If there is a common thread in the reaction of those who have just finished the grueling 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon, it is indeed the praise of the raucous crowd support along the streets of the Hopkinton-to-Boston route.
But for a 22-year-old member of the Air Force Academy marathon team, some spots can be better than others.
"Nothing can compare to Wellesley," said Chris Stover, who along with teammates Brad Chronister, Jesse Mortensen, and Joe Robinson, heard the supportive cheers at the all-women's school.
A perfect day for running greeted the second-largest field in Boston Marathon history, morning foggy skies giving way to springtime sunshine, temperatures staying in the low 50s. Long after the elite runners finished up their day, the thousands of runners in this year's field continued to stroll down Boylston, past the finish line, and toward the meeting area, a walk that, after 26.2 miles, felt like piling on to some.
"How far do we have to walk?" one runner asked a race official, exasperated at the multiple blocks that lay ahead of him.
Spectators continued to cheer and shout words of support after the finish line, one runner stopping to ask, "What's going on in the Sox game?" and releasing his own exclamation with a pump of the fist when told it was 5-0, Boston.
Some runners leaned against the railing barriers, trying to catch their breath, others updated their location for friends on their cellphones. Wheelchairs awaited the weary as a precaution. Hundreds of cases of Poland Spring water and Gatorade cups were propped up on tables along the center of Boylston Street.
"I can never touch Gatorade again," one runner told a volunteer offering him refreshment. "Until next year."
Ted Loos, 38, of Philadelphia downed some, tipping back his head, atop of which sat an oversize, cartoonish cowboy hat that one might suggest would pose a burden over the course of the race. Not so.
"It gets attention," he said. "It's a good hat. Fits snug. It's worth its weight in the cheers you get."
The crowd support is the number one factor runners cite for pushing on in the challenge of finishing the Boston Marathon. The emotions can change from mile to mile, said Theresa Lowry, 34, of San Diego, with the crowd pushing you forward in your quest to finish.
"It's 26 miles of a whole host of different feelings," she said, comparing today's weather to that of her hometown. "You think back to all the training you've done, and there's no way you're going to stop. No way."
"It's definitely a difficult experience," said 31-year-old Knox Bricken of San Francisco, "but the crowds are awesome."
Bricken, a member of Team Impala, said she was proud of the accomplishments of her 10-person team this weekend, six of whom ran in yesterday's women's Olympic trials. None made the cut, but it didn't cut Bricken's enthusiasm.
"It's still great to see so many women," she said, "and it's great to see it with such great support."
That's where Wellesley comes in, and it's not just 22-year-old men that sing the praises of the women's cheers either. The stretch along the route is often cited as one of the more vocal and supportive, as students hit the streets with signs and voices of encouragement for the athletes passing by.
Of course, for the Air Force Academy members, boasting that they had passed a healthy number of Army and Navy runners along the way certainly didn't hurt in buoying their spirits.
"This is the highlight of the year," Robinson said.
Jason Beaudwin, 20, of the Navy soon strolled by after his 2:52 run, and smiled when told of the comments of his Air Force rivals.
"We have a nice, healthy rivalry," he said. "But when it comes down to it, we're all on the same team."
In all, a team of a different kind grew about 25,000 on Marathon Monday.