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Defying fears, large crowds cheer London Marathon

NBC News

Leanne Cartwright, seen here with her children Lewis, Alistair, and Jamie Lee, attend the London Marathon in spite of security fears.

LONDON – Defying fears instilled by Monday's deadly Boston bombings, boisterous crowds turned out Sunday to cheer on an estimated 36,000 runners in the London Marathon, many of whom wore black ribbons to honor the dead and wounded.

Police in London are boosting security at Sunday's London Marathon after the attacks in Boston.

Hundreds of extra police offers were deployed to beef up security for the first major road race since three people were killed and scores were wounded near the finish line of the Boston marathon Monday.

Some 650,000 spectators lined the streets of London as Prince Harry, grandson of Queens Elizabeth, waited at the finish line near Buckingham palace to hand out medals to winners.

"People have been saying they haven't seen crowds like this for eight years around the route, which is remarkable to see,” he told the BBC.  “The way that Boston has dealt with it has been absolutely remarkable. It's never going to get anyone down here."

Local officials said that heightened security measures were in place to reassure the public and not in response to any specific threat. London's Metropolitan Police Service said it increased the number of officers on the streets by 40 percent. Sniffer dogs were out in force and trash bins had been removed from the course.

"The enhancement to policing, which will see several hundred additional officers on the streets, is intended to provide visible reassurance to the participants and spectators alike," the police said on their website.

After the twin blasts in Boston, some Britons, like Leanne and Richard Cartwright, decided not to attend Sunday's marathon in London. But the two avid runners changed their minds when they witnessed the groundswell of support for the victims of the U.S. attacks. The couple from Shrewsbury, a town in the west of England, brought their three children: Lewis, nine, Alistair, 13, and Jamie Lee, 14.

"The day it happened we decided not to come, decided not to risk it," said Leanne, 33, as she watched the racers in London. "The runners have to be here so we decided we should come and support them and show our respect to people of Boston as well."

Before setting off, runners wearing black ribbons marked 30 seconds of silence to honor the victims of the Boston bombings. The pack of race competitors bowed their heads and stood silently at the starting line, then clapped and cheered when a whistle marked the end of the tribute.

Related story: London marathon kicks off with a moment of silence

Moments later, the elite runners set off at the head of the pack. Thousands more soon fell in behind them, chasing personal goals or raising money for charity, many running in fancy dress. Small children reached out to high-five runners as they went past, spectators cheered elite and anonymous runners with equal enthusiasm, and a brass band near the starting line jokingly complained the boisterous crowds were drowning out their music.

"It was incredible, the amount of support, people coming out from everywhere, just cheering the whole way. Unbelievable," said a breathless Mo Farah, Britain's 5,000 and 10,000-meter Olympic champion, after running the first half of the course.

Farah ran half the route to prepare for competing next year.

Despite somber reminders of the deadly attacks on one of Boston's most iconic sporting events, the mood at the London race was overwhelmingly one of celebration. 

Some runners wore vests emblazoned with the city's name. One spectator held up a placard along the race route that read "Come on London, do it for Boston!"

Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Tatyana McFadden, an elite wheelchair athlete who won the Boston women's wheelchair race just before the two bombs exploded, said she hoped that she would inspire those injured in Boston by competing in London.

"The best ever! A lot of emotion because of the Boston marathon," said Nathan Comer, 38, catching his breath just after finishing his third London Marathon.

"The silence before the marathon was beautiful ... it just felt as if everyone was together," he said.

London's 26-mile course starts in leafy Greenwich, crosses Tower Bridge, snakes through the Canary Wharf business district before heading to Big Ben and finally Buckingham Palace.

Tatyana McFadden, an elite wheelchair athlete who won the Boston women's wheelchair race just before the two bombs exploded, said she hoped that she would inspire those injured in Boston by competing in London.

"That’s what we need to give back to the people in Boston," she said. "Running for London, I'm going to be dedicating the race to Boston. It's about showing that we're not going to let this event win. We will continue and we will fight on."

Reuters contributed to this report.