BOSTON — A runner was knocked to the pavement not far from the finish line by a force beyond his control.
A first responder rushed forward to help.
This picture won’t make the cover of Sports Illustrated.
This wasn’t last year, when the bombs went off and no shortage of iconic images burned themselves into our memory.
No, it was Monday, and the runner was just a guy. A guy with bad leg cramps who nevertheless got up and went about his race.
After a week of heartfelt memorials and ceremonies, the Boston Marathon answered the question, can this just be a race again?
The answer was a booming yes.
I hadn’t been to the marathon since 2007 and went on Monday more as a spectator than anything else.
Since last year, the Boston Marathon’s identity has been that of a scarred, wounded, disfigured event, shaken to its bones by the two bombs that killed three people and tore the legs off many others just before the finish line on Boylston Street. Some of those people are still struggling to regain their footing in a life of normalcy.
Monday was a day to take back the street in a singlet and the sidewalk in a “Boston Strong” T-shirt.
The various police and security agencies also did that, in some cases to onerous degree. But the overriding impression, by far, was that this was the Boston Marathon I had grown to know and love over the course of covering it for more than 20 years. The runners were inspirational, the fans embraced the marathoners with unflagging devotion and random acts of kindness were always within arm’s reach.
“We’re taking back the finish line,” longtime race director Dave McGillivray said.
“It’s all about the runners today,” former Mayor Tom Menino said. “Not all of that other stuff we talked about last year. It’s a new day in Boston.”
Big Papi, we all know what he said, and if you don’t … well, I’ll tell you later.
First, about the security.
There were dozens of checkpoints just to gain access to many of the sidewalks around the last two miles or so on Commonwealth Avenue, Hereford Street and the finish on Boylston.
If you weren’t carrying anything, you breezed right through, but strollers and backpacks got you a spot on inspection lines that seemed to be pretty quick and efficient.
I’ve never seen so many cops in my life, but they struck a good balance between securing the route and making it accessible. Sacrifices were inevitable, and I didn’t hear anyone griping.
The runners, of course, were amazing, and so were the fans.
Just during a 30-minute stretch at about the 25-mile mark, I saw Joan Benoit Samuelson, a blind man tethered to a man with “GUIDE” on his bib, a pregnant woman fairly late term and the man referred to above.
He wobbled by like someone who couldn’t decide between running or sitting in a chair, then he hit the deck. With fans chanting his bib number, he wobbled back to his feet just as a cop on a bike wheeled up.
The highlight for me was hooking up with 62-year-old Dr. Dan Larson of Queensbury, who was joined for traditional Park Plaza Hotel beers by two of his former Scotia-Glenville High cross-country buddies, Paul Forbes of Colonie and his brother, Jim, of Valley Falls.
Dan is one of Boston’s “streakers,” a handful of runners from around the world who have finished the race so many years in a row it’s almost comical. Dan, who first ran it as a Yale undergrad, started for the 45th year in a row and has finished 39 straight, dropping out in 1975 with a 102-degree fever.
At 3:52:14, he was a little behind his projected time, but qualified for next year’s race by staying under 3:55.
“Last year, I was off in a hallway trying to call my wife, and came back to the bar like this, and it was muffled,” he said. “I asked Paul, and he just pointed to the TV.”
Blocks away, and about a half-hour after they finished, the bombs had blown up.
“I’m sure when everybody relives it, people will get PTSD and flashbacks. I don’t like to watch it again,” Dan said. “Not that it was anywhere near as bad as the World Trade Center, but it felt very personal.”
So personal that Jim Forbes, who has run Boston almost 20 times, vowed to make it back after missing last year’s race because he didn’t have a qualifying time.
His wife, Sue, would’ve been camped out right where the second bomb went off.
“Running today was important for me. It was important for my wife,” Jim said. “She wanted to be back. She went right back there again. She was down there at 7:30 this morning getting her spot.
“It’s just a crazy thing, and you’re running today and you couldn’t complain about how you felt. There are people who lost their legs.”
Thousands of runners who had their race halted last year because of the bombs were able to come back and finish the job Monday.
The Boston Marathon wisely was pushed back a week, not necessarily to avoid the awful anniversary. On the contrary, the move allowed a weeklong celebration of those who were lost or hurt.
Then on Monday, the Boston Marathon could just be what it’s always been.
Hobbled so severely last year, the race got its legs back.
Reach Gazette sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.