The Future of Marathons, Post-Boston Bombings

Even without that special purpose, marathon running is a sport of goodwill. It's the only sport in the world where if a competitor falls, the others around will pick him or her up. It's the only sport in the world open to absolutely everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or any other division you can think of. It's the only occasion when thousands of people assemble, often in a major city, for a reason that is totally peaceful, healthy and well-meaning. It's the only sport in the world where no one ever boos anybody.

If you're losing your faith in human nature, look at marathon crowds, standing for hours with no seating, no cover, no bathrooms, to cheer thousands of strangers. Or look at our sport's volunteers, on whose shoulders the whole sport rests. I spent part of the Runner's World party with mates from Buffalo and Niagara Falls who are race directors and also travel the East Coast as race volunteers, giving their skills and labor to other races. Two of them, Bob Kaminsky and Les Potapcyck, told me they were "working security at the finish line" today. Right by where the first bomb went off. They are now my greatest personal concern. Anyone who tries to kill Bob and Les is below any depth of contempt.

Related: The Aftermath of Boston Bombings, in Photos

Our problem is that this marathon world of goodwill and prelapsarian innocence has made us so vulnerable. Ever since the New York City Marathon went ahead seven weeks after the horror of 9/11, my wife Kathrine Switzer and I have feared exactly what happened today. Our sport is such a great photo-op, and global media coverage is guaranteed. Modern murderers like those things. That time Kathrine was on a TV motorcycle alongside the lead women, and probably the greatest relief of my life was when she came safely off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I'm spending this afternoon explaining to media from England to New Zealand that it's impossible to make a marathon course totally secure. Kathrine saw the police sniffer dogs at 8 this morning checking the finish area, so the bombs were presumably planted later, by someone who wandered in behind the crowd. How could you stop it?

It's too soon to say where we go from here. The world cross country championships were much weakened by the demands of modern security, meaning they always have to be held on closed circuits instead of across country as they should be. Could we run marathons on safe closed circuits? How could you reconcile that with the essential notion that the marathon is a journey, and a celebration of the community or the environment it passes through? I just received a press release from the London Marathon, where I'm due to travel tomorrow morning, to say they are "reviewing security arrangements with the Metropolitan Police." How do you reconcile that need and that language with the essential innocence of the marathon? (See how the tragedy in Boston impacts runners by learning about the changes in upcoming marathons.)

We're in "lockdown" in the Copley Plaza hotel, the race headquarters. The window looks down on Dartmouth Street. Every other year that scene has been jammed with happy and tired runners, making their creaky way to the Family Reunion area just around the corner. Every other year, we have looked down on a scene of mass but quiet jubilation and unity. Today there's nothing moving out there, and the street is lined with back-up ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles, including a massive thing out of Mad Max called "Massachusetts Police Incident Command." I'm grateful they are there today. But it's a sight I never wanted to see at a marathon.

More: First-Hand Accounts of the Tragedy at the 2013 Boston Marathon

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