Police, security and emergency medical personnel were taking no chances at Monday's Boston Marathon.
Authorities clearly aimed to send a message that they were fully prepared for the worst of the worst. But the heightened security did not seem to put the slightest damper on the mood of determination and good fun among spectators.
As the crowds began to gather and stake their claims to coveted viewing spots along the home stretch of the race course on Boylston Street in downtown, police officers rolled past on bicycles and military helicopters flew overhead. Plainclothes police waded through sidewalks crowded with onlookers.
Strict police-run security checks on several streets leading up to the finish line area were closed off completely to pedestrians about the same time the first few elite men and women runners neared the end of the race — a consequence not of any security threat but just good old overcrowding. SWAT teams and bomb-sniffing dogs were at the ready. It all felt like the new normal.
“This is probably the safest marathon ever run,” said a man from Michigan standing with his two young sons and watching out for his wife — and their mother — who was running in her first-ever Boston Marathon. “All the security is good,” he said.
Another bystander told me he never thought for a moment about missing this year's race because of what happened last year. (Check out this audio slideshow with voices of a few Bostonians we spoke to as they headed into last week's memorial service on the anniversary of the 2013 marathon attack.)
“No one is afraid of terrorism,” said Peng Tiequan, a 78 year-old native of Beijing. He was standing near mile 26, close to where the bombs went off last year. Peng was there to cheer on his daughter, who ran the marathon in Boston last year for the first time. She had just gone by Peng, near the same spot he stood this year, when he heard the explosions from down the street. Peng said he was unhurt, but got a real scare when he couldn't reach his daughter by phone during those first few minutes after the attack. It turned out she was unharmed.
Peng said he was moved by the sight of people running back toward the explosions, not away from them, to help those who were injured. “Boston is a good, strong city,” he said. An experienced long-distance runner himself, Peng said he was confident nothing bad would happen at this year's marathon.