Every spring, Greg Cunningham joins the throngs near the finish of the Boston Marathon, cheering on a college friend and savoring what he calls the city’s “one-day Mardi Gras.”
This April, a year after the Marathon bombings, the 43-year-old from Hull will follow his tradition with renewed purpose. “I refuse to run and hide,” Cunningham said.
But not everyone feels that way. Casey Carey-Brown, who for many years watched from the finish line, said she is torn over whether to bring her 4-year-old daughter.
“I’m mostly afraid of being afraid,” said Carey-Brown, a 35-year-old from Jamaica Plain.
As police prepare for record crowds along the route — twice the normal turnout is expected — spectators are confronting a swirl of emotions. There is fear, both specific and general, a rush of painful memories, and a deep sadness over so much loss.
Many say they are undaunted by the bombings and feel compelled to be part of the race’s defiant return. But even some longtime fans confess they are wary, despite the promise of tighter security.
Growing up, Carey-Brown came in with her family from Mansfield to watch the race, and fondly recalls handing out orange slices to the runners. In her 20s, she watched many races near the finish line. It’s a day she loves, but one now tinged with doubt.
“This is my city, and I want to be there and support the runners,” Carey-Brown said. “I do feel that sense of obligation, to represent Boston on that day. We just don’t really know what to do.”
Others say they are not expressly worried about a repeat attack, but acknowledge the bombings have left lingering unease.
“I think we’re all changed,” said Tara Cleary, a 48-year-old from Nahant who was heading down Boylston Street toward the finish when the bombs went off. “I think any normal person would have some trepidation. But we live in a free country, and no one’s going to stop us from living our lives.”
Cleary often watches the runners make their way toward the finish, and last year was just blocks away from the explosions. At first, she thought the blasts were cannon fire, something ceremonial for the race. But then she saw a wave of people coming toward her, away from the smoke.
“All these people were running,” she recalled. “No one knew what was happening. I just wanted to get out.”
Yet when Boylston Street reopened nine days later, Cleary made a point to visit, and says she is determined not to let memories of that day take hold. She will watch from Boylston Street again and expects huge crowds to join her in defiant tribute.
“People are going to show the world that you aren’t going to scare Boston people,” she said. “This is a holiday no one else has. This is the Boston Marathon.”
‘I’m mostly afraid of being afraid.’Casey Carey-Brown, of Jamaica Plain, with wife Michelle and daughter Riley
Many fans note that security will be substantially tighter, and expect spectators will likely be alert to suspicious behavior. Law enforcement officials say they will deploy more bomb-sniffing dogs and undercover officers along the route, and set up more surveillance cameras.
Officials say they expect at least a million people to watch the race.
Andrew Lally, a 27-year-old from Pennsylvania, has made Patriots Day a tradition. He and his family go watch the Red Sox, then celebrate with a good family friend who runs the race. Before the race, Lally’s friend had decided it would be his last Boston. But after the bombings, he vowed to return. It would be a Marathon like no other.
“He knew right away he was running again,” Lally said. “He wanted to be part of what I am sure is going to be an epic day.”
The bombings, and the city’s unity in the days that followed, only served to strengthen their devotion to the race, Lally said.
“It’s part of the resilience of Boston,” he said. “How the city banded together. You’re going to see that at the Marathon. It’s going to be a triumphant day.”
Denise Turgeon, 45, never missed a Patriots Day when she lived in Boston. It’s finally spring, and the city crackles with energy. It’s the “perfect Boston day,” she says.
Turgeon moved to Charlotte, N.C., two years ago, and thought about coming home for last year’s race before deciding against it.
“That morning, I really regretted it,” she said.
After the bombings, Turgeon supported her city from afar, and vowed to return for this year’s race. A few weeks ago, she bought her plane tickets.
“I need to be there,” she said. “It’s where I belong.”
Others are waiting until the race draws near to decide. Carey-Brown expects the day to be intensely emotional, and wouldn’t entirely mind an excuse to just stay home.
“There’s part of me that hopes it’s really rainy,” she said.Peter Schworm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.