BOSTON — Kristin Cook-Center of Freeport ran the 26 miles from Hopkinton, Mass., to Boston’s Boylston Street on Monday – only to turn around.
Not for bombs, but for bonds. The maternal kind.
Cook-Center, 42, had accidentally run past her daughters, so loud were the cheering crowds. Upon realizing her mistake, she retraced her steps, hugged them on Hereford Street, then proceeded to the finish line.
“It’s insane how loud it was,” Cook-Center said. “It was screeching every mile.”
The Boston Marathon returned stronger – and more secure – than ever, one year and six days after three people were killed and more than 260 injured by bombs that exploded near the finish line.
Simply reaching the marathon route anywhere in downtown Boston on Monday required passing through security checkpoints where officers inspected every bag. Organizers closed adjacent streets to create a buffer zone around the course, and the police presence was much greater than in years past.
Ditto for the spectators – estimated at double the usual half-million who line the route passing through eight towns and cities – and runners, all 32,408 of whom started from the Village Green in Hopkinton, where sharpshooters on rooftops reminded runners of last year’s tragic events and the efforts to guard against anything similar this year.
“But they did it in a non-aggressive and -obtrusive way,” said Joan Benoit Samuelson, the Freeport resident and two-time Boston winner who, at the age of 56, completed the course in less than three hours (2:52:11, to be exact, good for 58th place among all women). “I can’t even imagine the fine-tuning that Dave McGillivray had to do to make this happen.”
McGillivray is the longtime Boston race director, the same title he holds for Samuelson’s Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race in Cape Elizabeth. The two races also share a medical director, Chris Troyanos, and many of the same volunteers.
Maya Cohen of Cape Elizabeth, the B2B volunteer coordinator, paused Monday afternoon outside the medical tent in Copley Square to reflect on how pleasant it was to deal with cramps and blistered feet rather than shrapnel and missing limbs.
“This is what we’re supposed to do,” Cohen said. “We take care of runners.”
Monday was the first time Cohen had seen many of her fellow volunteers since leaving last year’s medical tent to police investigating a crime scene. Getting back into a familiar routine proved cathartic, Cohen said, a sentiment echoed by runners and spectators determined to take back their sport and their favorite footrace, a sign of spring’s arrival in New England as much as any robin sighting.
Rob Gomez of Saco, running his third Boston Marathon, said the crowds were thicker and louder than in either of his previous two races.
“Much more patriotism,” he said. “Not that there was a lack before, but the amount was incredible (Monday), not only for Boston but for the United States. I’ve just never seen a more enthusiastic bunch of people.”
Further pumping up the crowds was the fact that Americans, long overshadowed at Boston by African runners, surged to the lead in both the women’s and men’s races.
Shalane Flanagan, who grew up in nearby Marblehead, Mass., led the women’s field for 19 miles before being overtaken. She lopped three minutes off her previous best time, despite finishing seventh, as Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won her second straight title and third overall, in a course-record time of 2:18:57.
“With the way Shalane took the women’s race out, the place was buzzing,” said David Weatherbie, the former B2B president who was a Boston spectator for the first time. “She reminded me of Joanie in the ’80s, just taking off and saying, ‘Hang with me if you can.’ And then Meb on the men’s side, that just raised the excitement level at the finish line.”
Meb is Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 U.S. Olympic silver medalist who turns 39 next month. On Monday he surged to the front in the hills of Newton, Mass., held off a late charge by Kenyans Wilson Chebet and Frankline Chepkwony, and became the first American man to win Boston since Greg Meyer in 1983.
Keflezighi, who lives in San Diego, won by 11 seconds in 2:08:37. To find an older winner at Boston, you’d have to reach back to 1930, when Clarence DeMar won the last of his seven titles at the age of 41.
“When the Red Sox won (the World Series) and put the trophy on the finish line,” Keflezighi said, “I wanted to do that for the runners. It got close at the end, but I kept thinking, ‘Boston Strong. Boston Strong. Boston Strong.’ And kept on running.”
A chilly morning gave way to a warm afternoon, as temperatures climbed from the high 40s to the low 70s. Byrne Decker of Yarmouth and Erica Jesseman of Scarborough were the first Maine man and woman across the finish line, in 2:33:36 and 2:42:32, respectively.
Aside from the elites, the 118th edition of the annual marathon was more about perseverance than personal bests, about reclaiming the streets and sidewalks after last year’s violent and unexpected intrusion.
The place on the Boylston sidewalk where 8-year-old Martin Richard died is the same spot where Cook-Center watched her father run the 1986 Boston Marathon. Each of the past 20 years, she returned to that spot and cheered on runners, all the while inching closer to qualifying herself.
Each year but last year, that is, when she initially accepted the bib of a friend who had qualified but became injured. When a fellow Maine Track Club member convinced Cook-Center she should earn her spot in the field, she relented and instead joined a group volunteering at the Mile 14 water stop.
It was an essay about her history with the race that gained Cook-Center an entry into this year’s field, and she cherished each step of her journey of more than 4½ hours.
“Physically, I feel like a bag of rakes,” she said after running in the marathon for the first time. “Emotionally, you can’t touch me with a 10-foot pole.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: