Mike Marty affectionately gazed back at the Boston Marathon finish line, thoroughly smitten.
His fifth run through the city had been his favorite. The weather was a comfortable 50 degrees and he had blazed the course in 3 hours, 24 minutes and 25 seconds, shaving 13 minutes off the previous year. He lingered after finishing, drinking up the spectacle and watching his fellow runners complete the race under the towering downtown backdrop.
The bombings that killed three and injured more than 250 transformed this scene minutes later only intensified his love for the race. And he can't wait to return.
"I think it will be the most special in the 118 runnings of the Boston Marathon," said Marty, a teacher and cross country coach at Sierra High School. "I do think it will be the most special.
"The people of Boston support that marathon to the point where it's part of who they are. I knew immediately after the bombing that I wanted to go back."
At no point has fear of another incident crept into Marty's mind. If it had, new regulations would have put him at ease.
Runners have had to confirm their identity several times in online checks. Participants will not be permitted to wear costumes that cover the face or are not form fitting. Backpacks or handbags are banned for runners, but not for spectators - though they are discouraged and subject to search. Police presence will be larger and 100 extra cameras and 50 observation sites have been set up along the course.
"It's important to know that the marathon will not be fundamentally changed this year," Boston mayor Marty Walsh said recently. "It will be the Boston Marathon, just as it's always been."
Those words were no doubt welcomed by Amy Perez, who has returned for another shot because the bombings cheated her out of the full experience last year.
If running the Boston Marathon is a bucket-list experience, Perez's bucket didn't have the opportunity to be filled.
"I'm not going back to show anybody I'm brave," Perez said. "I'm going back because this marathon means something to that town and I truly enjoyed every minute of it until the end. I never got to see the end ceremonies. I didn't know who won it until I got home. I want to be able to see the end celebrations and things that happen on the street.
"It's a party for the rest of the day. And it wasn't like that at all. I'm going back to celebrate Boston."
Perez also said she does not anticipate experiencing fear during Monday's race. Even in the aftermath of last year's bombing, she felt "protected and safe."
"I'm not nervous at all," she said.
The race has expanded its field to 36,000 runners this year - up from about 23,000 in 2013. All runners who failed to finish last year because of the bombings were invited back and more spots were created to account for the overall increased interest.
Sixty-seven runners from the Pikes Peak region have registered to run this year.
Garry Harrington was near the finish line as a spectator last year until minutes before the bombings. He quickly decided that, despite an aversion to pavement running, he would sign up to again run the race he first tackled in 2011.
Gary Derbenwick made reservations to return last year before even leaving Boston.
For Marty, the last memories he had of Boston were of chaos. He wants to replace them with the serenity he has come to love.
"Things changed in an instant," he said. "It saddened me. But the people of Boston reached out, and I'm excited to go back and support them."