In the 26 days leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 21, ESPNBoston.com will share inspiring stories, detail important logistics and go inside the planning for what promises to be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. There is one day until the race.
BOSTON -- This is a unique American city.
Boston can be a wonderfully frustrating place to live. Both provincial and worldly, it was founded on a tiny peninsula then literally filled in as it grew (Back Bay isn’t just a catchy nickname).
For a city its size, Boston has always wielded a disproportionate influence on history. This was the seat of revolution, as you’ll learn just as soon as you visit. Paul Revere’s house, Faneuil Hall, the Old State House and the Bunker Hill Monument, these are the sights tourists come to see.
But while it always will be known for its role in the revolution, the Boston area also has a robust, if less renowned, recent history. The birthplace of John F. Kennedy, Massachusetts was one of the first states to institute sweeping health care reform and legalize gay marriage.
And until recently, it was home to those famously fatalistic fans whose love for their (historically) floundering sports teams knew no bounds, epitomized in those oft-uttered four words: “Wait 'til next year.”
The history of the Boston Marathon is no different. We remember New England’s own Bill Rodgers breaking the tape, Kathrine Switzer breaking the gender barrier in 1967 and opening up the marathon to generations of women to come, and Rosie Ruiz nearly pulling off her ruse in 1980.
But the world’s most famous road race has a more recent history. After two pressure-cooker bombs planted by the finish line on Boylston Street killed three and injured more than 260, the 117th running was halted prematurely.
In the year that has followed, the focus understandably has been on the unspeakable tragedy -- the lost lives of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard and Sean Collier and the lost limbs and changed lives of the many survivors -- and the chaos that followed in the city. The manhunt in Watertown capped a week seemingly crafted for Hollywood, not the 26.2 miles between Hopkinton and Copley Square. The weeks leading up to this year’s race have served as a kind of collective counseling session.
Like many close to the race, Rodgers, now 66, was moved by the attacks of April 15, 2013.
“After the bombing last year, I wanted to run Boston this year,” the four-time Boston winner and Hartford, Conn., native said Friday. “And I was in pretty good shape for an old-timer, 66 years old.”
He was running well, but in January he strained his hamstring. Just when he thought he had recovered enough to consider Boston in 2014, he had another setback. So he’ll have to settle for providing moral support on the 35th anniversary of his 1979 Boston win.
“Runners, you have to come back,” Rodgers said. “You have to come back when you get knocked down. That’s what happened there with the bombing -- and Boston, you can’t keep [the city] down. You can’t keep marathoners down.”
As a native New Englander and a former Boston winner herself, Joan Benoit Samuelson knows what Patriots Day means to the region.
“I think Patriots Day exudes strength, pride, perseverance and belief,” she said. “Everything that emanates from the Boston Marathon and our sport.”
The marathon legend, a two-time Boston winner and a U.S. Olympic gold medalist, said she expects the 118th running to reflect that marathon spirit.
“It will be bigger and stronger and more celebrated than any other Boston before,” Benoit Samuelson said. “At the same time, we’re all mindful of what happened last year and we’ll never forget that. So many of the survivors have been so inspiring in their quest to reclaim their lives.”
Benoit Samuelson said the marathon always will bear a mark from 2013, but an event that’s always demanded, and celebrated, the triumph of will over weakness will only be changed for the better.
“It will always be part of the fabric of the Boston Marathon,” she said, “but I think as the years pass there will be some good that comes from something terrible.”
On Monday, the world’s oldest annually run race will get a little older, the history becoming that much richer and the meaning of the day and the event ever fuller.
As the signs adorning streetlights up and down Boylston Street say, on Monday, “We run together.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.