Boston reclaims Patriots' Day beauty

Last year Sabrina watched the finish outside Forum, standing behind a mailbox that absorbed some of the force of the bomb and may well have saved her life. She was no more than 20 feet from Martin Richard and his little sister, Jane, each of them leaning into the metal barriers for a better view.

The mailbox Sabrina stood behind has been replaced and new barriers were erected for the 118th running of the race. This time, 11-year-old Francesca Spagnuolo of Grafton, Mass., and her 12-year-old sister, Isabella, craned for their own optimal vantage point in the exact spot where the Richards were standing.

Their mother, Tanya, recalled watching the explosion on television last year and promising her daughters, "We're going to be there next year. No fears. Nothing is going to take this race from us."

Francesca admitted she was a "little nervous" to be so close to the finish line, but as the day unfolded, the positive energy from the thousands of spectators became contagious.

"It's great," Francesca declared, beaming. "Just awesome."

Not 10 feet from them, Bobbie and Jeremy Smith of Newburyport, Mass., snapped pictures of the runners with their phones and reveled in the sunshine.

"I didn't come here for an anniversary," Bobbie Smith explained. "I came for what it is supposed to be -- a race on a beautiful day that's a Boston tradition."

There were residual makeshift memorials that sprouted up Monday, among them random pots of daffodils along Arlington Street and a string of votives on Hereford that flickered as the wind picked up in the afternoon.

The city held its collective breath at 2:49 p.m., the moment all hell broke loose last year, and then, when there was nothing -- no explosions, no screams, no bloody horror -- Boston exhaled, relieved and still a bit reflective.

It was a day without incident, and that was the best thing of all.

Ben Coughlin of Worcester, Mass., ran Boston last year. He was celebrating his finish with his family when the bombs interrupted their moment.

"I needed to come back," his mother, Suzanne Coughlin, said Monday. "I felt it would be healing."

Ben's fiancée, Megan Robertson, accompanied his parents to the finish, but she did so reluctantly.

"My dad is a New Jersey state police officer," she said. "He tells me stories. I didn't want [Ben] to run. ... I told him how I felt, but I also told him he needed to do what he had to do."

Ben Coughlin's final tweet before he tackled the course was succinct: "26.2 miles to closure."

He crossed the finish line in 2:38:31, a personal best. It took Sabrina Dello Russo a little longer than that to pass the mailbox, the Forum, the site of the most traumatic moment of her life, but when she crossed at the exact same spot as Ben Coughlin and Meb Keflezighi, she did so in honor of Roseann and her fellow survivors.

The sun was still shining, and more than 5 hours into Marathon Monday, the crowds were still cheering.

It was a beautiful day.

Just like it always used to be.

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