HOPKINTON, Mass. (AP) — The fastest Boston Marathon field ever returned from the quickest turnaround in the 126-year history of the event, leaving Hopkinton for Boston’s Back Bay on Monday morning, six months after a smaller and socially distanced race was forced to the fall.

Under a sunny spring sky, 10 former champions led more than 28,000 runners down Main Street on the way to the Boylston Street finish, 26.2 miles away. Thick crowds were lined up in the eight cities and towns along the course to celebrate the event’s return to its traditional Patriots’ Day spot in the schedule for the first time since 2019.

At 6 a.m. in Hopkinton, Race Director Dave McGillivray sent out about 20 from the Massachusetts National Guard, which walks the course annually, announcing the start of the 126th Boston Marathon. Wheelchair racers left shortly after 9 a.m., the elite runners about a half hour later and then four waves of recreational runners — a full field that follows two virtual races and one more that was delayed until October, the first fall race in the event’s history.

Not welcome: Athletes from Russia or Belarus, who were disinvited in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainians who were unable to make it to Boston were offered a deferral or refund.

“Whatever they want to do, they can do,” Boston Athletic Association President Tom Grilk said. “Run this year, run next year. You want a puppy? Whatever. There is no group we want to be more helpful to.”

The 2020 race was called off because of the pandemic, the first cancellation since the event began in 1897. And the 2021 version was postponed, then held in October.

About one-third of the National Guard group marched in October, too. Capt. Gus Ashton, 29, said the crowds last year were great and he’s excited to get back out again and see even more people on the course.

“It’s still not quite normal, but it’s a lot closer to normal,” he said.

The Boston Athletic Association is marking the 50th anniversary of the women’s division, when Nina Kuscsik became the first official women’s winner. (The actual first woman to finish the race was Bobbi Gibb, who was among the unofficial runners known as bandits.)

Valerie Rogosheske, who finished sixth in ’72, said she was planning to hide in the bushes and run as a bandit before women got the go-ahead a few weeks before the race. She is running this year with her daughters, and serve as the honorary starter for the women’s elite field.

“There was just this feeling of, ‘Boy, we’re going to do this. No one can drop out. There are eyes upon us,’” she said at the starting line on Monday. “Many people didn’t think we should be running a marathon. So that’s why we really felt that pressure but opportunity as well to finish this marathon.”

This year’s women’s field is one of the strongest ever.

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Peres Jepchirchir, London and New York marathon winner Joyciline Jepkosgei, and Ethiopia’s Degitu Azimeraw all have personal bests that are faster than the Boston course record.

Kenya’s Benson Kipruto won the men’s race in October and will try to defend his title.

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