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  • Boston College students Nick Tukuru and Hunter Linton, right, cheer...

    Boston College students Nick Tukuru and Hunter Linton, right, cheer on the runners at the 125th Boston Marathon on Monday. BARRY SCANLON PHOTO

  • Westford resident Scott Graham proudly shows off his medal after...

    Westford resident Scott Graham proudly shows off his medal after completing his 35th consecutive Boston Marathon. The 62-year-old finished in a time of 4:48:18. SCOTT GRAHAM PHOTO

  • Beth Craig, left, and her mother, Barbara Singleton, made history...

    Beth Craig, left, and her mother, Barbara Singleton, made history Monday at the Boston Marathon. Craig became the first daughter to push her wheelchair-bound mother for the 26.2 miles. BETH CRAIG PHOTO



Boston Strong. Absolutely.

But to reach the finish line on Boylston Street, athletes in the 125th Boston Marathon first had to be Hopkinton hardened, Ashland ready, Framingham resilient, Natick tough, Wellesley sturdy, Newton indestructible and Brookline unbreakable.

Make no mistake, this was a different Boston. Unlike in 2019, when more than 30,000 athletes completed the 26.2-mile journey, about 18,000 started in Hopkinton. There were also far fewer spectators than normal.

All volunteers wore masks; a few spectators did as well. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 race was cancelled and instead of a typical April event, the marathon was pushed back to October.

Leaves fell onto the course, an odd sight for veteran runners.

But in many ways normalcy returned. Spectators cheered. Bands cranked out live music. Signs (“May the course be with you”) were everywhere. The Boston Marathon, after an absence of 30 months, was back.

It was quite a day.

9:45 a.m.

A couple of hundred yards past the Newton fire station, after the athletes took a right on Commonwealth Avenue, women’s wheelchair athlete Eva Houston struggles to take on the first of several hills which culminate with Heartbreak Hill.

Houston slowly makes her way toward the 18-mile mark. Leaves are falling on the road and spectators are yelling out support. It’s backbreaking work and Houston barely looks up.

Finally, thankfully, she crests the hill and begins a downward path. The relief on her face is unmistakable. Houston finishes 10th in her division.

10:08 a.m.

There is a buzz in the air. The elite men are coming toward the 30K (18.6 mile) mark. But there is no lead pack. Just a surprising sight: American runner CJ Albertson isn’t just in the lead. He’s alone and has about a 45-second lead. It’s a stunning development.

A pack of about 15 runners follows. In the crowd is Benson Kipruto of Kenya, who goes on to win the race in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 51 seconds. Albertson, of Fresno, Calif., finishes as the second American and 10th overall. The top U.S. finisher, seventh overall, is Colin Bennie of Princeton, Mass.

10:32 a.m.

The elite women approach 19.3 miles and a hilly stretch.

There is little drama. Diana Kipyogei holds a 70-yard lead and looks comfortable. The Kenyan will not be caught. She wins by 24 seconds, crossing in 2:24:45. Kipyokei looks over her shoulder to check on her competition, but was never threatened. She’ll return to Kenya $150,000 richer.

11:08 a.m.

With U2’s “Beautiful Day” blaring from a nearby Newton yard, Yari Fontebasso of Italy is all smiles as he reaches 20.6 miles. More importantly, he crests the infamous Heartbreak Hill.

Fontebasso will return to Italy with plenty of memories. He crosses in 2:43:54.

A new song greets runners as Fontebasso heads toward Boston College: “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty. Seems to be a musical trend.

11:27 a.m.

Athletes love going past Boston College. One, Heartbreak Hill is over. Two, the campus features a long downhill journey. Three, less than five miles in the race remain. Four, the BC students are plenty vocal.

Among those cheering on the runners are 18-year-old BC freshmen Hunter Linton and Nick Tukuru.

“The whole school was looking forward to it,” says Linton, of Westminster, Md. “It’s been the talk of the campus.”

Tukuru, who hails from Westchester County in New York, can’t believe how fast the lead runners flew by at the 21.5-mile mark.

“They’re in some kind of otherworldly zone,” he says. “It’s unreal.”

The clouds begin to give way to sunshine. Great for the spectators. Not so good for the runners.

Bridget Stacy looks like she’s run only a mile. She sports an ear-to-ear smile going past the BC students. The Virginia runner was probably still smiling when she finished in 2:58:59.

12:09 p.m.

Cambridge resident Tim Warren is standing at the top of Heartbreak Hill. He’s waiting to see his niece run by. Warren mentions that Kristina Gracey, a doctor who lives in Rutland, Mass., is six months pregnant.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Warren said. “She’s very focused.”

And very elusive. Warren scans runner after runner. No sign of his niece. He checks his app — she’s already run by. Gracey’s pregnancy doesn’t slow her. She averages less than eight minutes per mile and crosses in 3:28:39.

2:29 p.m.

The sun has broken out, temperatures have risen above 72, and the back-of-the-pack runners are struggling. Nearly every runner approaching the bridge over Route 95/128 is walking. There are 10 miles to go. Boylston Street in Boston seems a universe away.

3:31 p.m.

He is showered, feels human again, and Scott Graham is inside a hotel room paid for by the Greater Lowell Road Runners.

Hours before, at mile 20.2, after dumping a cup of water over his head at a water stop, he’s asked by a friend how he feels.

“Terrible,” the 62-year-old Westford resident said.

But now he’s in a better place. He’s extended his Boston Marathon streak to 35 years, even if his time of 4:48:18 is his slowest ever Boston.

“They could have used a calendar to time me,” he quips.

“I never started this to put together a streak. It’s just kind of grown. To get to the 35th is kind of a milestone, he says.

Graham has run three marathons around a track since the last official Boston Marathon in April 2019. Running the course again was a lot more memorable.

“It was uplifting,” he says. “The crowds get you going. Every 100 yards or so you could hear someone yell, “Go, Scotty!”

5:21 p.m.

Beth Craig is being driven back to Hopkinton. She’s trying not to think about chaperoning an eighth-grade trip to New Hampshire’s hilly Pack Monadnock on Wednesday.

Who can blame her? The 53-year-old Tyngsboro resident has just made Boston Marathon history by becoming the first person to push her mother in a wheelchair the entire 26.2 miles.

“It feels wonderful. My mom has endured so much for 40 years,” Craig says of her mother, Barbara Singleton, 77, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1982. “It was such a great moment for her. It’s worth every ache and pain. My mom had the best day. The crowds were amazing. It was like a parade. I can’t even describe how the crowds were like. My legs were just gassed. There were a lot of emotional moments.”

Mother and daughter completed their record-breaking journey in 7:14:46.

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