BOSTON — The weather was cold and damp but the atmosphere festive at Monday's running of the Boston Marathon, two years after pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish line and shattered one of sports' most cherished events.
All along the 26.2-mile course, spectators banged cowbells and blew air horns as they braved unseasonably chilly weather and light rain in thick layers and ponchos.
Near the Boylston Street finish line, crowds at times four to five people deep roared each time an athlete approached, shouting words of encouragement.
"It's so great to see everyone cheering and being happy," said Jennifer Sunkin, a New York native watching her third marathon from the comfort of a balcony overlooking the race's final stretch. "Life goes on. It's so inspiring to see and to realize how strong we are."
Throughout the course, though, were reminders of the 2013 attack, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
"Boston Strong" — the phrase that became the city's defiant rally cry in the days and months after the attack — was everywhere along the route, which winds through seven Massachusetts communities and Boston. Fans yelled it out, wrote it in chalk on the pavement, and displayed hats, shirts, flags and homemade signs bearing the phrase.
For some, it was the default answer for why they came.
"Boston strong," replied Suzy Degazon, of California, when asked why she was running. "It's a very special race and I wanted to show support. People can't do that sort of thing. The community comes together."
Still, those that attended last year's marathon said the atmosphere this year felt less intense and emotionally charged.
Indeed, bars along the busy commercial heart of Back Bay were already packed with revelers by 11 a.m, some with lines out the door.
Many simply enjoyed the sights and sounds of the race, which takes place each year on Patriots' Day, a Massachusetts holiday commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War.
"This year, I'm here for the party," said Ramona Turner, a Winnipeg, Canada resident whose husband has run the race the past three years.
But at Newton's infamous "Heartbreak Hill," Lisa Roberts of Hull, Massachusetts, said a sense of normalcy may never return.
"I don't think it's as carefree as it once was," noting heightened security as she volunteered at a water station for the ninth consecutive year.
An estimated 1 million spectators were expected to take in this year's running, which is the world's oldest annual marathon, dating back to 1897.
"I'm thinking about the people who were affected but at this point, it's about trying to turn the race back into something positive — purely a celebration of running," said David Parkinson, a New York City resident competing for his sixth straight year.
Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.