Fifty years ago on Hopkinton Common, Bobbi Gibb sprung from the bushes and — stealthily at first - openly by the end - became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.  At the time, women weren't even allowed into the race.

Quite the contrast to Monday's marathon. The wave of elite female runners made up just a fraction of the 14,000 women running this year -- nearly half the field. Some runners, like Ontario’s Cynthia Vossenberg -- competing in her third Boston Marathon -- only learned of Gibb’s story in recent days.

"When you read stories like her it just inspires you even more to realize a lot of us face challenges even getting to the start line," Vossenberg said. "And it's such an honor to be able to be here and participate in the Boston Marathon."

For others, like Marshfield’s Paula McGuigghan, Gibb’s feat has long been an inspiration. On Monday, McGuigghan marked her own milestone: her 25th Boston Marathon.

"She was told that physically a woman couldn’t do this," McGuigghan said. "I’ve been an athlete all my life and for someone to tell me that you physically aren’t capable of doing that is just … totally defies everything about me."

Susan Collins — who coaches high-school lacrosse and is running her 5th Boston Marathon — says she realized just how far women’s athletics had come a few years back, when she talked with her team about the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

"The girls knew nothing about Title IX and in some ways that’s a wonderful thing," she said. "That  they’ve never experienced not having equipment, not having uniforms, not having the things that the people before them fought so hard to get."

Julie Loeb, running her third Boston Marathon, is one of those young female athletes who has never experienced that pre-Title IX world.

"It’s hard to think of now, because you see just as many women running marathons as you do men," Loeb said. "I never really thought about there being a time when I wouldn’t be allowed to run this."

It’s a time her father - Vernon Loeb - who’s running with her today, lived through. He says that the change in attitudes toward female athletes that he's witnessed has been not just a victory for women, but a victory for everyone.

"To see over the past 50 years women’s athletics come of age, not only running, but women’s basketball, women’s soccer, is one of the great, great evolutions of our time," he said.

An evolution pushed 26.2 miles forward here by Bobbi Gibb, who 50 years on is still inspiring runners. Just ask Minnesota’s Tracy Sik.

"Well she showed them didn’t she," Sik said. "We can do it!"

At the finish line, Mary Junk of Wisconsin says she was thinking about Bobbi Gibb as she ran.

“She set a standard for all of us to beat," Junk said. "But of course I couldn’t get close to that,” she added with a laugh.

This is Junk’s second Boston Marathon. She finished her first about 10 minutes before bombs went off near the finish line in 2013. But she says she wasn’t thinking about that this time.

“I feel safe here," she said. "I think they do a good job of organizing here, and I think that it’s a wonderful race.”

Dave Fortier was just about to finish when the 2013 bombing happened, and he still suffers from tinnitus as a result of the blast. He ran this year with a baton in his hand – and he gave it to another bombing survivor at the finish line.

“We started in Hopkinton and we’re going to finish in San Francisco in about 100 days.”

They’re calling it the One World Strong Trek and they’re doing it to thank people across the country for the support they showed Boston after the bombing. Two runners are doing the whole thing, and Fortier said he’ll run some legs of the epic relay.

“We’re looking forward to meeting people and saying hello and saying thank you.”

Fans lined the entire marathon route, cheering as 30,000 runners went by. As he waited for his son to finish, Ron Arpin had tears coming down his cheeks as he said how proud he was of him.

“People say 'why do you do that?' You have to know yourself. You have to learn a lot about yourself. You don’t race against other people. You’re racing within yourself.”

Volunteers lined up to hang medals around the necks of exhausted and exhilarated finishers. Runner Jocelyn Thibeault got her medal from a lifelong friend named Colleen.

“I work here every year, she runs it every year," Colleen said. "We’re quite a team.

"I was so excited to see you," Thibeault told her.

It was a warm one, and there was a lot of relief on the faces of the finishers. A volunteer called out to them as they crossed the line.

“Welcome back to Boston, 26.2 miles, how do you feel?” she asked, getting cheers in response.