Around half a million runners finish marathons every year in the U.S. alone, and in the wake of Monday's bombings in Boston, organizers are turning their attention to the safety of hundreds of thousands of athletes. Meanwhile, runners are considering what the tragedy means for a sport that is as much way of life as it is a hobby.
After two explosions at Monday's Boston Marathon left three dead and more than 170 injured, upcoming major marathons are giving renewed attention to their security procedures. Organizers of the Virgin London Marathon said Tuesday that the April 21 race will go ahead as planned.
"The London Marathon fully expects at this stage that the Virgin London Marathon will go ahead as planned on Sunday, although we are continuing to review security with the metro police in the coming days," said Nick Bitel, chief executive of the Virgin London Marathon, in a video posted on the event's website Tuesday. He said the marathon will be in contact with runners on a daily basis leading up to Sunday's race. That marathon is among the largest in the world, with nearly 37,000 finishers in 2012—more than 50 percent more runners than those who finished the Boston Marathon last year.
Organizers of June's San Francisco Marathon also say that they are giving new scrutiny to security measures.
"We have communicated with the San Francisco Emergency Services Department and will work together to learn what we can from this unfortunate event and make further enhancements to our emergency plans and pre-race security activities," said a spokesperson for the San Francisco Marathon in an email to U.S. News. "Obviously sharing the details of our emergency plans and pre-race security activities would only undermine the intent of those efforts."
Many other races, however, are keeping quiet on how the violence in Boston affects them, instead expressing solidarity with the victims of Monday's tragedy.
"We were shocked and saddened to learn of the tragedy in Boston [Monday]. Our hearts and thoughts are with the victims and all those affected," said a spokesperson for Competitor Group, the company that runs the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, in an e-mail to U.S. News. Bank of America Chicago Marathon organizers likewise expressed condolences: "We are deeply saddened by [Monday]'s events, and our focus is on the victims and their families," they said in a released statement.
As one of the premier running events in the world, Boston already boasts a strong security presence. At the athletes' village in Hopkinton, Mass., where runners wait to walk to the starting line, one runner was happy to see officers on top of a nearby building as she waited to start the race.
"I noticed right away that there were a couple of SWAT guys up on the roof," says Lynn Wilbur of Minneapolis, Minn., who finished Monday's race minutes before the explosions. "I know it freaked out a couple of runners next to me. I said, 'No, it's reassuring.'"
"I've run it, and there's police all over, and it's lots of people. You kind of go, wow. If it can happen there, with all that, how do you stop it?" says Mike Swanson, who has finished 162 marathons, including Boston, and is on the board of directors of the 50 States Marathon Club, a group of runners who have completed marathons in all 50 states in the U.S.
Serious runners are now left to ponder what—if anything—the attack means for them. Qualifying to run in the Boston Marathon is the crowning achievement in many runners' careers, so the event holds a symbolic place for some in the marathon community.
"When you finish a marathon there's this surge of pure elation, and as we all, know Boston is 'the marathon,' so the feeling is amplified there," says Alec Friedhoff, a Washington, D.C. resident and six-time marathoner, in an email to U.S. News. "[Boston] was unlike any race I've run – the way the city comes out for it and supports it amazed me. So it's just hard to comprehend the contrast."
Still, the bombing has not deterred his resolve to run Boston again. In fact, it may have made him more likely to go back.
"That feeling hasn't changed, and I think it's probably been strengthened," says Friedhoff.
Wilbur, who was near enough to hear the blasts, feels the same way.
"My initial thought was, 'I'm not coming back here again,'" she says. "But as time settles, I feel like I need to support the people of Boston."