As David Castellucci worked his way up Heartbreak Hill and down the final stretch of Monday’s Boston Marathon, the Gloucester resident was overcome with gratitude.
Gratitude for his family, faith, and the relentless cheering of the throngs of supporters who lined the streets for the first live edition of the historic race since April 2019. And after he crossed the finish line, an emotional Castellucci showed that gratitude to the dozens of volunteers and race officials who lined the recovery stations on Boylston Street.
“It hurt,” said Castellucci, 45, a former track star at Beverly High. “There were times I wanted to quit. Those last 2 miles, they might as well have put concrete in my legs.”
But Castellucci was determined to make his wife and seven children proud by completing his first Boston Marathon, a lifelong dream that was twice put on hold by the pandemic — and nearly derailed in October of 2019 when he was hit by a truck while running, suffering a severe shoulder injury.
Running through the pain, Castellucci beat his goal by finishing under three hours at 2:55:07, drawing inspiration from the fervent fans lining the course.
“If you’ve never experienced the Wellesley Scream Tunnel and the Boston College fans, and the Boston fans, you haven’t experienced anything,” said Castellucci, who qualified via the Manchester City (N.H.) Marathon in 2018.
“It pushes you, slaps you in the butt, and says, ‘Get up that hill!’ ”
While protocols and procedures differed in the first October running of the Boston Marathon, most racing veterans agreed that the essence of the race was similar once they started running, and arguably more significant after a 910-day layoff.
Shaun Dever of Stoneham said he teared up during his sixth consecutive Boston Marathon for the Greater Boston Track Club.
“It was a little different with the rolling start and everything, and we were all masked, but once you’re out on the course, it’s the same old feeling,” said Dever, who finished in 2:28:43.
Instead of corralling runners together in nearly 20 sections of up to 1,000 runners in Hopkinton, the BAA instituted a rolling start to promote social distancing. The field was cut by more than 36 percent to fewer than 20,000 runners, most of whom were encouraged to take shuttle buses from Boston to Hopkinton, where they simply walked up Route 135, had a quick stretch, and took off on their 26.2-mile run.
With no Marathon Village or designated gathering areas, the Hopkinton Town Common was much quieter than in previous years. Yet many found camaraderie in the company of old friends, as they took advantage of the flexibility of a rolling start by arriving independently and setting out in smaller groups.
“It’s kind of a treat just to be able to come out and start,” said Kathleen Hogan, who got a ride to within a mile of the start line and walked to the Hopkinton Common with her high school track teammate, Allison Abbott.
Hogan, who hails from Franklin, last ran Boston in 2010, and Abbott (from Milwaukee) ran in 2000 and 2015. The New Hampshire natives had run the Chicago Marathon together but jumped at the opportunity to link up for the return of Boston in 2021.
“I think there’s a little more meaning behind it after the past two years,” said Hogan, “It kind of made us realize what a privilege it is to race.”
BAA Adidas Club racer Elaina Tabb took advantage of the near-ideal October weather with the 12th-best time (2:30:33) among female participants. Tabb, who lives in Pittsburgh but has trained in Boston for seven years, said her knowledge of the course helped.
“I’ve run those hills and I knew what was coming,” said Tabb. “So I think I just ran a really smart race and knew what to save for that second half.”
Some qualifiers said they felt some rust after earning entry to Boston in 2020, only to wait nearly 18 months for the big day, without any live racing in between.
“It hit me around Mile 16,” said Worcester’s Paul Gennaro, who was running Boston for the first time “It felt like, ‘Oof, I haven’t run a marathon in a while.’ ”
But the oldest annual marathon in the world still drew runners from 104 countries and all 50 states amid an ongoing pandemic, and every finisher shared a sense of accomplishment after the long layoff.
“I think everyone’s in the same boat, which makes this race even more special,” said Laurelly Dale of Winnipeg, after finishing her fourth Boston Marathon.
“Not only is it the first — and probably the only time it will be run in the fall — but everyone is in the same category in that they haven’t run a race in almost two years,” said Dale. “Everyone is just so happy to be out there. This is the most inspirational race in the world.”