This morning, more than 30,000 souls will cram into the relatively small space of downtown Hopkinton, anticipating a 26-mile, 385-yard journey to the John Hancock Tower in Boston.

In that mass of humanity will be world-class runners expected to chew up the Boston Marathon course in something approaching two hours’ time. For the vast majority, covering the course along Routes 135, 16 and 30 — past Wellesley College and through the Newton Hills — will take three, four, five hours, if not longer.

The Boston Marathon — the first such race held in the United States, beginning back in 1897 — is a preeminent sporting event in a city filled with them. But for all of the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots games, the Marathon is far different in that none of the others put superstars on the same playing surface as everyday athletes.

Though its prestige has made the Marathon more selective through the years — and thus far more difficult to enter for anyone other than the most exceptional runners — in its 121st year it remains a “people’s race.” It does so, in large part, by involving many thousands of runners who may not be the fastest but who’ve raised multiple thousands of dollars on behalf of local charity.

That being said, most everyone who starts in Hopkinton will do so having logged hours of exertion and pain in preparation for the same grueling distance. And we’ll cheer for all of them.

This year’s field of competitors is expected to include Meb Keflezighi, who three years ago became the first American to win the Boston Marathon in more than three decades. A four-time Olympian, Meb, 42, is a crowd favorite who has said this will be his last Boston Marathon.

We’ll also see Desiree Linden — a Californian, like Meb — who finished just seconds behind from the women’s winner six years ago. And Galen Rupp, the Oregonian who trains with Cuban running icon Alberto Salazar, who won the Marathon in 1982 after an exciting, legend-making race against Dick Beardsley. Rupp, an Olympic bronze medalist, is one of America’s next great hopes now that Meb is retiring.

This year’s race is special because it will see the return of Katherine Switzer. Though not the first woman to run the Marathon, she was the first to pin on a number in 1967. Her bib famously enraged race official Jock Semple, who tried to rip it away. Today, she’ll again wear No. 261.

Among those lining up for a race will be Andrew Frates, 29, the younger brother of ALS warrior Pete Frates of Beverly. Andrew has been at Pete’s side for most of the five years since his brother’s initial ALS diagnosis in March 2012. Today, Andrew is running his first marathon, for his brother and to raise awareness of the degenerative nerve disease Pete continues to fight. 

We’ll also look for Peabody native Amy Ryan, who was in Copley Square during the bombings in 2013. She’ll be running her first marathon as a member of the David Ortiz Foundation, raising money for children born with congenital heart defects across New England and in the former Red Sox slugger’s native Dominican Republic.

And don’t forget Dave McGillivray of North Andover, the Boston Marathon race director who through the years has used his own running shoes to raise more than $20 million for various charities.

McGillivray, 62, will run the Marathon, too, though as is his custom, he’ll hit the course long after everyone else is finished. This year he’ll run on behalf of a foundation created in memory of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old victim of the bombings at the Marathon’s finish line.

This race survived that terrible attack, and has lasted now into its 121st year, because of the loyalty not of elite runners but a large following of more human ones. Among the competitors will be cancer survivors, people with prosthetic limbs, and others who’ve overcome unimaginable odds to run on Patriot’s Day in Boston.

These and so many others may not be labeled “world-class.” Yet they’ve trained untold miles, and many have raised impressive sums for worthy causes, en route to Hopkinton.

May the roads rise to meet them and their races be easy. We salute every one.