Runners fought through the rain this morning, approaching the foot of Heartbreak Hill with the same clenched jaws and heaving chests as generations of runners have before them. The 119th Boston Marathon came off today with the weather being the only major dampener on an event that appears to be regaining its festive cheer after a couple years of mournful self-reflection.
The second marathon since a twin bombing attack near the finish line in 2013, the race was also held amid the trial of the bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The trial has dominated headlines in Boston and around the country for months. But today the Marathon itself provided something of a respite for Bostonians weighed down by weeks of emotional testimony. Heightened security measures – new the year before – were less of a surprise to the crowds of spectators lining the route. Hundreds of spectators, mostly Boston College students, lined the route up Heartbreak Hill, leaning over metal security fences to cheer and high-five runners as they passed.
“Last year was very strange,” says Bob Devlin, a spectator who has attended many marathons and run in three.
“Those barricades never existed,” adds Mr. Devlin, nodding to the students leaning over to cheer on runners.
In a post-Marathon bombing world, the race may never be the same. The heightened security, while hopefully preventing another attack, will be a constant reminder of April 15, 2013.
“They'll always be a part of the race now,” says Devlin, referring to the bombings.
The trial is in recess until Tuesday. After Mr. Tsarnaev was found guilty of all 30 charges against him relating to the bombings, a second phase will begin Tuesday, a phase focusing purely on one question: Whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison.
Survivors of the bombings, as well as family members of the youngest victim, Martin Richard, have asked that Tsarnaev be spared the death penalty, a view polls have repeatedly showed that a majority of Bostonians share.
"We're not typified by a punitive nature" in Boston, Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, told USA Today. "We always see some sort of path to redemption."
Miriam Iglewski was watching runners from further up Heartbreak Hill, waiting for her husband to eventually run past. A runner in the Boston Marathon can survive the first 20 miles of the race, but only then do they reach the hardest hill on the course.
Traveling up from Texas, Mrs. Iglewski was attending her third Boston Marathon in a row. After attending the 2013 marathon – and surviving the bombings – then the 2014 and 2015 races, she agrees that “it’s just a different kind of event now.”
“I just hope people don’t forget” about the bombings, she says.
April 15 will always be the anniversary of the bombings themselves, but Marathon Day will also serve as a reminder of the attacks in the city.
But the Marathon today was also evidence of Boston slowly getting used to a new normal. Helicopters flying overhead and a heavy police presence may look jarring to the veteran marathon-goer, but the festive atmosphere was undimmed despite the chilly rain, even at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill.
Last year's marathon had people lining up to prove they wouldn't be cowed by the terrorist attacks, which killed three people and injured more than 260. The 2014 race went ahead with around 36,000 registered participants – second only to 1996 in number of entries – and more than a million spectators lined the course, double the usual number in a typical year.
“Last year was more defiant,” Jack Byrne of Boston told USA Today. “This year is more hopeful. This is kind of our first step towards getting back to normal.”
At the top of Heartbreak Hill, it’s past noon and the rain is falling harder than it has all day. Winners Lelisa Desisa, who gave the city his 2013 medal, and Caroline Rotich have already crossed the finish line. Runners reach the summit soaked and shivering and are greeted by a storm of cowbells and cheers from spectators huddled in coats and under umbrellas. The Prudential Tower is meant to be visible from the summit – the first official sight of the finish line – but the low-hanging rain clouds have swallowed the building.
Still, the runners look relieved. Some high-five spectators, others bear down the hill toward downtown Boston. Extra security or not, Marathon bombings or not, Tsarnaev trial or not, reaching the top of Heartbreak Hill will always be an accomplishment.
Tom Grilk, executive directors of the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Marathon, echoed the sentiment that the bombings “will always be part of the history of the event and of the community.”
“But it’s not something that defines the future in any way,” adds Mr. Grilk. “The story of the future, the history going forward will be written by people who run, who watch, who organize, who volunteer, as has always been true.”