BOSTON - (AP) -- The weather was cold and damp but the atmosphere festive at Monday's running of the Boston Marathon, two years after pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish line and shattered one of sports' most cherished events.

All along the 26.2-mile course, spectators banged cowbells and blew air horns as they braved unseasonably chilly weather and light rain in thick layers and ponchos.

Near the Boylston Street finish line, crowds at times four to five people deep roared each time an athlete approached, shouting words of encouragement.

"It's so great to see everyone cheering and being happy," said Jennifer Sunkin, a New York native watching from the comfort of a balcony overlooking the race's final stretch. "Life goes on. It's so inspiring to see and to realize how strong we are."

Throughout the course, though, were reminders of the 2013 attack, which killed three people and injured over 260 others.

"Boston Strong" -- the phrase that became the city's defiant rally cry after the attack -- was everywhere along the route, which winds through seven Massachusetts communities and Boston.

Fans yelled it out, wrote it in chalk on the pavement, and displayed it in hats, shirts, flags and homemade signs. For some, it was the default answer for why they came.

"Boston strong," Suzy Degazon, of California, quickly replied when asked why she was running. "It's a very special race and I wanted to show support. People can't do that sort of thing. The community comes together."

Still, those that attended last year's marathon said the atmosphere this year felt less intense and emotionally charged.

Indeed, bars along the busy commercial heart of Back Bay were already packed with revelers by 11 a.m., some with lines out the door.

Many said they were simply enjoying the sights and sounds of the race, which is the world's oldest annual marathon and takes place each year on Patriots' Day, a Massachusetts holiday commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

"I'm thinking about the people who were affected but, at this point, it's about trying to turn the race back into something positive -- purely a celebration of running," said David Parkinson, a New York City resident competing for his sixth straight year.

But at Newton's infamous "Heartbreak Hill," Lisa Roberts, a Hull, Mass. resident volunteering at a water station, suggested that a sense of normalcy may never return.

"I don't think it's as carefree as it once was," she said, pointing to heightened security that included state and local police, National Guard soldiers and bomb sniffing K-9 units.

An estimated 1 million spectators were expected to take in this year's running.

Brian Young, of Washington D.C., was among hundreds of runners still taking in the scene hours after completing the race Monday afternoon.

"It had the same energy as it had when I last ran it in 2009," he said standing near the finish line. "I don't think the crowds or the runners have missed a beat. It's always been about the competition and it's still going to be about the competition."

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Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.