Emotions flow for runners, spectators at Boston Marathon

Emotions flow for runners, spectators at Boston Marathon
April 21, 2014, 9:15 pm
(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON — The first spectator arrived at the Boston Marathon finish line at 4:15 a.m. with a full package of Fig Newtons and an empty bladder.

“My frame of reference was the Rose Bowl parade,” said John, a Salt Lake City native, as workers cleaned dirt off the finish line with spray bottles and mini towels in 35 degrees before sunrise. “People sleep out the night before.”

It wasn’t quite at that level, but John wouldn’t regret sacrificing shuteye for the scene at Boylston Street over the next 12 hours on Monday.

At least 32,000 runners crossed the finish line, one year after two bombs robbed many of that satisfaction at the world’s oldest annual marathon. There were two marriage proposals (at least). One man was carried over the final feet by his arms and legs by four other runners.

If last year’s bombings won’t soon be forgotten, killing three and injuring more than 260, this year’s remembrance and triumph at the same site will long be remembered.

Rows of screaming supporters reportedly up to 10 deep lined along an east-west stretch on Boylston, some 300 to 400 yards of road leading to the ultimate sight in distance running — that finish line.

Runners made left turns off Hereford Street, passing Engine 33, Ladder 15, which lost two firefighters in a 9-alarm blaze on March 26. It was hard to describe what came into view when they straightened out.

“It was so inspiring compared to last year,” said Dr. Scott Weisberg, a family physician from Birmingham, Ala. “I needed it for healing.”

Weisberg said last year he crossed the finish line three seconds before the first of two pressure cooker bombs exploded behind him. He suffered bilateral hearing loss, including substantial, permanent hearing loss in his left ear.

He soaked up that final straightaway, stopping to shake the hands of the standing spectators under clear, sunny skies.

“Unbelievable support, camaraderie,” Weisberg said. “The Boston Strong signs, people patting me on the back. I’m so glad to be part of this.”

That first spectator, John, who runs 100-mile ultramarathons, was not at last year’s race. But he wanted the best possible view to take pictures of his wife and friends completing it this year.

He planned it all out, even abstaining from drinking liquids the night before so he wouldn’t lose his spot going on a bathroom break.

As the sun rose, so did Boston. John was joined by hundreds within view and hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the entire 26.2-mile course that went through eight cities and towns. Organizers prepared for one million, twice the usual amount.

Security, also expected to be doubled, slowly ramped up. At 4:15 a.m., there was very little. John actually walked into and sat in a VIP area for a few hours before being kicked out. About 10 police officers and five dogs swept Boylston Street for 20 minutes after 6:30. Security workers in all black were seen on rooftops by the time crowds picked up.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a longtime viewer from Beacon Street, trekked to watch from Boylston for the first time.

“Many, many decades I’ve been watching it,” Kraft said behind sunglasses. “I wanted to be at the finish line this year.”

Kraft conversed with father-and-son racers Dick and Rick Hoyt after they finished late in the afternoon. Dick pushes Rick, who has cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair every year.

“I wish there were more people on the Earth like you,” Kraft told Dick.

The beloved Hoyts completed their 31st and final Boston Marathon together in over seven hours, stopping to kiss people along the route.

“It looked like they all waited around for Rick and I to come across,” Dick said. “We were longer than we wanted to be, but we wanted to say hi and goodbye to all our fans.”

One of Kraft’s former Patriots stood a few hundred feet way, on the other side of the finish.

Retired offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, a cancer survivor and first responder last year, waved outside the site of the second bombing, near where he had famously carried an injured woman to an ambulance in 2013.

He craned over others to snap pictures on a purple-cased iPhone of one of some 50 runners entered on behalf of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation that supports cancer patients. Their runners raised nearly a half million dollars, Andruzzi said.

One man stood out even more across the street, in the grandstand, wearing a white cowboy hat and blue Boston Strong sweatshirt and waving several small American flags.

“Seeing everybody cheering and clapping for the runners, that’s been the best time for me here,” said Carlos Arredondo, who famously became known as the man in the cowboy hat when he helped rush Joe Bauman to an ambulance in the aftermath of the bombings last year. Bauman was the only survivor to lose both legs above his knee.

Moments of silence were held before the start in Hopkinton, before 9 a.m., and at the finish at 2:49 p.m., the time the bombs exploded in a 12-second span last year. On the latter, a public address announcer broke the quiet air with a phrase that generated a raucous response.

“And now take it forward with a yell that they will hear around the world,” he said.

Thomas Menino, Boston’s mayor from 1993 through 2013, got to the finish at 11 a.m., before the elite runners, and stayed at least into the late afternoon. He was there for most of the unofficial 31,779 finishers before timing stopped (second most in the race’s 118-year history).

“It was all about the runners today,” Menino said. “A new day in Boston.”

Nick Zaccardi, NBC's Olympic Talk