From the rooftop snipers and the binocular-toting spotters to the omnipresent police vehicles and military personnel, it was clear from the start line that Monday's Boston Marathon was not going to be an ordinary running race.
Nor should it have been. It's been a year since the horrific terrorist bombings near the end of the iconic 26.2-mile course left an unfathomable carnage of death, blood and lost limbs. Monday, however, Bostonians and runners from around the world -- including 50 from Manitoba -- took the race back.
"The crowd support was like nothing you've ever experienced," said Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president at True North Sports & Entertainment, who crossed the finish line in three hours and 53 minutes. "You'd have to be at the Super Bowl to top today. It was unbelievable."
Of course, the bombings were top of mind for the more than 32,000 runners -- and the thousands more volunteers who helped the marathon run with the precision of a Swiss watch -- but the enthusiasm with which Bostonians embraced them erased any fears they may have had.
Donnelly had finished last year's race and was on his way back to look for others in his group when the bombs went off. He and 11 friends returned this year, all sporting red and white T-shirts emblazoned with "Winnipeg Supports Boston" and a Maple Leaf in the shape of a heart.
Donnelly said Monday was about the runners.
"I got hundreds and hundreds of shout-outs. I even had a couple "Go Peg!" It was great," he said.
Donnelly yelled out some praise of his own as he passed Boston's police commissioner -- who usually runs the marathon -- standing on guard near the finish line.
"I shouted out, 'Way to go, commish!' And I high-fived every kid along the route that I could reach."
Veteran marathoner, Ken Zorniak, 43, last ran in Boston in 2010 but felt the pull to return after seeing the stories of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
"To have something like that happen to Boston, I was really motivated to come back and provide support. It's a fantastic experience. It's the mecca of running for racers," he said.
The level of support from Boston and the surrounding communities was "out of control," he said.
"There had to be 1 million people (lining the course). In Natick (pop. 33,000), I think the whole town was out. There were people lined up back to the top stair of the local church," he said.
Zorniak, who crossed the finish line in three hours and one minute, said he always sews a Maple Leaf on his running top but it might as well have been a flashing neon sign this year.
"I felt like I was in the Olympics. People were screaming, "Go Canada!" Every mile I had somebody calling out. That was very inspiring," he said.
Paul Kemp, a former member of the University of Manitoba track team who now lives in Toronto, was also compelled to make the trek to Massachusetts after seeing the impact of the bombings. He said there were only a few hundred metres along the entire course where people weren't lined up yelling out encouragement.
"It was almost deafening in Wellesley. We were doing a lot of high-fiving. Each step as you got closer to Boston, the crowds got thicker and thicker," he said, noting he finished in two hours and 55 minutes.
"It was 15 to 20 people deep two to three miles out from the finish line. It was deafening. I had some cramping issues and it kept me going."