Since 1897, the finish line at the fabled Boston Marathon has marked the joyous pinnacle of accomplishment for generations of runners who strive simply to make it there. Now, it will be forever tainted with the blood of innocents and the memory of another dark day in a modern world savaged by terror.
"We still do not know who did this. Or why," President Barack Obama tells the nation hours after the bomb blasts in Boston. "But make no mistake. We will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this, and we'll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice."
Many of Monday's victims have horrific injuries, but the loss of life, heartbreaking as it is, might end up being no greater than that of a violent weekend of shootings in Chicago. Yet, the wounds forever scar a nation. Terror shows up so suddenly, but it lingers forever.
In the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 attacks, we lived with this fear. We worried about attacks at grand public events such as the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the presidential inauguration. We worried that the Cubs might finally make a World Series, only to see it become synonymous with another deadly attack.
We let panic creep into our souls. We no longer rolled our eyes at the sound of a fire alarm in the office. An unanswered call to a young boy's cellphone could morph into a parent's frantic fear that his school had been bombed.
Then we moved on.
Monday afternoon, when explosions rocked the finish line in Boston, we returned.
We will survive as a nation and move on again, but the Boston Marathon will never be the same.
"A lot of runners aspire to it. That's the ultimate goal," says Mark Przybyla, vice president of the Fast Track Racing Team based in Schaumburg, who watched the race on TV Monday. "I've done the marathon twice and you want to celebrate, but the luster has been removed. This just takes the excitement, the accomplishment, the euphoria right off of that."
Just as world events color the lives of people who celebrate wedding anniversaries on Sept. 11, graduated from Columbine High School or grew up in Newtown, Conn., Monday's attack alters what people think of when they hear "Boston Marathon."
"A lot of runners, when you complete your first marathon, you immediately start dreaming of the Holy Grail -- the Boston Marathon," says Przybyla, who admits to doing just that after finishing his first Chicago Marathon in 2008.
The Rolling Meadows runner, now 54, completed the Boston Marathon in 2010 and 2011.
"You get done and they put that medal around you. You wear the shirt," Przybyla says. "It's a little fraternity. It's a wonderful sense of accomplishment, all those countless hours, days, weeks, months."
Boston is more than a race. Fellow Fast Track members Steve and Sherri Breese got engaged at that finish line after finishing the 2011 race. Przybyla passes along Monday's posting on Steve Breese's Facebook page.
"My teammates out in Boston have been accounted for and are safe," Steve Breese writes. "I can't believe that the first bomb went off within feet of where I proposed to Sherri exactly two years prior. This was a terrible event, and we are very saddened to hear about the killed and injured spectators."
Mass sorrow trumps personal triumph.
"The joy of doing this race and finishing has no joy anymore," Vernon Hills Village Trustee Mike Marquardt told Daily Herald reporter Mick Zawislak after finishing the marathon.
While in the suburbs watching the race on TV with other club members who weren't in this year's marathon, Przybyla says the group immediately began "talking up" the idea of taking vans with dozens of runners and support teams out to Boston for next year's race. Now, those plans are up in the air.
"You're on this euphoria, and then it is swept out from under you," he said. "Our excitement has subsided."
Just as our nation moves on from the Oklahoma City bombing, mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we will move on from this, Przybyla predicts.
"Two days ago, (Boston meant) a runner's high," he says. "Now, it's still where we all aspire to go. … You're excited, but there's cause for concern."
Runners always are trying be reach a new personal best, go a little bit faster than they did the last time. For many, running offers an escape from the pressures of jobs, family and life. Terror changed that focus on Monday.
"Unfortunately," Przybyla says, "the real world has finally caught up to the running world."