The question that’s been on the mind of almost every runner since April 15 – how big will the 2014 Boston Marathon be – was answered last week when the organizing Boston Athletic Association announced the field size and registration process for the race. When registration opens September 9, the field size – 36,000 runners – will be the biggest in the history of the marathon since its 100th running in 1996, when 38,708 entered to make the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Back Bay.
Of course, much has changed since then, some good, like improvements in the transportation and staging of runners that has allowed the event to grow to nearly 24,000 participants in the recent past, and some bad, most notably the once unthinkable possibility, tragically realized last Patriots Day, that a running event could be the target of the terrorism that now seems to hover over most aspects of daily life, from airplane travel to making a day trip to Montreal or Tijuana.
The attendant rise in security in the running world has already made its presence in larger races held since the marathon bombings: bomb-sniffing dogs, clear (or no) bag checks for runners, even a “No Bag Zone” for anyone, spectators and runners, that was enforced at the Falmouth Road Race earlier this month.
No doubt that will be ratcheted up even more come Marathon Weekend 2014 in Boston, just as New York City, as the prime and immediate victim of the 9/11 attacks, has always maintained a higher level of vigilance than the rest of the country in the intervening years. While it’s doubtful runners will be forced to remove their shoes a la TSA, don’t be surprised if airport-style metal detectors, perhaps even X-ray machines, will be employed at the pre-race expo, bus embarkation points, and the athletes village in Hopkinton. And the sidewalks along the marathon course itself, once a holiday party site as open and free-form as the Fenway Park bleachers, will similarly be more tightly patrolled and controlled too, at least as much as one can police 26 miles of essentially open public real estate.
Add in the greater difficulty and higher cost in finding a hotel room in Boston, already a challenge with fields two thirds the projected size of next year, and the 118th Boston Marathon will be unlike any in the past, and not in altogether pleasant ways.
The demand and desire to run next year’s marathon is likely to be unprecedented, as countless runners see participating as a way to thumb their athletic noses at the terrorists, as a way of saying, “You can’t beat us.” Well, while it may be true that the cowards who placed backpack bombs on Boylston Street in April might not have won, by irrevocably changing the face and the feel of the Boston Marathon, and major races everywhere, they might well have fought us to a draw.