Boston Marathon thrives amid new normal

My most memorable Boston Marathon experience had little to do with running.

It was 22 years ago when a buddy and I went to the annual Patriots’ Day baseball game at Fenway Park — so long ago, in fact, that the starting pitchers were the Red Sox’ John Dopson and Alex Fernandez of the Chicago White Sox.

Yes, another year when the Red Sox had no true No. 1 starter, though Dopson acted like one that day with a three-hit, complete-game shutout in Boston’s 6-0 victory.

I also recall it being a glorious day weather-wise in downtown Boston, with the end of the game providing just enough time to walk to the Boston Marathon finish line and catch a glimpse of the top runners completing their 26.2-mile route.

But what stuck with me most from that experience wasn’t the speed of the elite runners but how civil the thousands upon thousands of race watchers were in their support of the running community.

I’ve not been to another professional sporting event since that matched that level of civility.

Such decorum took a stunning right hook to the jaw two years ago with the bombings near the Boston Marathon finish line that left three dead and nearly 300 injured.

Yet rather than be knocked out by that act of terror, the marathon defiantly endured a running eight-count last spring as a counterpunch of sorts toward anyone who would threaten its safety.

And this year, it seemed, the 119th Boston Marathon reinforced that new normal.

“Boston Strong” remained a sentiment in full force, but less than 24 hours before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev entered the penalty phase of his trial after being convicted for his role in the bombings 30,000 runners departed from Hopkinton toward Boston largely freed of any negative vibes that were in evidence a year ago.

“No one really mentioned the bombings it all,” said Spencer McElwain, a 25-year-old Caribou native who turned in the day’s fastest time by a Mainer at 2:34:03. “It was just a feeling of, ‘This is the Boston Marathon and we’re here to have fun, we’re here to race. No one’s scared or anything.’

“It’s back to being THE marathon to run.”

Yet some loss of innocence was there to be seen, from the heightened security presence to the physical proximity of race watchers to the runners they cheered.

“There is a bit more lack of intimacy with the fans,” said Bangor’s Adam Goode, who ran Boston in 2007 and 2011 as well as the last two years. “The people along the course are more removed, and there aren’t any kids walking up to you and slapping you a high-five throughout the city the way it used to be. There’s more of a separation between people who are running and those who aren’t running.

“But that’s counterbalanced by people feeling grateful to be out there running and be healthy in a way that that maybe they didn’t used to feel. You can definitely get the sense that everyone’s less likely to take it for granted now.”

So while there’s that sense of respect for the changes necessitated by the 2013 race, participants this year also suggested the return of a more festive mood.

“Everyone you meet is so chatty and you meet so many different people,” said McElwain, “and everyone’s just talking about strategies and the race and trying to get a good run in.

“Last year was very different where a lot more people were there kind of as a you-can’t-hold us-down, redemption kind of year.”

This year’s attitude was perhaps best represented near the end of the race, where fans lined the streets to root on both the world’s elite marathoners and middle-class fitness warriors working on their bucket lists.

“I had a friend mention that this was probably the closest we’ll ever get to stepping into a professional arena, that’s what it feels like,” said McElwain. “It’s deafening. You can’t hear yourself think. I was kind of fading at (Mile 24) and then you turn onto Commonwealth Ave. and it just blows you back how really loud it is. That really helped, and that’s where my friends and family were cheering so that was a big lifter, too.

“It’s an amazing finish.”

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.