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Boston Marathon Course section

Security, runners stretch for race

By Benjamin Gedan, Globe Correspondent, 4/15/2002

With bright yellow plastic bags slung over their shoulders like royal sashes, thousands of marathon runners yesterday strolled through Boston, a city transformed into a giant racetrack.

Today, they will pick up the pace.

In all, nearly 17,000 official runners will compete in the 106th Boston Marathon, which is expected by organizers to draw 1.5 million spectators along the 26.2-mile route.

By yesterday afternoon, cameramen from ESPN had joined the pretzel vendors on Boylston Street, where runners who survive today's journey from Hopkinton will cross the red, white, blue, and yellow finish line.

''Everything is marathon, marathon, marathon,'' said Lois Balafas, 65, who traveled from Miami to compete.

Inside the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, runners received their official numbers, while scores of vendors advertised products they said would ease the pain of the grueling race.

Eating a yogurt bar amid the crowd, Mary McGrath, 37, said she left her home on Britain's Channel Islands to experience the marathon US style. In Dublin, where she ran her last marathon, McGrath said the Americans were by far the loudest contingent in the viewing stands.

''They know how to cheer,'' she said. ''They know how to party.''

Most runners, however, spent the day outdoors, with many lounging in Copley Square or on Boston Common.

Bruce Jones, 48, came from Cincinnati to compete in his eighth marathon. The other races, he said, do not compare with Boston. ''This is the premier running event in the world,'' he said, picnicking with his wife. ''It gives you the chills.''

The streets bustled with police preparing for the race, which will start at 11:45 a.m. when the wheelchair entrants leave Hopkinton. The runners begin at noon.

According to law enforcement officials, about 15,000 police will guard the competitors and fans, assisted by 415 National Guard troops, 1,500 law enforcement personnel, and a sizable contingent of emergency medical workers. Three State Police helicopters will fly over the course, sending live video pictures to a bunker in Framingham, where event security is being coordinated.

Though the race has always been closely monitored, officials say they have increased their vigilance following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ''Obviously, things have changed since [Sept. 11],'' said Secretary of Public Safety James Jajuga. ''Public Safety has to stay vigilant and alert, more than ever.''

Jajuga will spend most of today in the bunker, alongside representatives of 36 state, federal, and local agencies, including police and fire departments, MassHighway, and the MBTA. For the first time, the FBI has joined Massachusetts in protecting runners and spectators, another sign that coordinators are not focused only on the weather this year.

For the runners, however, yesterday was dedicated to relaxation - and soaking in the frenetic atmosphere that has become synonymous with the nation's oldest marathon. Alan St. Germain, 47 of Lawrence, has participated in 17 marathons. None, he says, is as exciting as Boston.

''This is my favorite because the crowds are so inspiring,'' he said. ''Everybody cheers you on.''

Steve Bodner, 30, of State College, Pa., dropped out at Mile 14 last year. Yesterday, he said he has ''come back for redemption'' and is committed to finishing the ''granddaddy of all marathons.''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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