BOSTON – In many ways, it felt like any other pre-marathon Sunday in Boston.
Families celebrated Easter, diners enjoyed the spring weather at sidewalk cafes, and runners – easily identified by their trim builds and colorful jackets – picked up last-minute supplies for what will be the second-largest field in the history of the Boston Marathon.
But even as runners focused on the exhilaration of crossing the finish line, the festive atmosphere was inevitably tinged with sorrow, as runners, family members and spectators recalled the twin bombings at last year’s race that killed three people and injured 260.
Marathon runners were blessed at an emotional church service that celebrated Easter and remembered the victims, while heightened security measures, including bag checks, were in place at marathon events.
“It’s different, coming back,” said Gisele Goldstein, 55, of Germantown, Tenn., who planned to run her 12th Boston Marathon this year. “It’s not just me – there’s a sadness.”
At City Hall, a fast-moving line of several hundred runners and their families stretched around the building, where race organizers served a pre-race pasta dinner.
“So many of us are running this year because of that day,” said Justin Jackson, 32, of Chicago.
Preparing for Monday’s race has been emotional, he said. While it had not initially occurred to him to be nervous about another terrorist attack, a bomb scare Tuesday night “regenerated the worry that there might be crazy people out there.”
There have been other tense moments – such as when an alarm went off Friday, during the Runners’ Expo at the Hynes Convention Center. People were spooked, Goldstein said, even though it turned out to have been a test.
But runner Susan Campbell, 41, of Waverley, Nova Scotia, said she felt completely safe returning to Boston this year.
“What are the chances of it happening again?” said her husband, Andy Legere, 41, who was planning to cheer her on near the finish line, along with their two daughters.
“I never had any doubts about coming back,” Campbell said. Still, she felt a weight this year when she collected her bib near the finish line. “It was a little sad, walking up Boylston Street and remembering.”
Ricardo Corral, 53, of New York, who planned to race in the hand-cycle division of the wheelchair race Monday –his eighth marathon – said he was reassured by the heightened security.
“We are not nervous,” he said. “We know the police will be here to protect people.”
Corral added that it was especially important to him and his teammates to return this year, to support Boston and each other. “As the signs say, ‘Boston Strong,’ ” he said. “That’s why we come back.”
That determination was echoed by many runners, including Scott Johnson, 54, of Atlanta.
“There’s a sense of resiliency,” said Johnson, executive director of the Scott Rigsby Foundation, a nonprofit that supports people who have lost limbs and has raised money for last year’s bombing victims.
“It’s sadness, but it’s also a kind of fortitude. Two people created the violence, but millions counter it with love and support. I like those odds!”
Ben Rancourt, 64, of Ste-Germaine, Quebec, was planning to run his eighth Boston Marathon along with his three younger brothers.
“We’re going to buy beer for the after party!” he said. “We’ll see, tomorrow, with the fans on both sides of the road – it will feel very great!”