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home > community > viewpoint > 100th boston marathon: organizer's report card

100th Boston Marathon: Organizer's Report Card
The 100th Boston Marathon is now fading into the memory banks of the participants and spectators. Before it does, I thought I would re-visit the organization of the race, and comment from the perspective of a runner, which I was on Monday; and also as a race director, which I am at other times during the year.

100th Boston Marathon: Organizer's Report Card

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By Don Allison
Posted Wednesday, 24 April, 1996

The 100th Boston Marathon is now fading into the memory banks of the participants and spectators. Before it does, I thought I would re-visit the organization of the race, and comment from the perspective of a runner, which I was on Monday; and also as a race director, which I am at other times during the year.

How easy was it to put on an event moving 40,000 athletes 26 miles from a small suburb to a big city? Not very, as we have come to learn. As a race director, I can sympathize with the Boston Athletic Association and the hurdles they had to overcome to conduct this huge centennial marathon. To an extent. Certainly the BAA faced unique problems in coordinating the race. They were working inside limited geographic parameters for sure, but let's also recognize that they had the kind of access to resources and political clout that small race directors can only dream of. I mean, in how many races do you have to apply a year in advance - to volunteer? And with millions of tourism dollars at stake, the city of Boston was ready to pull out all of the stops in order to ensure both the race and the region put its best face forward. Happy customers are return customers, so they say.

So how did it go? Here's one man's race report card:

Pre race (before April 15th): A

As a participant, you couldn't have asked for more. We were informed by postcard early in the year of our acceptance, and received a race packet weeks in advance of the race. The number pickup at the Expo was spacious and easy to negotiate. As runners, we were kept very well informed of how the logistics would theoretically work. Our " champion chips " were even given a test run at the pick-up, a move that eased the minds of both race timers and marathoners.

Pre race (April 15th): D

Things got off to a smooth start at the Boston Common, where loading onto buses was quick and efficient. No heavy thinking was needed on the part of runners, which is always good, as a marathoner's head is often in a faraway place on race day.

Unfortunately, things got worse - much worse. Although our group left well within the pre-prescribed bus times, our vehicle came to a halt far from Hopkinton High School, mired in a logjam of official buses attempting to reach that destination. Waiting on an idling bus is not the best way to spend time before a marathon, if only because of the lack of, you know, facilities.

Could this logjam have been prevented? I do know that a friend who's wife drove him to Hopkinton at 9 am, cruised into town easily using the regular Hopkinton exit. For some reason all of the official buses used a different exit, (of three possible) on a one lane road.

It is painful for me to even talk about the "Athlete's Village". This was a nice idea, but clearly the models used to plan the area were not of correct scale. There was NOWHERE NEAR enough room. By 9:30, the line to get into the village was hundreds of runners deep. We were told it was mandatory to enter the village, when that was simply untrue. Runners smarter than myself wisely eschewed the area completely, while I spent over a full hour on my feet waiting to get into the village. Once there, I was quickly directed out. I suppose it would have been better had I arrived earlier, but like I said, we left Boston in what should have been plenty of time. I'm sorry that I beg to differ with organizers who say the athletes village was "perfect".

As for getting to the starting corrals, it was expected to be a scramble, and it was. A goodly number of race officials were stationed to prevent runners from starting too far up, but at 11:45 when the ropes separating the corrals were dropped, the system broke down. Bandits and high numbered runners scampered across Hopkinton Green into the starting line-up. All in all, it wasn't TOO bad, as for the most part we crossed the starting line efficiently. #5652, I reached the starting line in 73 seconds.

The Race: A-

Not much more can be done for marathoners than was done by the BAA during the running of the race. Plenty of aid stations and medical support (which went unnoticed by me, thankfully) lined the entire route. Crowd control was also excellent, except for Boston College, where a few rambunctious students spilled out onto the course. The Gatorade obviously came from a mix, as at some stations it was quite thick and syrupy, at others thin and watery.

Post race: F

Ok. once again we are talking about a limited space situation here. But the finish area was a disaster waiting to happen. When I completed the race at 3:07 pm, a perplexing logjam was already beginning to form. I was anxious to keep moving past the finish, just to keep my legs moving and get all of the post run chores out of the way.

I found it quite difficult to move, although I was well inside of the top 10% of the field to finish. At that point, I should have been moving along freely. Of course Boylston Street was packed with spectators on the sidewalk, which was inaccessible, as it should have been. But a mere hundred yards past the finish, runners were being stopped in order to receive a bag containing a Powerbar and a bag of Cheez-its. There was absolutely no reason to place this so quickly after the run. Fluids - yes. Snacks - no. I mean really! Of course getting the mylar blankets added to the back-up, but with a cold wind whipping, this stop was mandatory. This was a mere warm-up however, as the worst was yet to come - the baggage buses.

The pack unraveled some on Tremont Street. Turning on Charles, I quickly turned in my "chip" for the race medal. I figured a quick stop to pick up my baggage, and I was home free. Not. Hundreds of buses lined Charles Street with no one around, but when I eventually reached my bus with the bags for #'s 5500-6000, it was a beehive of activity. Dozens of marathoners crowded around a small door at the back of the bus, waiting to retrieve their bags. Of course - most of the 5000 runners were finishing at the same time! On a shaded area of the road, it was getting colder by the second. Anyone will tell you I'm as aggressive as they come in these situations, but even so, it took me over 30 minutes before I was able to get said baggage bag. This was precious cargo to me, as it contained my eyeglasses. Hopping the fence to the Public Gardens, my watch read 4:05. Ugh.

This baggage bus fiasco caused an interminable wait for thousands of runners reaching Copley Square after 3:30. Many were suffering from hypothermia, made worse by standing out in the cold with only a thin mylar wrap for protection. The really galling aspect of all this is how easily it could have been avoided. By simply placing bags on buses in alpahabetical order, the flow would have been much more evenly distributed. This is the way it is done at the New York City Marathon. Why was it not done this way in Boston? Was it because of Hopkinton? That hurdle could easily have been overcome. The BAA knows how lucky they are that the race was not subject to Tuesday's weather, when heavy rain overspread Boston. In that weather, the baggage bus snafu would have turned downright dangerous. In any event, it was relief to finally escape the finish area.

I did not attend the "block party" on Landsdowne Street. A friend who did mentioned it was all held outside. On a cold April evening, that prospect did not sound appealing. Even on a warm April day, the temperature quickly drops at night. Some kind of indoor facilities are a must. Again, I did not attend, so I can't speak with authority.

Post race (after April 15th: B

Of course the main focus of any marathoner on the day after the race is on one thing. No, not getting down the stairs, finding out our times! Both Boston newspapers contained full results of all finishers the next day. I'd like to have a buck for every runner craned over the agate type searching the names on Tuesday - I can tell you that! Results were also posted to the BAA Web site, which was of course tied up all day with jams.

With all of the talk about the vaunted "chip" and its infallibility though, why did it take so long to find out our chip times? A postcard arrived in my box on Saturday with that information, which was quick turnaround by snail mail standards. But in this day and age of lightning quick communication, a week is a long time. My legs weren't even sore anymore by Saturday! Why were the "chip" times not available for public consumption? What's the big secret? Even now, those times have not been distributed for public consumption. I know in our own club, there was a huge differential in chip and clock times. Knowing how we all fared on the chip would have been informative, enlightening, and most of all accurate information. Maybe those times will be published in the results book. I doubt it tough.


So, as Peggy Lee would say, " Is that all there is? " If there was one sure outcome of the 100th Boston Marathon, it was a post event letdown. Life goes on, and so does running. We all looked forward to the big race, now it's on the to the next race, the next run, the next marathon.

Was the " run of the century" all it was cracked up to be? Could it have possible met the lofty expectations set by the running community and the media? The bar was set impossibly high on that one. All of the pre race hysteria made it feel special, especially knowing how precious the numbers were. As a qualified runner, that provided a sense of pride and accomplishment in my running. After all however, it was simply a marathon run. In that sense, it felt a lot like the three times I've New York City.

I would like to congratulate the Boston Athletic Association on handling this monster event. Despite some of the criticisms leveled in the above paragraphs, I know they were faced with a monumental task in conducting the biggest race in the history of running, both from a numbers, historical, and public point of view. I know years from now I'll look back with pride on the fact that I was able to be a very small part of a very big race. \



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