BOSTON, U.S.A. In spite, or perhaps because of last year’s tragic bombing, the 2014 Boston Marathon has made strides to become the biggest yet, with a surge of interest on the part of both runners and spectators in the final weeks before the race.

Approximately twice the number of spectators is expected to attend, and the field of competitors has been expanded from 27,000 to 36,000, which will make this year’s event the second largest, after the 100th anniversary marathon in 1996.

The marathon, a traditionally festive day in Boston as the city closes for Patriot’s Day and turns out to cheer its runners, was marred last year by a domestic terrorist attack. Suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar have been accused of constructing and detonating the bombs that killed three and injured almost 300 at the Boylston Street finish line last April. Although Tamerlan was killed in a standoff with police, Dzhokhar was arrested on April 19, after a city-wide lockdown. His trial has been set for November 3.

For many runners and spectators at the event, the process of healing has already begun.
Under Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s One Fund, the city promoted the message of Boston Strong, a motto meant to unite Bostonians after the tragedy. Adopted by much of the nation in a show of solidarity in past months, and even the Boston Red Sox, who brought their World Series trophy to Boyleston Street after their victory, the phrase embodied the rebuilding process many hope will culminate with this year’s marathon.

To Boston college sophomore Alexa Bader, who finished last year’s marathon before the bombs detonated, this process is key to her decision to return to the marathon. “I thought about going home to North Carolina for Easter break instead of staying [at Boston College] through Marathon Monday,” she says. “But then I heard someone say the words “Boston Strong” and immediately changed my mind. So I changed my flight, and I’ll be there supporting, because the city was so supportive to all of the runners and everyone involved last year.”

“I obviously wish to God that the bombings could have never happened, but the city’s response was what made me call Boston home,” she adds.

To Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the event, and the governmental bodies involved have placed even greater stress on Boston Marathon security this year. Instead of transporting runners’ belongings from the marathon starting line in Hopkinton, their bags will remain in Boston Common, under police surveillance. The city will also employ SWAT teams for the first time, as well as armed military police in addition to the usual security. Additional barriers will also be erected to protect runners, as well as discourage so-called “bandits,” or unregistered runners who frequently join the race.

For some runners, even these precautions cannot encourage them to return. S.M., another Boston College student who wished not to be named with her full name, cannot pass a Boston Strong sign without remembering the chaos that followed just minutes after she crossed the finish line last year. “Just being in that situation of the marathon again would set me off, hearing the crowds, all the police officers, even though I know it will be safe,” she explains.

Although she says that therapy for her PTSD helped her recovery process, she doesn’t know if she will ever be able to return to the Boston Marathon. “Sometimes it feels selfish that I can’t do it,” S.M. added. “Like I ought to be supporting the people who died that day, all the people who were injured. But I just can’t go.”

Still, the most visible response is one of hope. For Christopher Kabacinski, a Boston College sophomore who watched the marathon last year, competing this year will honor the city and its people. “After last year’s events, I was driven to start training for the marathon.”

“I’m running on a charity team, fundraising for WEF [an education foundation], but I’m also running to be a part of the city and the marathon’s ultimate display of recovery,” Kabacinski explains. “The marathon has always been about the abilities of the human body, will and heart, but this race is going to demonstrate just how great the heart and the community of Boston is.”

— Jennifer Heine