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Monday, April 18, 2011
Updated: April 19, 3:42 AM ET
City embraces its day in the sun

By Tom Lakin
Special to

BOSTON -- The newspapers will tell you that the Kenyans won in Boston on Monday. They'll talk about a Kenyan sweep, extolling Geoffrey Mutai's blistering finish (2:3:02) and Caroline Kilel's last-second win. They'll write about Ryan Hall and Desiree Davila and how each ran the fastest Boston times ever for an American man and woman. They'll talk about record finishes and perfect weather and a breakneck pace.

But missing from the news stories will be the real winner on this Patriots Day: the city of Boston itself.

The Boston Marathon is, after all, a distinctly Bostonian event. Just ask Hopkinton native Chris McCann, 26, who grew up just miles from the starting line and now works for John Hancock, the marathon's principal sponsor, in an office building overlooking the race's finish.

Marathon Kisser
Wellesley College sophomore Jiezhen Wu, of Singapore, gets a kiss from a passing runner outside the college.

"The marathon is all about this city," McCann said. "It is uniquely Boston. To me, it has always signified the start of spring and all that comes with it each year. Think about it: Every year on Patriots Day, in a sports-crazed city, we not only get to celebrate spring with the marathon, but at 11 a.m. on the same day the Red Sox always play a home game. The Bruins start their playoff run around this time, too, as do the Celtics. The whole day just seems to kick-start springtime in this city and each year the hopes are high."

The hopes of a city were on full display along the 26-mile course on Monday. On a stretch of sidewalk in Wellesley, 20-year-old Morgan McKinney was hoping for a kiss. She had lined up early along Route 135 with thousands of her Wellesley College classmates to cheer on runners as they neared mile 13. The "Wellesley scream tunnel" is a 100-year-old tradition, and Monday morning McKinney, with her "Kiss Me!" sign, shimmering spandex pants and lace-up Chuck Taylors with 3-inch heels, was perhaps its most vocal participant. She soon got her wish, when a runner near the front of the men's pack planted a smooch right on McKinney's lips.

"First of the day!" she said happily as her admirer continued on. It would not be the last -- several minutes later, an overzealous runner attempted a moving make-out and left McKinney with a bloody nose. Not to worry -- she pulled out a tissue, cleaned herself up and continued to cheer.

In Copley Square near the race's end, the hopes took on a more tangible form. Many runners hoped just to finish, staggering with hands on their hips toward the Boston Public Library and some much-needed relief. Others, like 29-year-old Alex Joyce from Montreal, had bigger hopes. After crossing the finish line, Joyce hustled to a nearby tent to retrieve something he had stashed there hours before -- a diamond engagement ring, which he planned to present to his girlfriend, Alice Nentel, 28, when she finished the race. When Nentel came bursting across the line, Joyce knelt and brandished the ring, hoping for only one thing: a "Yes." Nentel obliged, and after posing for several photos, the two walked happily off to fetch their medals.

All around them, others were hoping, too. Some hoped for reasons that were somber, like Northeastern student Alex Haugh, 21, who ran in honor of his late grandmother and hoped that she would be proud. Or Ray Reilly, who ran on behalf of Children's Hospital in hopes of securing a normal life for his son Keegan, 9, who at 4 days old underwent heart surgery at Children's and still struggles with a defect of the aortic valve.

"Keegan would have died if it wasn't for Children's Hospital," Reilly said, "but today he's doing well, and playing lacrosse, soccer and basketball."

Heather Berube, 40, from Grafton, hoped for a quick recovery for high school friend Kristin Porter, who was diagnosed last year with a rare form of cancer. Berube ran as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team with new friend Tom Winston, whom she met through the Dana-Farber connection. Winston hoped his marathon finish would honor his late parents, who both died from lung cancer, and raise some money for his uncle who is fighting the same disease today.

Then there was 81-year-old Clarence Hartley, the marathon's oldest participant, who crossed the finish line in just over 4 hours and 26 minutes.

"I loved seeing the city," Hartley said. "The fans were just fantastic."

Marathon Cheering
The usual wild and crazy Wellesley College crowd did their part to get runners through the marathon's halfway mark.

Hartley, a U.S. Air Force veteran and two-time cancer survivor, said he hopes to be back next year. If he is, he is likely to join Brett Kelly, 36, who ran his eighth Boston Marathon this year and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.

"I ran five in a row starting in 2001 and then took a year off and gained 30 pounds," Kelly said. "After that, I decided I'd better get back into it."

Kelly, who lives in the South End and ran on behalf of the Boston Bruins foundation, had a more lighthearted hope than most: that his beleaguered Bruins, down 0-2 in a first-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, will skate their way back into contention.

"This happens every year," Kelly said. "They lose and then we still buy back in and say, 'This will be the year.' Hopefully this year it is."

A simple hope, to be sure, but even simpler was the hope expressed by a runner who crossed the finish line soon after Kelly.

Wiping his brow and limping after a long Patriots Day, the man slowed his pace and, in an unmistakable local accent, uttered the simplest, perhaps most Bostonian hope of all:

"'Scuse me," he said expectantly. "Did the Sox win?"