By HOWARD FENDRICH, Associated Press
A marathon course runs 26.2 miles along an open road. Much tougher to secure than an arena with doors and walls.
Yet across the U.S. and around the world, from West Bend, Wis., and London this weekend, to Nashville, Tenn., next week and Copenhagen next month, organizers of road races are trying to figure out how to improve security after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Paris Marathon director Joel Laine, whose race was held earlier this month, put it this way Tuesday: "There will be a 'before' and 'after-Boston'" from now on.
Still, with thousands — and sometimes hundreds of thousands — of spectators and entrants scattered along the route, there are limits to how much can be done to protect everyone, marathon officials, experts and runners cautioned. They spoke in dozens of interviews with the AP a day after a pair of bombs went off seconds apart near the finish line in Boston, killing three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and injuring more than 170 others.
"This is what everyone thought might happen" following the 9/11 attacks, said Tom Derderian, coach of the Greater Boston Track Club and author of a book about the Boston Marathon.
"This is a 26-mile foot race. With both sides of the street, that's 52 miles to secure," Derderian said. "How? You can't have everyone go through metal detectors."
Marathons aren't just for elite athletes: They have steadily increased in popularity among recreational runners and those raising money for charity. In the aftermath of Monday's attack, which President Barack Obama called an act of terrorism, some marathons heard from runners wondering whether races would be canceled. Yet nearly 40 events, all over the globe, are set for this weekend alone — including Hamburg, Belgrade, Salt Lake City, Lansing, Mich., and the Jersey Shore. There was no indication that any would be called off.
Scott Dickey, CEO of Competitor Group Inc., which manages more than 35 marathons and half marathons around the world, said he's "been in deep conversations already" with the FBI and government agencies "to talk about enhancing security protocol and personnel" for the St. Jude Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon in Nashville on April 27.
"What we're going to do with yesterday's event is we're going to learn from it, and we're going to increase, certainly in the near term and probably permanently, the number of security personnel, both private and public, at our start lines and finish lines," Dickey said. "We're going to review the protocol and procedures that are in place and enhance and improve them so that we're in a better position to prevent these types of tragedies from taking place."
Susie Smisek, director of September's Omaha Marathon, said Boston does, indeed, change the way race organizers go about their job now.
"We'll make sure we have more security available, that people are more aware and are aware of their surroundings," Smisek said. "Will it make us more vigilant in what we do? You bet."
Rick Nealis, director of the Marine Corps Marathon since 1993, pointed to factors that make these races unique among sports — and, therefore, more of a challenge to secure.
"It's a participatory sport. At any running event, especially Boston, world champion and Olympic athletes stand at the start line, and at the same time, there's someone from Boise, Idaho, or Duluth, Minn., that did the qualifying time and are in the same field, on the same course, in the same weather as these champions, competing," Nealis said.
"In stadiums, turnstiles, hardened buildings, you can control who's going in, and do all the safety checks and have a secure event," added Nealis, whose race course cuts through Virginia and the nation's capital, ending near the Iwo Jima Memorial. "On roads, in an open venue, when you take 26.2 miles of open space, it's the beauty of the sport and at the same time, in this day and age, part of the risk assessment. Unless we decide we're going to run around a track in quarter-mile loops hundreds of times."
The New York City Marathon's finishers grew from nearly 28,000 in 1992 to more than 47,000 in 2011, and organizers estimate they've had as many as roughly 2 million spectators in a year. The race was not held in 2012, after Superstorm Sandy hit the area, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday: "It's certainly our intention to have the marathon" this November.