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They came for the Chicago Marathon — with Boston on their minds

Updated: November 15, 2013 6:25AM



The victims of the Boston Marathon bombing were on the minds of runners and spectators at the 36th annual Chicago Marathon on Sunday, though for many, thoughts of Boston served more to motivate than to scare.

Dramatically increased security and memorial signs, bracelets and shoelaces were evidence of a changed landscape when the runners lined up at Grant Park’s starting line.

This year, about 45,000 marathoners registered and organizers said 40,230 crossed the starting line, up 2,000 from last year. Race staff said the 39,115 finished the race Sunday, topping the record of 37,475 last year. Nearly 2 million spectators cheered on the athletes, according to a city spokeswoman.

The 26.2-mile marathon started at 7:30 a.m. at Monroe and Columbus, winding through 29 neighborhoods continuing as far north as Addison, as far west as ­Damen and as far south as 35th, finishing in Grant Park at Columbus.

Runners were greeted by blue skies and cool temperatures. The start-time temperature was 53 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Romeoville. Marathon medical staff cared for about 750 runners, and 26 were taken to hospitals, though none was in critical condition.

Before marathoners hit the streets, they and spectators were asked to bow their heads for a moment of silence to honor victims of the Boston bombing.

The winning runners crossed the finish line in just over two hours. Kenyans Dennis Kimetto and Emannuel Mutai pushed each other to smash the course record, and Kimetto won in 2:03:45, short of the world record.

Rita Jeptoo separated from fellow Kenyan Jemima Jelagat Sumgong in the final miles of the 36th Bank of America Chicago Marathon, winning the women’s side in 2:19:57 — her personal best.

American Tatyana McFadden won the third-consecutive women’s wheelchair race in 1:42:35, by three seconds. She also became the first to win Boston, London and Chicago marathons consecutively.

In a nearly photo finish in the men’s wheelchair race, South African Ernst Van Dyk won in 1:30:37 — one second ahead of two others.

Many runners wore blue laces in their shoes as part of the “Laces for Boston” initiative, which raised money for victims of the bombing in that city.

That attack prompted officials to tighten security at Chicago’s event — particularly at the start and finish lines. Steps from Michigan and Jackson, a giant Emergency Alert System banner read “EAS: Alert Level Low.”

Entrances to Grant Park were reduced from seven to four and marathoners weren’t allowed to wear backpacks — only specially issued clear plastic bags. Bomb-sniffing dogs, patrolling officers and random bag checks were evident at the surface of the marathon, but the covert security measures were equally important, law enforcement officials said.

High-tech and hush-hush federal equipment was put to use after a Department of Homeland Security decision to elevate the importance of the event in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

U.S. Marshals with assault rifles were posted along the route, as well as a group of New York-based bomb-sniffing dogs hired through a private contractor. Amtrak Police K-9 units patrolled the route as it passed Union Station. Snowplows were parked to blocking the road at South Columbus Drive next to Millennium Park.

Zachary Dombrowski, 32, said he thought the police did an “immense job,” adding he thought their presence had doubled at every major intersection, and even tripled at the start and finish lines, compared with last year.

Dombrowski wore the blue laces and a “Boston Strong” bracelet as he ran, but he said fear wasn’t an issue for him on Sunday.

“I’m focused on the race itself,” Dombrowski said. Thinking about Boston “didn’t affect me.”

Standing along the marathon route, Bruce Long, 64, of Aurora, “it’s the security I don’t see that is more important than the security I do see.”

His daughter, Erin Long, ran her first marathon and started training before the Boston bombings. She was nervous about security and “very aware” of what measures were being taken, Bruce Long said.

Keith Brabeck, 24, ran the Boston Marathon this year, and when he moved from Boston to Chicago, there was no deterring him from attending Sunday’s race as a spectator.

Brabeck note the increased security and he was glad to see it.

“Given the circumstances, I thought it was appropriate,” Brabeck said.

Before crossing the starting line at her first marathon, Magdalene Warner, 25, a Chicago native who lives in Fort Campbell, Ky., said she hadn’t thought about security until Saturday.

“It didn’t cross my mind until yesterday when someone said something about it. She asked me, ‘Are you worried?’ ” Warner said. “I was like, I’ll finish. And she said, ‘No, about security.’ So honestly, I’m really not nervous about it. I was here for the Blackhawks rally and I thought they did a really good job with that, and it was the same amount of people.”

Standing near the starting line before the race, Dan Klein, 33, of Long Grove, said the added security was the new reality.

“I’m not nervous. It’s nice to see the dogs and police and security checks,” he said. “I think it’s good, it’s probably a bit overkill, but it’s the era we live in.”

His wife was disappointed she wouldn’t be able to be at the finish as she was in past years. This year, the finish line was only open to spectators with tickets.

“We’ll have to meet outside way after he finishes,” Holly Klein told the Sun-Times.

Dan Klein added: “I’d rather this than lax security.”

Despite the heavy security, there were moments of levity as spectators lined the route, carrying signs with all manner of encouragement for the runners.

“Run like you’re being chased by clowns,” read one sign attached to a pool noodle.

“Running is a pain in the a - - but it gives you a nice one!!” read another.

“Boston’s strong in Chicago,” said a sign in the first three miles of the race.

Contributing: LeeAnn Shelton, Mitch Dudek, AP



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