The Boston Marathon wouldn’t start for another 20 hours or so — the large digital clock above the finish line on Boylston Street was counting down the seconds left until the next day’s Hopkinton start — but Copley Square was already a hive of activity Sunday morning.
Some runners were picking up their bibs and exploring the area. Others were marveling at the finish line, taking photos. A few were crossing it, having finished the race a day early as virtual runners.
This won’t be Celma Hitalia’s first Marathon. Hitalia, of Muntinlupa City in the Philippines, who started running at 45, is now 56, and has completed marathons and triathlons — “a lot” of them, she said.
“But this will be my first Boston,” Hitalia said. “Of course, Boston is the holy grail of marathons. Everybody wants to run it.”
She came to Boston with Pinoy Runners, a group of Filipino runners who live around the world, meeting some online friends from Pinoy Runners for the first time. They stopped by the finish line Sunday, giddy to feel the energy around Copley Square.
One of those friends, Rosalyn Russell, said she ran the virtual Boston Marathon in Clearwater, Fla. last year, putting in solitary miles in the morning before it got too hot. But this year she made it to Boston.
“I’m not really aiming for my personal best,” Russell said. “I’m just going to enjoy the race; I’m going to feel the crowd.”
Much of the race infrastructure was already set up in Copley Square Sunday. Large tents were in place for runners to pick up their bibs and provide proof of their COVID vaccinations or negative tests. Moving trucks lined Boylston Street, ready to unload additional supplies on Monday morning. A few TV satellite trucks were parked just beyond the finish line on Berkeley Street.
Delia Hayes and her mother, Marianne Carey Hayes, stood in the long line stretched outside Marathon Sports, hoping to buy energy gels for Delia’s run. Both are Boston College graduates who fondly recalled watching the Marathon every April while they were in school.
“That was always a big day on the college campus, to watch the Marathon,” Marianne Carey Hayes said.
Delia Hayes, who was on the school’s track and field team, graduated in 2019.
“I always said that I was going to run it the year after I graduated, because it was always the most fun day,” Delia Hayes said. But because the Marathon in its usual form was canceled, she had to postpone her run by a year. She was looking forward to the Marathon Monday crowds she said, “having people I know watching and cheering, and people I don’t know too. There will be plenty.”
Like last year, when the COVID pandemic forced major changes, runners were able to complete 26.2 miles for Boston’s Marathon anywhere in the world. By Sunday morning, the most recent available data, 11,819 participants had submitted their times from 76 countries, said Chris Lotsbom, a spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association. Virtual runners were instructed to complete their races on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but have until Monday night to submit their times.
Greg MacCurtain was among those who ran the course Sunday, pushing his 10-year-old daughter, Abby, who was reclined in a running chair, wearing a giant smile.
MacCurtain, a MassPort firefighter who lives in Plymouth, ran to raise money for a Massachusetts General Hospital lab researching Leigh’s Disease, a rare mitochondrial disorder that Abby was diagnosed with as a baby. Abby joins him on his training runs, sitting in a chair similar to the one father-and-son duo Dick and Rick Hoyt used to run the Boston Marathon course until 2014. Dick Hoyt died in March and Rick announced his retirement from the race last week, citing health issues.
MacCurtain and Abby have completed marathons and Ironman races together, but MacCurtain would usually be running the Boston Marathon on his own; Abby doesn’t yet meet the Boston Athletic Association’s minimum age requirement for participants, 18.
“I don’t like running without her,” MacCurtain said. “She loves it; she enjoys it.”
But this year, MacCurtain said, he could run with Abby as long as he did it as a virtual competitor, running the Marathon course a day early. At the finish line, family members and researchers from Vamsi Mootha’s lab waited for them, holding huge gold balloons that spelled out “Abby Mac.”
“They’re an amazing team. What they do for my little girl, I feel like I need to give back,” MacCurtain said. “For them to come to the finish line, that means a lot.”
Mootha said he and his colleagues at MGH decided to come and support MacCurtain so they could see Abby’s smile at the end of the route.
“He’s just a superhero in our minds,” Mootha said. “He and his daughter are a huge source of inspiration for all of us.”
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.