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Sunday 21 September 2014

200 Irish among 36,000 to run Boston Marathon amid tight security

Published 21/04/2014 | 18:24

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Kenya's Rita Jeptoo holds the trophy after winning the women's division at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder
Meb Keflezighi of the U.S. reacts after winning the men's division at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. Reuters/Gretchen Ertl
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 21:  Runners wait in line for a bus to take them to the start of the Boston Marathon in the Boston Commons on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. Today marks the 118th Boston Marathon; security presence has been increased this year, due to two bombs that were detonated at the finish line last year, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Runners wait in line for a bus to take them to the start of the Boston Marathon in the Boston Commons on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Nearly 36,000 runners set out from the Boston Marathon starting line with security tight along the 26.2-mile course today, in a show of resilience a year after the bombing that turned the race into a scene of carnage.

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Two pressure-cooker bombs went off near the finishing line last year, killing three people and wounding more than 260.

American Meb Keflizighi, a former New York City Marathon champion and Olympic medallist, won the men's title today in two hours, eight minutes and 37 seconds. He was the first American man to win in three decades.

Keflezighi had the names of last year's victims written in marker on the corners of his race bib.

He wore his official runner's bib with the names of the three people killed in last year's marathon as well as the name of a police officer who was allegedly killed by the bombing suspect several days later.

Kenya's Rita Jeptoo won the women's race in a course-record two hours, 18 minutes and 57 seconds, defending a championship from last year. She had been hoping this year for a title she could enjoy.

She said of last year's marathon: "It was very difficult to be happy. People were injured and children died. If I'm going to win again, I hope I can be happier and to show people, like I was supposed to last year."

Almost 200 Irish runners were among those who started the course. Last year, the bombs went off at 2.49pm local time, as spectators crowded around the finishing line to cheer the still-arriving runners about five hours into the race.

Police were deployed in force along the route today, with helicopters circling above and bomb-sniffing dogs checking through rubbish bins. Officers were posted on roofs.

Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray said it had been a long and difficult year.

"We're taking back our race," he said. "We're taking back the finish line."

A total of 35,755 athletes were registered to run - the second-largest field in its history, with many coming to show support for the event and the city that was traumatised by the attack on its signature sporting event.

Katie O'Donnell, who was stopped less than a mile from the end last year, said: "I can't imagine the number of emotions that are going to be there. I think I'm going to start crying at the starting line, and I'm not sure I'll stop until I cross the finish line."

Buses bearing the message "Boston Strong" dropped off runners at the starting line in the town of Hopkinton. A banner on one building read: "You are Boston Strong. You Earned This."

Among the signs lining the end of the route was one paying tribute to eight-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest of those killed in the bombing.

"No more hurting people. Peace," read the sign. A photograph of Martin holding a poster he made for school with those words was published after his death.

Mary Cunningham, 50, of St Petersburg, Florida, who was stopped a mile short of the finish line by the explosions last year, said: "I showed up, I'm back, and I am going to finish what I didn't finish last year."

Sabrina Dello Russo, 38, of South Boston, was running her first marathon for a good friend, Roseann Sdoia, who lost her right leg in the bombing.

"She is my inspiration from day one last year when I saw her in the ICU (intensive care unit). Every run I do, she is in the back of my head, and she will be keeping me going today," Ms Dello Russo said.

While governor Deval Patrick said there had been no specific threats against the race or the city, spectators at the 118th running of the world's oldest annual marathon had to go through tight security before being allowed near the start and finishing lines.

Fans hoping to watch near the finishing line were encouraged to leave pushchairs and backpacks behind. Police set up checkpoints along the marathon route to examine backpacks, particularly outside underground station exits.

Runners had to use clear plastic bags for their belongings.

More than 100 cameras were installed along the route, and race organisers said 50 or so observation points would be set up around the finishing line to monitor the crowd.

Runner Scott Weisberg, 44, from Birmingham, Alabama, said he had trouble sleeping the night before.

"With everything that happened last year, I can't stop worrying about it happening again. I know the chances are slim to none, but I can't help having a nervous pit in my stomach," Mr Weisberg said.

Race organisers expanded the field from its recent cap of 27,000 to make room for more than 5,000 runners who were still on the course last year at the time of the explosions, for friends and relatives of the victims, and for those who made the case that they were "profoundly impacted" by the attack.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, is awaiting trial for the April 15 2013 attack and could get the death penalty. Prosecutors said he and his older brother - ethnic Chechens who moved to the US from Russia more than a decade ago - carried out the attack in retaliation for American wars in Muslim lands.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police days after the bombings.

One runner today, Peter Riddle, a 45-year-old Bostonian, said he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from being at the finishing line last year.

"I did a lot of talking this year, but running has helped me resolve a lot of things in my head," he said. "Running the marathon this year and running down Boylston Street will help me find peace and help me move forward."

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