Upbeat music, a clamor of voices, and the smell of tomato sauce filled City Hall Plaza on Sunday afternoon at the annual pre-Marathon pasta party held by the Boston Athletic Association.
Thousands of Marathon runners, many accompanied by their families, feasted on pasta and salad and mingled with other competitors.
"It's amazing to see people from all over the world come together, and they all have different stories," said Kerry Austin-Smith, 44, who has been volunteering at the Marathon for more than a decade. "To see them with their family, it's really nice to see the kids get to experience this too. To see the international aspect and the athleticism."
Runners at the dinner had traveled from as far as Japan and New Zealand for Monday's race.
Mike Leonard, a Canadian who currently lives in Tokyo, has run 11 marathons since 2009, but this is his first in Boston.
"It's the one [marathon] that any runner of average ability, any marathon runner, aspires to," Leonard said. "Because you have to qualify for it, because it's the oldest, it has such a long history . . . so it was the obvious thing to aspire to."
"I just can't believe I'm here," Leonard, who is 55, added.
Eoghan O'Neill, a 33-year-old from Cork, Ireland, who also will be running his first Boston Marathon, said he was impressed by Boston's pride.
"It's quite cool. The whole city seems to be taken over by the event," he said, noting the number of Marathon jackets he'd seen around the city. "Maybe it's because of what happened here two years ago as well."
The dinner held an excited energy in anticipation of the Marathon, just hours away. Volunteers danced to the music being blasted across the plaza, videos of previous races played on a loop on multiple enormous screens, and festive light projections danced across the ceiling. Despite the chill in the air, most guests ate outside in the sunshine.
About an hour into the dinner, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Police Commissioner William B. Evans, and several Marathon champions from prior years spoke to the crowd about the impending holiday and its significance.
"I think the Marathon had an identity to it in 2012 and 2013, and then the tragedy happened in '13," Walsh later said to reporters. "Last year was kind of about reclaiming the Marathon and taking the Marathon back, and I think where we are today is going back to the great tradition of the Boston Marathon. It'll always be known what happened in 2013, but I think it's really, honestly getting back to what it was before."
Walsh added that he expected the Marathon would provide a reprieve from the ongoing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the victims of the 2013 bombing and that "we'll be there for" the victims" as the sentencing phase of the trial begins Tuesday.
Commissioner Evans assured reporters that he felt confident in the Boston Police Department's security plans surrounding the Marathon.
"We'll have all our officers out there, both in uniform and undercover, a lot of bomb detection equipment, so people should be comfortable coming," Evans said. "They shouldn't be afraid."
Despite a dreary weather outlook for Monday — temperatures likely won't exceed the 40s and rain is expected — Walsh remained optimistic about the race.
"I think we have to stay positive," he said. "Our city is the greatest city in the world, Boston, and this is the greatest race in the world and we have the greatest people in the world. Why shouldn't we be happy?"
Kiera Blessing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.