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From the moment T.J. Dooling stepped off the train on Sunday until long after crossing the finish line on a sunny Monday, he could feel the love from the supportive Boston Marathon crowd.
"Wow," Dooling said. "I was really stunned at the reception that the runners received from the city of Boston. .... Everybody was super supportive. I couldn't believe it. There was genuine affection.
"Man, it was really amazing."
Dooling, 55, of Pawcatuck, was one of a number of local runners that experienced joy a year after intense sorrow that followed the bombings that killed three people and injured over 260. Running in his first Boston Marathon in 14 years, he posted a time of three hours, 35 minutes and 38 seconds.
Start to finish, a large and enthusiastic crowd packed the 26.2-mile course and roared loudly, helping push runners all the way to the finish line.
Dooling could feel a positive vibe.
"This is our city. This is our race. We're taking it back. There was a lot of that kind of sentiment on the race course," Dooling said.
Tom Fagin, 25, of Ledyard, who completed last year's marathon before tragedy struck, ran a personal best time of 2:38:19. Every time he received a high-five from the crowd, he felt energized.
The incredible experience alone made all the months of training in bad weather and aching muscles after the race more than worth it.
"This was probably my hardest year of training getting to this point," Fagin said. "You can't deny the Boston atmosphere. That city was a light, with so many voices and so much enthusiasm. It was almost like I was riding a wave with all the good feeling from people.
"I think the other runners showed that, too. There was so much spirit."
For Fagin's father, Steve, 64, it was his final Boston Marathon. He trained with running friends but lost many of them once they took off at the start. He finished what he called his "ramble" in 5:11:45.
"I'm very happy to have done it," said Steve, who never got a chance to finish his 10th Boston Marathon last year. "It was redemption time. It was nice to go out on a good note and close the book on Boston. ... It was a great experience.
"Boston definitely came back stronger, stronger than ever."
Local runners praised Boston Marathon organizers for their hard work and well-run event. They felt safe with the heightened security but not overwhelmed by their presence.
"None of the spirit was compromised," Tom Fagin said. "Hats off to the race organizers and all the security."
Dooling added: "Everything was done in a positive manner."
The hardest part of the race came at the finish line on Boylston Street. Dooling had mixed emotions as he crossed the finish line.
"It was very emotional," Dooling said. "You're in this emotional state. You're beat up to hell and excited about finishing. You bet I remembered that. It was very much on your mind."