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Boston Marathon tragedy is grim reminder of Chicago’s tough security

Updated: May 17, 2013 6:32AM



Inevitability was the saddest point Monday. The gruesome scenes after the explosions near the finish of the Boston Marathon were almost bound to happen in some form.

Security goes only so far.

“One of the problems is the 26.2-mile course to secure, [that is] almost an unsecurable area,’’ said Hal Higdon, contributing editor for Runner’s World and the training guru for thousands or marathoners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. “It is one of the risks of urban life in the world today.’’

A marathon course covers 26.2 miles. Modern marathons are almost all run in urban areas. Chicago, London, Boston, Berlin, New York and Tokyo form the World Marathon Majors.

At their best, marathons unite the world.

At their worst, as Monday showed, they are international targets.

The Chicago Marathon is significantly bigger than the Boston Marathon.

There were 23,000 runners who started the Boston Marathon. The Chicago Marathon capped its entries at 45,000 and more than a million spectators pack the Chicago neighborhoods.

“For me, in the promotion and production of marathons for 20 years, [marathons] are a celebration of life. For many, it is a life changer,’’ said Carey Pinkowski, executive director of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

That captures the ideals of marathoners.

Marathons, especially one like Chicago, with its emphasis on marathoners running for charitable causes, celebrate the potential of humanity.

Monday’s events were a stark reminder that humanity can easily swing toward evil. Why security, even in a free society, is a balancing act of importance.

After returning from Boston on Monday, Pinkowski said, “I got home and spent some time with my kids.’’

After Sept. 11, security was tightened for the Chicago Marathon. The start and finish were blocked off.

“Each year, we evaluate the event from top to bottom. You see the security parameters we set up,’’ Pinkowski said.

The Chicago Marathon is a major qualifier for the Boston Marathon. There were 974 Illinois runners entered in the Boston Marathon. Pinkowski said many Chicago marathoners were on the plane with him when he flew to Boston.

And the major marathons are international events, drawing runners from many countries and all inhabited continents. That increases the target potential.

Marathoners make the world smaller, connecting nations and people 26.2 miles at time. Events like those on Monday make the world smaller in a completely different way.

“It is something I have been aware of for 10-15 years, even before 9/11, some crazy kook doing something like this,’’ said Higdon, who cautioned waiting for details to come.

The number of runners and spectators along with the international flavor of the major marathons is complicated by the sheer size of the 26.2-mile course, which is 52.4 miles of sideline viewing to secure.

“It is a sporting event that anybody can walk up to,’’ Higdon said. “I don’t know what changes one would make.’’

While the major marathons are the obvious targets, even smaller marathons draw thousands of runners and spectators.

Bob Hackett is part of the five-member team representing Naper Events LLC, which is putting together the first Naperville Marathon in November.

“Of course runner and spectator safety is always your primary concern, and when something like this happens, people often think of a terrorist attack even though we don’t know yet what caused it,’’ he said. “At this point, we’ll probably have to take a step back until we get more information. It’s probably premature as yet to speculate as to how the events in Boston could affect the race here. At this point, we’re as shocked as everyone.’’

Pinkowski has faith that marathoners can adapt to shocking events.

“We were four weeks after Sept. 11,” he said. We pressed on.’’

Contributing: David Sharos



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