Just more than a year after two deadly explosions disrupted the 2013 Boston Marathon, the only sound that could be heard at the finish line this year was the cheering of nearly one million spectators vocalizing their support for a record 36,000 runners.
Concerns about security lingered amongst marathon attendees, many of whom experienced the fear and chaos of last year’s bombings firsthand. Amid a heightened security presence, however, a sense of pride, remembrance, and resilience prevailed, with the excitement and energy of the crowd only boosted by a landmark victory in the men’s race.
For many, the Boston Marathon, now in its 118th year, has become an annual tradition. But numerous spectators and runners, including more than two dozen participants and many more spectators from the Harvard community, said that the patriotic spirit and determination following last year’s tragedy made the 2014 marathon particularly memorable.
Professors, administrators, and students from across the University made the trek across the river early Monday morning to join thousands of runners at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass. Many of these Harvard affiliates were returning to the race after their marathon experience was cut short by the bombings last year.
Chinese history professor Michael A. Szonyi, who was only 200 meters away from the end of the course when the 2013 race was halted, said the goal this year was to cross the finish line.
“I had a moment where I choked up at the spot where I was stopped last year,” Szonyi said.
Szonyi, along with many other members of the Harvard community who were at the race, said that this year’s crowd was particularly enthusiastic.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life and I probably never will again,” said human evolutionary biology department chair Daniel E. Lieberman ’86, who was running in the marathon for the fourth time. “This one was special above all others.”
Anne F. Wenk ’15, who was running the marathon for the first time, was buoyed by spectators as well. Wenk participated in the marathon through the Harvard College Marathon Challenge, an organization through which runners earn a spot in the marathon by fundraising for charities.
“It’s a hard race, it’s a long race, but there was so much cheering and so much support,” Wenk said. “Boston Strong was everywhere.”
Security officials were everywhere, too. Scattered among cheering spectators and runners, local police officers, FBI agents, and even the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson remained present and visible for the duration of the event. Spectators were submitted to bag checks and a second set of physical barriers and law enforcement officers heavily restricted access around the finish line.
Nick Guertin, a senior at Northeastern University who volunteered as a race marshall for the second time, said the new security arrangements complicated the spectator experience in some ways but ensured overall that many attendees felt safe at the marathon site.