BOSTON (AFP) - Amby Burfoot, the winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, was unable to complete last year's race when two bombs ripped through the crowd at the finish line.
This year, the 67-year-old Burfoot is back, running Monday's race as a sort of public love letter to the city and his favorite event.
"Thank you, Boston Marathon fans, for your 118 years of support for all runners, fast and slow alike. Without you, the Marathon wouldn't be the amazing race that we cherish so much," Mr Burfoot wrote.
He has printed up 200 cards with his message and plans to hand it out to fans along the 26.2-mile course through the northeastern US city.
"I made 200 - I should have made 2,000," Mr Burfoot told AFP in an interview.
"We know that it was the people of Boston - fans and spectators - who were killed last year, not the runners," he said.
"We all feel terribly about what happened to the people of Boston last year and we want to thank them this year for being so strong and for healing the city, and we want to be part of the healing process."
For Mr Burfoot, Boston is a key part of his running career. Three years before his dream win, he made his race debut here in 1965.
"That was 49 years ago and even then, I was a student of the marathon. I always knew I wanted to be a marathoner. For me, the Boston Marathon is the Holy Land - it's the place I've always wanted to be," he said.
In recent decades, Mr Burfoot has come back every five years to run his favorite race.
On April 15, 2013, he was less than a mile from crossing the finish line when the pressure-cooker devices packed with metal fragments - allegedly made and placed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - exploded.
"We didn't know what was happening at the point where we were stopped half a mile from the finish line. I was one of the 5,000 who were stopped and they just said, 'Go away'," Burfoot recalled.
He learned of the tragedy a few minutes later when his terrified wife called, asking him to return to their hotel immediately.
"Personally I was not scared by the experience. We didn't see or hear anything," he said. But once we realized what happened, that the marathon had been disrupted in this horrific way, I think among the runners we were sure immediately that we wanted to come back this year. We wanted to reclaim the race for the runners, for the people of Boston."