For Boston, the marathon always means spring – and this year, much more

Marathon Monday offers Boston the chance to rise and step forward, after a long and emotional year since the 2013 bombings.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Gregory Picklesimer proposes to Carla White at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. Picklesimer has finished several marathon races and has been planning the proposal for a year. 'I'm his number 1 volunteer here,' said White.

On Monday, at last, Boston is prepared to let out a collective sigh of relief that residents may have forgotten they've been holding in for the past year.

It’s been a long and emotional year for the city. A year of grief for lives lost, of physical and emotional healing for survivors, of gratitude for first responders, and of renewed camaraderie for one another.

Now, on Monday, it's time for new records. An American – Meb Keflezighi – won the marathon in the men's division, becoming the first American to earn that honor since 1983. Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, finished first in the women's division, successfully defending her title from last year. 

Marathon Monday has long represented Boston’s rite of passage into spring. This year, the day ushers in another kind of rebirth, as the city breaks free from its year of firsts since two bombs exploded at the 2013 marathon finish line.

Last week brought the one-year anniversary of the bombings, and with it a somber reminder of the fear, pain, and sorrow that had marred the city’s beloved marathon. With this past weekend came another anniversary – of the tense firefight between the alleged bombers and police on the streets of nearby Watertown, which led to an unprecedented citywide lockdown.

During the April 15 tribute ceremony at Hynes convention center, the Rev. Liz Walker offered victims and first responders "a flicker of light, a sputtered lift, a catch of the breath." 

"There is a rising, up from the deep out of the shadows, through the sting and darkness of death. From the shock of the blow and the recoil from the horror, there is a rising," she said.

Monday brings the chance to rise and step forward.

Some 36,000 people gathered at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., ready to reclaim the marathon, and an estimated million spectators were lining the 26.2-mile course that wends through eight towns on its way to Copley Square.

It’s a ritual that has endured in one form or another since 1897, when the founders of the Boston Athletic Association hosted the first Boston Marathon, inspired by the first modern Olympic Games in Athens the year before. Just 18 men ran that first marathon. It has since become a major destination for runners from all over the nation and the world.

Senior minister Nancy Taylor of Boston's Old South Church, which overlooks the finish line, sees the marathon as an "equalizing competition."

"Anybody can run as long as they have heart and spirit," she told the Monitor last week. "People from the poorest countries in the world come to Boston to participate in the marathon."

But today isn’t just Marathon Monday. It’s Patriot's Day, a holiday observed in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin that commemorates the first shots of the Revolutionary War during the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.

For many New Englanders, Patriot’s Day weekend marks the real beginning of spring. For Massachusetts’ public school children, it’s the first day of spring break.

“Patriot's Day is one of the most beautiful days around here," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz told ESPN. "We should keep on celebrating [Patriot's Day] the way we have through the years." 

The calendar may say that spring began March 20 with the spring equinox, but local residents know that snow can come well into April – crocuses and daffodils beware. Monday is proving to be a true New England spring day, with morning temperatures in the 30s and a promise from meteorologists that the afternoon will bring highs in the 60s. As the saying goes, "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute."

Given the uncertainty of local weather, some Bay Staters hold out even further until declaring the start of spring, waiting for the smell of barbecue and smoked brats at Fenway Park. That is, until this marathon.

This is what Bostonians and other Massachusetts residents have been fiercely protecting since last year's bombings, because Marathon Monday has always been about much more than a race.

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