HOPKINTON — Just as he has done every year since 1982, Jack LeDuc painted the starting line of the Boston Marathon last week, battling strong gusts of wind as he sprayed “Caution Blue” and “Caution Yellow” on Main Street while pedestrians and motorists paused to photograph his handiwork.
This year’s race will be different, with heightened security that for the first time will include checkpoints and a ban on backpacks. Yet much will remain the same as this town that has hosted the start of the event for 90 years continues the traditions that have helped make it one of the world’s most celebrated marathons.
“The feeling is just pride and taking the race back,” said Dorothy Ferriter-Wallace, who chairs the Hopkinton Marathon Committee and will be volunteering for her 29th race. “Everyone wants to show the world that it will go on and it will always be strong.”
After two bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 at the Boston finish line last year, officials hung a sign on the Hopkinton Town Common that read: “With you at the start, with you at the finish, with you forever. The people of Hopkinton send love to all those impacted by the attacks of 4/15/13.”
There was never any doubt that Hopkinton would continue to host the start of the race, according to town officials, who granted a request to expand the field of runners from 27,000 to 36,000 to accommodate many who were unable to finish last year. But for the first time when issuing a permit for the event, they asked the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Marathon, for a security plan.
“Everybody was willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it would take to make this event happen,” said John Mosher, Hopkinton selectmen chairman, describing a year of intense collaboration between the association and federal, state, and local agencies to devise a plan that balanced safety while preserving the spirit of the event.
Private security staff contracted by the association will check bags and run security wands over people passing through checkpoints at several areas, including near the starting line and at the Athlete’s Village, where runners gather prior to the race, according to State Police Colonel Timothy Alben.
“There will be more inconvenience to people, but not anything like going through a TSA checkpoint at the airport,” said Alben, noting that people will not be asked to take off belts or shoes. “People shouldn’t expect it to be oppressive or overly intrusive.”
Spectators are being urged to carry belongings in clear plastic bags. Coolers, suitcases, large handbags, blankets, and containers that hold more than a liter of liquid will be banned in some viewing areas. Police have warned that unregistered runners — called “bandits” — will not be allowed to jump into the race.
All roads in Hopkinton will close at 7 a.m. Monday, a half-hour earlier than usual. The 118th Boston Marathon starts at 10 a.m. Hopkinton Police Chief Edward Lee said, “Once people see the security I think they are going to feel safe and I think that’s important.”
Since the start of the Marathon was moved from Ashland to Hopkinton in 1924 when the course was expanded from 25 miles to 26.2 miles, the town has been a gracious host. Many residents host runners overnight and open their doors on race day, offering oranges and water.
Elite Kenyan runners have visited the Elmwood Elementary School every year for the past two decades to talk with students about their culture. The middle school recently created a Marathon-based curriculum, called “Desire to Inspire.” And Hopkinton is officially the sister city of Marathon, Greece.
“The spirit of the Marathon resides here and once a year we lend it out,” said Tim Kilduff, a longtime Hopkinton resident and executive director of the 26.2 Foundation, which is raising money to build an international marathon museum in Hopkinton. “It provides a global connection to other communities.”
Dale Danahy, a lifelong Hopkinton resident and a Marathon volunteer, said she is still traumatized by the bombings and believes this year’s race will be very emotional.
“I think everyone wants to show the terrorists that they didn’t win,” Danahy said. “I think it’s going to be more fierce with loud cheering than ever before.”
Hundreds of volunteers work the Marathon every year, staffing information booths, assisting runners, and helping with setup and cleanup. They collect clothes discarded along the route by runners, then deliver them to Big Brother Big Sister.
Danahy, who co-owns Colella’s Supermarket, said last year the market made 750 sandwiches for volunteers in Hopkinton, and this year she has been asked to make 1,050 because there are so many more volunteers. The market’s baker, Jennifer Gregory, makes batches of gingerbread cookies, decorated to look like runners.
Brian Herr, a Hopkinton selectman who will run his 25th consecutive Boston Marathon this year, said there will still be a carnival-type atmosphere on the Town Common, where vendors sell frozen yogurt and other snacks and a hand-painted sign reads, “It All Starts Here.”
This year, an unprecedented number of national media will also set up on the Common to broadcast the start of the race.
In honor of Patriots Day, during its prerace ceremony, the town will also pay tribute to two local military heroes, one a veteran of World War II and the other who recently returned from Afghanistan.
“We feel we’ve got a good security plan that will allow the traditions of the Marathon in Hopkinton to continue, but also make sure visitors traveling here from across the country and from around the world are safe,” Herr said.
The town’s Highway Department workers have spent the week mowing the Common, spreading mulch in flower beds, hanging American flags along Main Street, and sweeping the streets. “We take a lot of pride in getting ready, making sure Hopkinton looks the best it can on camera worldwide,” said Mike Mansir, the town’s highway manager.
As LeDuc, whose first name is actually Jacques, painted the starting line, his daughters, Laura McGee, 30, and Jeanne Bloom, 29, who were preschoolers when they first accompanied him on the task, served as assistants, pressing stencils against the pavement.
Aside from the presence of his 6-week-old granddaughter, Meghan, who slept peacefully nearby in a stroller, LeDuc said there was nothing different about his task this year.
“It’s always an anxious time,” he said. “I just want to get it done. I don’t like tying up traffic.”