There is no doubt the bombings of last year are casting a long shadow on the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.
It is an inevitable backdrop: The signs on the buildings that line the course near the finish are usually covered in witty, encouraging posters. This year, they encourage a greater kind of perseverance.
"Boston Strong," they exhort.
And the crowd gathered at the finish line on Boyslton Street had reason to cheer and celebrate Monday, as American Meb Keflezighi ended a 31-year drought for U.S. runners in the Boston Marathon.
It was an emotional scene as the crowd and the runner, who broke the tape near a small makeshift memorial to the four people who died because of last year's attack on the race.
Holding his trophy as the U.S. national anthem played, Keflezighi's face was contorted with emotion, tears streaming down his face.
Race day has brought a feeling of celebration to a city that sorely needed it. This is New England's biggest sporting event, after all, and the world's oldest and most prestigious 26.2-mile road race.
The day has been marked by music and laughter, and mother nature — with its daffodils and tulips and glorious yellow willows — also joined in.
As historian Tom Derderian told us, after the bombings, the Boston Marathon has become about runners and spectators "putting themselves at risk in defiance" of terrorism.
Throughout the day, we'll be fanned across the Boston area, bringing you vignettes from key points on the course: Hopkinton, Wellesley, Heartbreak Hill and the finish line. We'll update this post as the action unfolds, so make sure to refresh the page.
The morning started with a moment of silence.
Most of the 36,000 athletes who will run the Boston Marathon this year gathered at the field of a high school in Hopkinton, Mass. They put out blankets and sat in the sun to warm themselves. In their countenances, you could see a mix of nerves and excitement that translated into the hum of a village.
But when the race emcee began to recite the names of the four people who died because of the attacks on Boston last year over the speakers, everything settled.
"Martin W. Richard, Krystle M. Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Officer Sean A. Collier," the emcee said.
By the time he finished, the shuffling had stopped and all you could hear was the low buzz of helicopters flying high above.
Much like last year, the day started off perfect for a marathon — chilly with high, thin clouds shielding some of the sun.
But unlike last year, security was more intense. Uniformed officers and National Guard troops were stationed on every street. Runners were screened before they boarded buses. Every bag was checked and state police officers boarded buses to take a second look.
Like last year, however, the small community poured out onto the streets.
Bob and Liz Burke moved to Hopkinton just after they got married more than 20 years ago. Their kids are now in high school and they've come to see the beginning of the world's oldest marathon pretty much every year.
Today, the Burkes were on a hill overlooking the starting line. They could see the elite runners — sinewy and wearing single digits on their race bibs — trotting up and down the race course to warm up.
This year, said Bob, it's a little different.
"There's a little bit of everything going on," he said. There's sadness and joy and celebration.
"I think people very much want to reclaim that sense of normalcy, yet at the same time [the bombing] is the elephant in the room," he said.
As we talked, the sound of the starting pistol pierced the morning air. The fastest women in the world were off for their 26.2 mile sprint. The men would follow. And after every blast from the pistol, the crowd roared.
-- Eyder Peralta
The "Scream Tunnel" arrives for runners fast and runners slow at the 20-kilometer mark on a normally quiet, tree-lined stretch of Central Street that flows past Wellesley College. Most of the school's 2,300 students cheer on the runners with an abandon that can only be ascribed to youth.
Oh, and they do more than hoop and holler; they also offer encouragement with their lips.
The "Scream Tunnel" might just as well have been named the "Kissing Tunnel," because the Wellesley tradition is to offer smooches along with raucous cheers as runners stream by. The elite competitors just smile at the girls and fly by. But further back in the pack, there are plenty of takers willing to slow down for a little sugar on the run.
"Some people barely ease up and just lay a drive-by kiss on your cheek," says student Sabrina D'Souza. "Some are careful, plant it right on the lips and take a photo to remember the moment."
D'Souza planted herself at the 20-kilometer mark to "catch the runners early" for initiation into a "fun and joyful Wellesley tradition."
This year means more than most, however, as evidenced by the signs along the course. Last year, students at the college produced about 250 colorful posters of encouragement. This year the number is more like 800.
Holding reams of freshly prepared posters for the race, Sravanti Tekumalla and Erin Altenhof agree that Marathon Monday is the only day of the year when Wellesley feels "like a real college." It's today, they say, that the normally studious community cuts loose in a way that just doesn't happen any other time of the year.
While the screams rolled down Central Street in continuous waves, past the college and into the town of Wellesley, where generations of fans gathered along barricades and did their best to match the girls voice for voice, one couldn't help but notice security personnel everywhere. The Wellesley police were out, as you would expect. But military police and what appeared to be undercover or plainclothes police were evident all along the route. Military helicopters flew by overhead.
The increased security, however, did nothing to dampen Wellesley's spirits. Dacie Boyce says this is always the best day of the school year, an inspirational event. Everyone says this year's race is even more so.
The memory of last year "amps up the feelings we already had, like, 10 times" says Boyce — as the deafening noise of Wellesley's Scream Tunnel greets another lucky runner who is now almost halfway home to the finish in Boston.
-- Wright Bryan
In the men's field of the 118th Boston Marathon, American Meb Keflezighi ended a 31-year drought for U.S. runners after staying ahead of Wilson Chebet of Kenya in a race that came down to the final mile.
According to race officials, Keflezighi ran a 4:56 split at mile 23, when he had built a a 20-second lead. His lead dwindled near the end, but Keflezighi stayed well ahead of his nearest competitor. Keflezighi finished with a time of 2:08:37.
The crowd roared as Keflezighi crossed the finish line, celebrating a much-needed victory in the historic race.
No American had finished first in the men's division since Gregory Meyer won in 1983. The last American woman to win was Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985.
The women's field was won by Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, who set a course record with a time of 2:18:57 as she successfully defended her title as the Boston champion. American Shalane Flanagan, a Massachusetts native, finished sixth in the race, posting a personal best with her time of 2:22:01.
For the second year in a row, Tatyana McFadden of the U.S. has won the women's wheelchair race.
-- Bill Chappell
Mile 20: Heartbreak Hill
We'll update at around 2 p.m. ET.
This is the cruel part of the Boston Marathon. It's the last of a series of hills in Newton, Mass., that comes a little after mile 20, when runners have depleted their easily accessible fuel and their bodies have to turn to burning fat.
This stretch of road got its name from a Boston Globe reporter covering the 1936 race in which the defending champion — Johnny A. Kelley — lost his race on the hill.
We'll update at around 4 p.m. ET.
After Heartbreak Hill, this is no doubt the most iconic part of the marathon. The runners descend upon the city flanked by big high-rises. They arrive at Boylston Street, where they're greeted by throngs of spectators and the majestic bells of the Old South Church.
For other tips on following today's race, see our brief guide.