who was running for the fifth and final time in Boston. But he may have savored it more than anyone. Keflezighi is not literally a local — he was raised in San Diego — but there is no runner in recent years who has become so representative of the spirit of the Boston race.
(That includes Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan, even though she noted a few years ago that she’d run the course so many times in training that she could identify the location of every Dunkin’ Donuts on the route. Now that’s Boston.)
Keflezighi, who turns 42 in November, finished in 13th place (2:17:00) but that wasn’t really the point. He became a permanent part of Boston lore with his emotional victory in the 2014 race, the year after the bombings killed three people, among them 8-year-old Martin Richard, and wounded hundreds.
He has his transcendent victory here. Monday was about goodbye, but about reacquainting hellos, too. After completing his race, he was greeted near the finish line by the Richard family. He kissed the hands of Denise and Bill Richard, Martin’s parents, with whom he keeps in touch via email and text. When he arrived near the site where the first bomb went off, he began to cry.
Keflezighi said the interaction with the Richards was personal, and he did not want to elaborate, though he acknowledged that when he thinks of Martin Richard, his thoughts turn to his own 8-year-old daughter, and he again finds himself in awe of the family’s strength.
Keflezighi has won the New York City Marathon and earned a medal in the Olympics. But it’s clear Boston has his heart.
“The Boston Marathon changed my life,’’ said Keflezighi. “When I was at the airport, someone said to me, ‘When you’re in Boston, you should never have to buy a beer.’ So many people say ‘Thank you, thank you,” when I’m out on the course, it’s incredibly emotional. I thank them, too. This day, it is for everyone.”