TODAY   |  April 16, 2013

What the Boston Marathon means to the city

The longest-running annual marathon, beloved by Bostonians and people around the world, was marking its 177th anniversary when it turned into tragedy Monday. NBC’s Natalie Morales reports and sports columnist Mike Lupica discusses what the marathon means to the city of Boston.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> welcome back to this special edition of "today" as we cover the aftermath of monday's bombings at the boston marathon . natalie is back with more on why this event means so much to this city.

>> that's right, savannah, from many participants completing the race is a lifelong dream. it is known for its challenging hills and its enthusiastic crowds but this year it became the perfect target for terror. who could have predicted a race that began with the traditional starting gun would end with a pair of explosions. a city wide celebration transformed in an instant by an act of terrorism.

>> everybody was excited, taking pictures and next thing you know it's just utter chaos. we were terrified and the only thing we could think of, is there another bomb?

>> it's literally the best day of the year in the city and everybody is just absolutely stunned.

>> the marathon is beloved in boston . it is held on patriots day , statewide holiday to mark the shot heard round the world at the battles of lexington and concord . each year, revolutionary war re-enactors take the field and so do the red sox .

>> red sox win! a walkoff on patriots day !

>> reporter: played an early game so fans can catch some of the marathon. it is now the longest running annual marathon. this year the 117th annual. the event has overcome hurdles, finally allowing women to run with the men in 1972 , and now letting disabled athletes compete. over the years, many marathon runners have drawn inspiration from dick and rick hoyt , the father and son who have completed the race more than 30 times. the sta the uof the pair was unveiled in the days leading up to the race. and we have heard from the hoyts on their facebook page. they say everyone on their team is okay. they say, though, to please, let us pray for all the victims and their families. so vanna?

>> thank you. mike lua is an author and columnist at "the new york daily news." good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah.

>> this is hitting the heart of boston in so many ways, and the soul and spirit of the city.

>> anybody who has ever attended this race, anybody who has ever spent time in boston and i went to college there, my two sons have gone to school there, i have a son at boston college there this becomes personal for them. unless you've ever attended, it's impossible to describe, this is the best day of the year. maybe when a sports team wins a championship it feels better. this is a celebration you think on this day of everything that's good in the world. all you see are happy people. tired, happy people at the end of the race but all you hear from hopkington on are cheers and the site yesterday of people running away from the finish line at the boston marathon like we saw people running away from downtown manhattan is one of the most chilling and sad things i've ever seen.

>> you've covered it many times. the street is loaded with spectators in so many ways the perfect target.

>> it's an open target and even though the winners had come through long ago, somebody's waiting for somebody at the finish line . some family member is waiting for a wife or a daughter, a son. my son's roommate's sister was running in the race. she got to the 23 mile mark and a lot of these kids carry cell phones in the race because they're back in the pack, not trying to win the race. her brother calls her from the finish line and says stop running and the kid said, did something happen in new york ? people always assume it's something in new york and then they started getting herded back towards fenway park , and kenmore square so instead of running toward the finish line which is a great triumph for the runners they're moving in the other direction yesterday because of the bombings.

>> it's heartbreaking. mike lupica it's always great to have your perspective. this is a city and event that means a lot to you.