BOSTON – This year, he made it all the way.
Last spring, Dick Ruhe ran almost the entire Boston Marathon at age 69, only to be blocked off with less than two miles to go when two bombs exploded at the finish line. He went to the Eliot Hotel and pleaded to call his wife Cathy, who had no idea where he was.
"I could not reach him," Cathy said, still sounding shaken from the memory.
Ruhe did not run this year, but he and Cathy returned here anyway, flying in from San Diego to walk together along the sidewalk on Boylston Street to the finish line. At 2:50 p.m., they stood right by the site of the first explosion, and they cried during a moment of silence held for the victims of last year's bombings. Then they walked away from the crowd, arm in arm, pausing to thank each police officer along the way.
This year, he made it back.
Andrew Wharton flew from New Zealand for the marathon in 2013, finished the race and was icing his legs in a hotel near the finish line when he heard the explosions. He heard a cop yell, "Just get out!" and he and his wife did so, leaving in such a rush they didn't pack their clothes. Within hours they landed in Las Vegas with their passports and not much more. Wharton, 38, was still wearing his outfit from the race. "I absolutely stunk," he said.
This was no way to leave Boston, he thought. So he returned this year, spending $6,000 on a plane ticket and flew 36 hours to run again. After finishing, he sat in the same hotel, in the bar, in bare feet, sipping a beer and marveling at how the crowds lined up the entire route.
"Life is about these moments," he said. "And that's why I came back."
This year, he made it about Martin.
John Hanlon, of Dorchester, wore a race singlet with the name and age of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who was killed in last year's bombings and became a beloved symbol of life and loss in the months since. Hanlon's daughter played flag football with Richard, and his heavy eyes in the minutes before he boarded the bus to the start said everything. "I'm honored to run for Martin," he said. So was race champion Meb Keflezighi, who wrote "Martin" and the names of the other three bombing victims on his bib as he ran to victory Monday. He crossed the finish line as the first American man to win the Marathon since 1983, kissed the pavement underneath him, and broke into tears. "When the bomb exploded," Keflezighi said, "every day since I've wanted to come back and win it." The tribute of a world famous athlete and the tribute of a neighbor were one on Monday.
[Photos: An emotional day at the Boston Marathon]
Boston is a city with enough history to last forever, and yet Monday's Marathon is a day of history it needed. The 2014 Marathon was sunny, inspiring, boisterous, fearless, safe and complete. It was ideal. It was the best of everyone and everything that had made Boston one of the best American cities for centuries.
If there was anxiety about something terrible happening again, it was surprisingly difficult to tell. The people of Boston seemed quite assured for the duration of the day that they had taken charge of this entire holiday weekend. From the police to the race directors to the spectators, the feeling was that the best of what they had would overwhelm the worst of what any villain could possibly bring.
"We are not going to let some outside influence affect our tradition," said one man in a Boston College cap as a helicopter flew overhead.
That sentiment was pure Patriots' Day, and even a hint of a callback to what Boston did for this country in the 18th century. Back then, at the start of the American Revolution, there were people from towns all over this region who protected each other with their eyes as much as with their guns. Paul Revere himself was a silversmith who warned his neighbors of a coming threat.
On Monday, there was a new group of local watchmen and women, 9,000 volunteers who showed up in the wee hours to make sure this race went off without any problem. They did everything from pointing directions to reminding tourists the subway was closed to take runners to buses to simply smile. One volunteer, named Langston, danced in Boston Common as runners stretched early in the morning. Another, Rachel Pugh, arrived at 4 a.m. with her mother to stand on a street corner just in case someone needed to ask a question.
"They were always there," said John Bucci, who competed last year and again Monday. "They were everywhere. They didn't even get upset when runners said something stupid, which runners sometimes do."
It was remarkable how few people got upset on Monday. There were a million people in the narrow streets of this old city, and there were hardly any scuffles or sharp words. Accidental bumps led mostly to quick apologies. A lack of space along the guardrails set off from the streets for safety led mostly to compromise. When a man tried to get to the overlook of a bridge to watch the men finish and couldn't squeeze in, he handed his two tiny American flags to the people who did make it to the front. They spun around in surprise and thanked him. Then they waved the man's flags as the leaders ran underneath where they stood.
Everyone, it seemed, wanted to give something to this event. Some cheered especially loudly, some wore T-shirts for good causes, some even helped the runners in the purest sense: lifting them up and carrying them across the finish line.
A 19-year-old ROTC student from Boston University named Tyler Tweedel brought an American flag handed down to him from his great-grandmother, Blanche, who was born in 1912, only 15 years after the Marathon was first run. He and his friend, Sean Palmieri, along with some other B.U. students, carried the flag down Newbury Street and couldn't take more than a few steps without being stopped for smartphone photos.
"This has been elevated from a sporting event," said Alec Lynde, 20.
"It's still the Boston Marathon, not anything else," said Palmieri.
Those two statements, seemingly contradictory, were both completely true on Monday. This was the essence of a sporting event and also way beyond sport.
The students were stopped by a barricade as they tried to get closer to the race course, but they simply stood and waited, for the better part of 20 minutes, holding up the flag. Then the cops let them through, and they weaved their way toward Boylston Street, pausing for more photos – including one with a police officer.
Finally they got to the spot where the first explosion happened a year ago. They seemed shocked to be upon it, but then gathered around and lifted their flag high in the air. Last year, Tweedel and his friends rushed toward the finish line in a moment of fear to try to help their city if they could.
This year, they made it. And they helped make it right.