A year after their marathon experience unraveled into a day of panic, chaos, and tragedy, a handful of Philadelphians returned to Boston to run again.

Some had finished last year's race. Others had not. On Monday, they joined with tens of thousands of runners to make a statement: We will run again.

A city reborn

Elissa Goldberg didn't think she would make it.

Exhausted from Monday's heat, Goldberg found herself in a medical tent at around mile 23. Her longtime friend Martha Davis was by her side.

"No matter how queasy Elissa felt, we knew that we were finishing this race," Davis said.

The pair walked until the start of mile 25. When they reached the home stretch on Boylston Street, their legs found new life.

"I told Elissa, 'This is what we came back for,' " Davis said.

The Mount Airy friends finished in just over five hours.

As Goldberg and Davis were approaching mile marker 25 in Boston a year ago, they were met with a wall of police officers. A bomb had just exploded, they were told. They couldn't finish the run.

This year, tired, sore, but triumphant, they were met at mile 25 by a city reborn. Screams of "Go Mahtha!" - the Bostonian accent as pronounced as ever - greeted Davis as she gave it everything she had.

Somewhere along the run, Davis and Goldberg came to a realization: They needed Boston as much as Boston needed them.

Davis, who traveled to Boston over the weekend with her partner and two children, said it was important to finish the race for her kids.

"I'm really trying to show them that the world is a good place and that good prevails," she said.

Goldberg, who has a daughter, agreed.

"For all of us who ran, it's about choosing life and showing up and being alive," she said.

'A whole new meaning'

Randy Clever didn't know how he would feel returning to the scene.

Would he be overcome by emotion? Nervous because of safety? How much would he have to calm his adrenaline?

"I knew right away after last year that I'd be back," said Clever, who lives in Germantown. "Whether I ran again or not, I'd be back."

When the first bomb went off, Clever - who was steps away from the explosion but managed to walk away unscathed - thought that someone had set off fireworks. Or maybe a transformer had blown up.

When the second one went off, he knew what had happened.

As he crossed the finish line on Monday, the loud, percussive boom that Clever heard last year was replaced by a chorus of celebration.

His family was hollering at him around mile 25. He couldn't hear a thing.

"The noise was deafening at the finish," he said. "It was surreal."

For Clever, 64, it doesn't get any more meaningful than Monday.

"It's not just another marathon at this point," he said. "It's taken on a whole new meaning."

'Didn't make any sense'

Rick Reinhart knew that this time around would be different.

Before finishing Boston on Monday, Reinhart, 65, had run 29 marathons. Last year, the University City resident was about 400 yards away from the explosion. A former lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, he knew immediately what had happened.

At first, Reinhart, who never finished the race a year ago, looked at the bombing through the lens of a military officer. "If you wanted to maximize the effect," he told himself, "why not set it off in a larger crowd of runners? It didn't make any sense."

On Monday, running in a sea of "Boston Strong" shirts, Reinhart finished in just over four hours. His goal had been under four. But this time around, timing meant little.

"I just wanted to finish what I had started, and almost finished, a year ago," he said.

Reinhart had taken Amtrak up to Boston on Saturday. Throughout the weekend, he said, he was keenly aware of the heightened security in anticipation of the run. A year after the entire city was on lockdown, the added precautions didn't bother him one bit, he said.

"I try to go through life not worrying about everything around me," he said. "I'm not going to start now."

215-854-2619 @szweifler