U.S.

Boston Marathon attack still on mind of race directors a decade later

Over 500,000 people will gather over a 26.2-mile course to cheer on 30,000 runners. Keeping the race secure is no easy task.

Medical workers aid injured people following an explosion at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston.
Charles Krupa, File/AP

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that caused three deaths, hundreds of injuries and entire Massachusetts towns to shut down during the ensuing manhunt. 

In addition to the three fatalities in Boston, Officer Sean Allen Collier was shot and killed days later during the manhunt.

The attack remains a talking point among race directors from Boston to Los Angeles as participant and spectator security became top of mind. In the immediate aftermath, races changed policies, increased security, and overall vigilance went up. 

Unlike most sporting events that are contained to a single location, marathons are spread over a 26.2-mile course. The attendance at such events can match, if not far exceed, those of major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four. 

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The Boston Marathon boasts a field of 30,000 participants while attracting 500,000 spectators. 

Dan Cruz has been organizing running events big and small for 15 years. He said conversations shifted around security following the Boston Marathon bombing. 

"After the attack happened, automatically, these events were looked at as soft targets, as high profile, special events that, you know, impacted the community with thousands of people, and including spectators and members of the general public," Cruz said. 

Securing marathons while minimizing impacts on surrounding communities is no easy feat.

"They're going to want to know about a very detailed intricate level of operational planning, everything from an active shooter scenario, everything from road closures, sweeps," Cruz said about the race permitting process. "And it's really a very demanding ask on the race organizer ... and it's all done in the best interest of not only public safety, but participant safety."

The Chicago Marathon, which is one of three World Majors held in the U.S. every year, immediately changed its policies after 2013. It began requiring participants to pick up their own race packets, check gear in clear bags given by the race. In addition, all participants and their bags are screened before reaching the start/finish line area.

The race also stopped allowing those not participating in the race to be in the finisher area.

"Our ongoing partnership with law enforcement is essential to delivering on our commitment to make this event as safe as it possibly can be," said Chicago Marathon spokesperson Natalie Campbell Stanichuk. "For example, our local and federal law enforcement partners have deployed additional resources and tactics to safeguard participants and spectators in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon."

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The Los Angeles Marathon, which is one of the largest races in the U.S. outside of the three majors, has also beefed up security. Cruz has been involved in planning for the marathon since 2020. Thankfully, the event in March went off with no major issues. 

"Just knowing the resources and surveillance, the behind the scenes goings on that go into these races, runners should feel safe, runners should feel happy they've done the work," Cruz said. "They're there to celebrate the community and fitness and a lifetime achievement. And that's why we put these plans in place. And that's why organizers kind of do what they do with the long hours and the intricate detail."

Cruz said offering a safe environment for the 17,000 participants of the Los Angeles Marathon was important to him as many events were forced to cancel in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. Participation in most large events remains below pre-pandemic levels. 

Cruz will be among those on hand Monday for the 127th running of the Boston Marathon. 

"When you see an event like Boston this weekend, when you see local races taking place in communities across the country, just know that it's another sign that our nation is coming back from the COVID-19 pandemic, because these were things that weren't allowed to happen," he said.