The New York City Marathon returned after a one-year absence with big crowds, heightened security and a familiar champion.

Geoffrey Mutai successfully defended his title Sunday, while fellow Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo came from behind to win the women's race. Bronx resident Buzunesh Deba finished runner-up for the second straight time in her hometown event.

Fans again packed the 42-kilometre course, undaunted by the events of the past year. The 2012 NYC Marathon was canceled because of the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, but not before many New Yorkers were enraged by initial plans to hold the race.

After the bombings at April's Boston Marathon, bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the course, and barricades limited access points to Central Park. A record 50,740 runners started the race through the five boroughs.

On a windy morning, Mutai's time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 24 seconds was well off his course record of 2:05:06 set in nearly perfect conditions two years ago. He's the first man to repeat in New York since Kenya's John Kagwe in 1997-98.

NYC Marathon Athletics

Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya crosses the finish line first in the women's division at the 2013 New York City Marathon. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

"To defend your title is not easy," Mutai said. "As you see the course today, the weather today, it was not easy. Even for me, I try all I can, but I was not believing that I can finish like that."

Kebede, the London Marathon champ, clinched the $500,000 bonus for the World Marathon Majors title. South Africa's Lusapho April was third.

Jeptoo trailed Deba by nearly 3 1/2 minutes at the halfway point. But she started making her move as the race entered Manhattan and passed the Ethiopian with just over three kilometres to go.

"So I started to push the pace," she said. "I was having confidence that I will make it."

Jeptoo, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2013 London Marathon Champ, won in 2:25:07 to clinch the $500,000 World Marathon Majors bonus.

Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, the 2005-06 New York champ, placed third at age 37.

Long bag-check lines

Security was tight from the moment the runners arrived on Staten Island. They were corralled into long bag-check lines, and officers and volunteers repeatedly reminded them to keep cellphones out.

"Security is 100 percent tougher than what I've seen at other races," said Chris Patterson of Rochester, N.Y., who was signed up for New York last year and ran Boston in April.

Elizabeth Hutchinson of Seattle recalled the joy at the starting line in Boston this year. People were handing out sunscreen, Band-Aids and energy gels with a smile.

'It can only be a good thing. You have to get back to normalcy.'- Charles Breslin, who lost his home in Hurricane Sandy

On Staten Island, she said, "the machine guns are very visible."

"The atmosphere is so different," she said, "It kind of makes me sad."

Charles Breslin, who lost his home in the storm and was volunteering at the marathon, welcomed the race's return.

"I don't know how the rest of Staten Island feels about, but it can only be a good thing," he said. "You have to get back to normalcy."

As the professional women approached Central Park, only a sprinkling of onlookers stood at the police barricades. Ginny Smith, a Manhattan resident who comes to watch each year, said she felt "very frustrated."

Three hours after she first arrived at the park, she was finally allowed to walk in. At Columbus Circle, near the 26th and last mile of the route, police kept her waiting for two hours.

"It was difficult, it was horrible — for something that's basically for the people," she said. "It's unbelievable; you would think there was a war in the city."

Ashley O'Brien of Brooklyn was ready with a bullhorn to cheer members of her running group, the Hudson Dusters. She got teary-eyed remembering the events of the past year.

"It's a nice time to all come back together," she said. "You still remember why it was canceled last year and you remember Boston. So it's a little bittersweet."