By John Hilliard
BU News Service
Dennis Porter was on his feet for just about the entire run of the 2014 Boston Marathon, even though his feet never touched the course in Natick.
But where he didn’t go, his voice did, singing covers of Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Al Jolson and Elvis Presley from the side of the street as runners approached downtown Natick on Rte. 135.
“You’re sing a song like, ‘Sweet Caroline,’ and the runners who know it sing along,” said Porter.
As runners approach Natick, they’re closing in on the half-way point of the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon, passing the town’s small green common and 19th century storefronts in its downtown.
If the estimated turnout of 36,000 runners for this year’s marathon is accurate, then the people who ran through Natick today outnumbered the people, like Porter, who actually live there.
Porter performs live from a specially built pickup truck bed that overlooks the course. Behind him, a custom-built sign lined with white light bulbs reads “Welcome to Natick.”
He’s been doing it for 17 years, and has a reputation among runners, some of whom leap up on stage to get a photo with the singer, noted his wife, Nancy Kelley.
“They said I’m a mile marker when they see ‘Elvis,'” he said.
During Monday’s race, crowds stood virtually elbow-to-elbow for blocks down both sides of Rte. 135, the sounds of cheers mixed with the occasional cow bell hanging in the air. Runners ran with sunshine, blue skies and 55-degree weather by noontime in Natick.
Security concerns were heightened following last year’s marathon, which was interrupted by bombings that left three people dead and hundreds more injured, followed by the murder of a police officer during the subsequent manhunt for the bombers.
Monday’s marathon reflected the concerns of entertainment and security: As families ate hot dogs wrapped in napkins or watermelon wedges stacked in Tupperware cases along the race couse, armed military police, as well as state and local officers, patrolled on foot while groups of helicopters flew in formation along the race course.
Kathy Newcomb watched the marathon from the sidewalk as she cheered on her niece, Kara Russell, as Russell ran her third Boston Marathon to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Russell didn’t run the 2013 race.
Newcomb was with four other family members, all of whom wore orange t-shirts with the slogan “Team Russell” on them. Being in the 2014 race carries special meaning for all of them.
“It’s special for her and special for us to watch the runners,” said Newcomb. “There have been tears in our eyes.”
Dave Giberti cheered on runners Linda Hamer and Lisa Michaelis, both of whom he met at a 5K race in Indianapolis shortly after the 2013 Boston Marathon. Giberti and Hamer were both participants in the 2013 race.
“Linda was wearing a 2013 Boston shirt, and so was I. We got to talking, and now I’m here to support them,” he said, holding a sign that read “Boston loves Indy.”
Some make the trip each year to watch the marathon in Natick. Sue and Gary Pike drive for nearly two hours from their Whately home in western Massachusetts to the race, which they viewed from the steps of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Sue Pike said there’s typically a smaller and quieter crowd watching the marathon in Natick than in Boston.
“It’s just a nice thing to do in the spring when the weather is nice,” said Sue Pike.
Plus the race’s outcome hasn’t been decided by the time runners reach Natick.
“The Americans are still in it here,” he said.
Ironically, Gary Pike was in luck when it came to the men’s race: Meb Keflezighi won Monday’s race, the first American man to do so in about 30 years.
Joanne Durr of New Jersey waited for her daughter, Lindsay, to appear in the race. Lindsay Durr was running to raise money for Boston Children’s Hospital after her 2 1/2 year-old daughter successfully recovered from a heart transplant in January. Joanne Durr held a large photo of her granddaughter over her head as she cheered from the sidewalk.
Along with the runners, the crowd cheered on members of the Massachusetts National Guard who ran the race course early in the day. And Team Hoyt — made up of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick — made their last marathon appearance this year. The elder Hoyt pushed his son’s wheelchair along the course, and slowed for photos with some spectators in Natick before moving on.
Runners were supported by about 72 volunteers who handed out water and Gatorade along the Natick stretch of the course, said Anne-Marie Shipley, who has worked on Boston marathons for 12 years.
“It’s a great time. It’s really inspirational with all the runners,” she said.
Creative types lined the course. A facsimile of the upper floors of the Prudential tower was built on the lawn of a home on the course — it was large and tall enough for five people to have an elevated view, and displayed an American flag and a large sign that read “Boston Strong.”
Near the 10-mile marker, a man played an uptempo drum beat for runners from a house’s porch.
And at the other end of the motivation scale was an enthusiastic man who held a handmade sign well above his head that read simply, “Run faster I just farted.”