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.
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
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
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
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
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.