LOWELL -- Jack Pierce was ready for his final turn onto Boylston Street. There was only about 1/2 mile between him and retiring from marathons.
But then the bombs went off, and retirement had to wait.
"We're taking back our finish line," said Pierce, 71, moments before he boarded the Boston Marathon bus at Cawley Stadium as the son rose Monday morning. "As soon as I found out what happened last year, I knew I had to come back.
"We're taking back our finish line," emphasized Pierce, who lived in Billerica for 20 years before moving to Arizona. "They can't chase us away."
Pierce was one of 52 Greater Lowell Road Runners boarding the bus for Hopkinton at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. More than 100 Greater Lowell Road Runners are expected to run the Boston Marathon, arguably the most important one in history because of what happened last year.
Twin bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 others in the 2013 marathon. About 36,000 runners, which is 10,000 more than an average year, are signed up for the race. An estimated 1 million spectators are expected to line the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Copley Square.
James Sullivan, 28, of Chelmsford, predicted he'll never forget running down the final stretch on Boylston Street, where the bombs went off last year.
"There won't be a dry eye at the finish line," said Sullivan, running in his fourth Boston Marathon on Monday.
Liane Pancoast, 56, of Westford, thought she ran her final Boston Marathon in 1996, the 100th anniversary. But with the bombings last year, she said it was important to return and be a part of Monday's festivities.
"I wouldn't be running if it wasn't for last year. I didn't want to just be there. I had to jump in. They can't stop us," said Pancoast, who was inducted into the Greater Lowell Road Runner Hall of Fame two days ago.
"There's no goal today, just trying to have fun and take it all in," she added.
Security has been a concern for some after last year's attack. But with an added law enforcement presence and heightened security measures on Monday, Greater Lowell runner Fil Faria said he's not worried about an attack.
"It will probably be the safest place you can ever be," said Faria, 49, of Hudson, N.H., running his fifth straight Boston Marathon. "I've had to turn off the news sometimes about the security, but I'm not really concerned about it. We're just going to have some fun."
Bill Dumont, 55, of Dracut, said last year's tragedy will give him extra incentive to push through the pain and make it to the finish line. Dumont said he's been thinking all year about all those who were affected by the bombings.
"Running down Boylston Street... boy, that's going to be unbelievable," said Dumont, who was a spectator last year. "That crowd will be going crazy. It will be absolutely something special."
For more on the Boston Marathon throughout the day, visit www.lowellsun.com and read Tuesday's edition of The Sun.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter and Tout @rsobeyLSun.