It took a long time and significant effort. But Kenyans Priscah Jeptoo and Geoffrey Mutai eventually left behind their thousands of fellow New York City Marathoners Sunday, just as the event itself shed the lingering focus on superstorm Sandy and the Boston bombings.
Jeptoo, the London Olympics women's silver medalist, spent most of the morning far behind pacesetters Buzunesh Deba, the Bronx-based Ethiopian, and Tigist Tufa Demisse. Trailing by four minutes at one point, Jeptoo reeled them in during the last five miles and won, going away, in 2 hours, 25 minutes and 7 seconds.
Mutai, the 2011 New York champ, needed until the 21st mile of the 26-mile, 385-yard race to rid himself of his last pursuer, countryman Stanley Biwott, for a 2:08:24 victory.
To revive the carefree spirit of this annual run through the five boroughs, plenty of attention and enormous resources were spent after last year's belated cancellation because of Sandy's damage, and the fatal finish-line attack in Boston in April.
But just as the 29-year-old Jeptoo prevailed with her misleadingly stiff, choppy stride, and just as the 32-year-old Mutai motored along while the lead men's pack melted away around him -- dwindling from 14, to nine, to eight, and finally to Biwott -- so did the past year's big-city marathon worries fade.
"Zero incidents,'' race director Mary Wittenberg said. "Zero threats. Everything was really smooth.''
Every entry from 2012 who tried again Sunday wore an orange wristband. And organizers added to the street's blue line -- the traditional directional guide for marathoners -- a yellow line through the last quarter-mile into Central Park, a nod of solidarity with Boston. (Boston's race colors are yellow and blue.)
So all those road scholars -- a record 50,740 started the race -- literally crossed a bridge into concentrating solely on the cheerful old dare of the marathon distance ahead, even as they traversed the Verrazano Bridge from the Staten Island starting point.
As in past years, the crowds along the route were massive (more than 2 million, officials said, and more than Wittenberg could remember seeing in Brooklyn and Queens) and deafening.
"You could take energy from the crowd,'' said 24-year-old Tatyana McFadden, who completed a 2013 "Grand Slam'' of women's wheelchair victories (London, Boston, Chicago and New York). "They were calling my name.''
Born with spina bifida and abandoned at a Russian orphanage before she was adopted by an American government official, McFadden powered to a 1:59:13 victory and then confirmed that she will seek to make the 2012 U.S. Paralympic team in skiing.
For the runners, a more obvious hassle than the heightened security was the chilly, blustery wind, in their faces through most of the first 20 miles. At 51 degrees, lowered by the wind chill, it compared to the two coldest days in the marathon's 43-year history.
"The wind today, it was not easy,'' Mutai said. "But when I start to go ahead , I was feeling OK. The wind was not there.''
Ryan Vail, 27, an Oregonian who finished first among the American men (13th overall in 2:13:23) in his first New York City Marathon, found it "incredibly windy, especially when I had to deal with it myself. It was nice to run with Jeffrey for a while.''
Wittenberg called the day emotional, but it was business as usual for Mutai.
"For me,'' he said, "I was not fearing anything. I know the security was OK, and I was feeling free. I was not even thinking about anything.''