BOSTON – In many ways, it felt like any other pre-marathon Sunday in Boston.
Families celebrated Easter, diners enjoyed the spring weather at sidewalk cafes, and runners — easily identified by their trim builds and colorful jackets — picked up last-minute supplies for what will be the second-largest field in the race's history.
But even as runners focused on the exhilaration of crossing the finish line, the festive atmosphere was inevitably tinged with sorrow, as runners, family members and spectators recalled the double bombings at last year's race that killed three people and injured 260.
Marathon runners were blessed at an emotional church service that celebrated Easter and remembered the victims, while heightened security measures, including bag checks, were in place at marathon events.
"It's different, coming back," said Gisele Goldstein, 55, of Germantown, Tenn., who planned to run her 12th Boston Marathon this year. "It's not just me -- there's a sadness."
Her friend Nanette Farris, 46, of Memphis, added that people were surprised she wanted to return for her second Boston Marathon. The doubters were all non-runners, however the runners she knew felt differently.
"If you're a runner, you want to show them no one's going to take that away from us," Farris said. "Once this occurred, everyone wanted to qualify for Boston."
Still, there have been tense moments — such as when an alarm went off on Friday, during the Runners' Expo at the Hynes Convention Center. People were spooked, Goldstein said, even though it turned out to have been a test.
Ricardo Corral, 53, of New York, who planned to race in the hand-cycle division of the wheelchair race on Monday -- his eighth marathon -- said he was reassured by the heightened security.
"We are not nervous," he said. "We know the police will be here to protect people."
Corral added that it was especially important to him and his teammates to return this year, to support Boston and each other. "As the signs say, 'Boston Strong,'" he said. "That's why we come back."
That determination was echoed by many runners, including Scott Johnson, 54, of Atlanta. He is the executive director of the Scott Rigsby Foundation, a nonprofit that supports people who have lost limbs. The organization has raised money for last year's bombing victims, and this year Johnson was planning to run with Team MR8, a team formed in honor of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy who was killed in the 2013 bombing.
"There's a sense of resiliency," Johnson said. "It's sadness, but it's also a kind of fortitude. Two people created the violence, but millions counter it with love and support. I like those odds!"
Ben Rancourt, 64, of Ste-Germaine, Quebec, was planning to run his eighth Boston Marathon on Monday along with his three younger brothers.
"We're going to buy beer for the after party!" he said. "We'll see, tomorrow, with the fans on both sides of the road -- it will feel very great!"