For a few horrifying hours on Monday night Mancunians were stunned into silence as we learnt that 22 people went to a pop concert and never came home. But today, as tens of thousands of runners and spectators packed the city centre for its annual Great Run, Manchester roared.
There was no escaping the jarring new addition to this year’s Great Manchester Run: armed police.
By the start line, down side streets, even on rooftops. Their presence was felt everywhere.
Indeed, early arrivals into the city were greeted with more officers than runners, their black uniforms standing stark against the sea of balloons and colour on Portland Street, where the annual 10k race begins.
But we knew why they were necessary. The UK terror threat may just have been downgraded from critical to severe but the terrible events of Monday are still too raw, too close for anyone in Manchester to object to armed police on our streets.
If runners were anxious by the presence though, few showed it. The smiles of anticipation were still there on the faces of those determined to enjoy the day. Laughter among groups of friends and running clubs still rang out above the general buzz of the start pens.
Earlier, as the crowd built and more and more runners streamed off Metrolink trams to head to the start line – and their upcoming battle with the road and clock – some admitted to lingering nerves.
“It crosses your mind about something happening,” says Kathryn, from Chorlton in south Manchester, who was running in memory of her parents and also to honour the victims of the attack.
“However, if it’s going to happen there’s nothing you can do about it. So we just have to keep going – and that’s what we will do.”
Carmel Jacobs, from Bolton, brought her children Dhilan, eight, and four-year-old Sahana to take part in the junior run – and cheer on husband Marcus in the earlier half marathon.
“Earlier on in the week we weren’t going to bring these two,” she says, gesturing to the children.
“But actually in the end we thought ‘no, we’re going to come’. And I’m really pleased we did.”
Rhys Jacob, 36, from Marple Bridge, also ran the half but decided not bring his wife and daughter to cheer him on, admitting to a “little bit” of nervousness about the security situation.
“It was quite emotional at the start. There was a minute’s silence… and then we got going and everyone got it into it – and it felt good,” he says, describing the level of security as reassuring.
For many, running is the ultimate solitary sport. You versus the road with just your mind and body to propel you forward.
But events like these are more than that. The power of thousands of people competing against themselves, together, can be a humbling experience.
And the Great Manchester Run is more than a run, it’s a celebration of people.
Every year, you see it in the faces of the spectators roaring their loved ones to the finish line on Deansgate, one of the main thoroughfares through the city centre. You see joy, belief. Above all, pride.
You see it on the thousands upon thousands of “I’m running for” signs on the backs of runners to celebrate the lives of loved-ones they’ve lost, or the people who’ve helped them in their darkest hours.
Today was different. Most simply read: “Manchester”.
This determination to celebrate the city was echoed by many of those taking part.
They included Brian Leigh, 47, from Sale, who was clear on what he wanted from the day.
“Just to soak the atmosphere up, feel the love from the crowd,” he beams.
“We’re proud Mancunians so we just want to be here for the day really and show our solidarity.”
Foremost in everyone’s minds as we anxiously waited to cross the start line was honouring the victims of Monday, and thinking of those who continue to lie in hospital beds across this city and its surrounding boroughs.
Another Chorlton runner, Claire, 34, says she was running for Manchester Children’s Hospital because it’s “more important than ever to support them”.
“And I think it’s important for those of us in Manchester that we’re carrying on with life as normal and getting [out there] together,” she adds, before heading to the start line to join the first wave of runners.
In that first group there was a new addition to proceedings from previous years – poet Tony Walsh, aka “Longfella”, whose This is the Place recital folded even the hardest of hearts at the vigil for victims earlier in this difficult week.
As pre-run nerves turned inevitably to thoughts of those affected by the arena attack, he had more inspirational words in new poem, “Do Something”.
And as he urged all of us to “do something to show them what you’re made of, beat something you’re afraid of”, I looked around and saw determination in the faces of those listening. Most of us, I’m sure, found an extra reserve of energy to take on those personal battles.
And then we were off, a horn sending thousands of people forward down Portland Street and out towards Chester Road and Manchester United’s Old Trafford Stadium, the thoughts now on finishing the race.
The crowds were noticeably thinner, both on the way out to Salford Quays and the home straight up Deansgate. That was perhaps inevitable, given what this city has just been through.
But their power was not diminished. Personally, I was struggling in the last few hundred metres with heavy legs and a rapidly escaping target time when a man running for the Alzheimer’s Society shouted, suddenly: “Come On Manchester, get us home.”
The roar was simply deafening.