Organizers of the Boston Marathon told Hopkinton officials last week that they expect a field of 30,000 runners next April, which would be 6,000 fewer than allowed in this spring’s race but 3,000 more than last year.
The Marathon swelled in size this spring to accommodate more interest, including participants who were stopped before they could complete the 2013 race after two bombs exploded at the finish line, killing three people and injuring some 260.
The Boston Athletic Association received preliminary approval Tuesday for its requested field size from the Board of Selectmen. The town hosts the starting line of the 26.2-mile course, which winds through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline before reaching the finish line in Boston.
Although BAA officials said this year’s Marathon successfully accommodated the larger field, they did not want to maintain the event at 36,000 runners, according to Thomas Grilk, the association’s executive director.
“We don’t want to do something just because it can be done,” he said.
Grilk said the expanded field, which shot up by 9,000 people over 2013, was not going to be maintained because it put a strain on the organization and its partners, including the host communities.
“It was quite a strain on everybody,’’ he said. “It was achievable. And it was achieved, but not without strain.”
Armies of April
The field size approved by local officials is for planning purposes, and is not the actual number of runners who participate. For example, in April, 32,530 people took part, although the field size was set at 36,000. But setting the number allows the BAA to move its plans ahead, including seeking parade permits from the communities on the course.
Security for the event increased substantially after last year’s bombings. In Hopkinton, visible measures included security checkpoints, hand-held metal detectors, and police dogs.
The 119th Boston Marathon will take place on April 20, which is Patriots Day and a state holiday in Massachusetts.
Registration for the Marathon will begin Sept. 8 at 10 a.m., the organization previously announced. The fastest runners by age groups will be allowed to register first, on a rolling basis. Registration will close on Sept. 13 for entrants with age-group and gender qualifying times. If space remains available, registration will reopen for qualifiers on Sept. 15, and remain open through Sept. 17, with priority again going to runners with the fastest times.
On Sept. 22, if space remains after the initial two rounds, registration will be reopened for all qualifiers on a first-come, first-served basis until the maximum field size is reached, according to the BAA’s website, www.baa.org.
The qualifying times will remain the same as this year.
According to Grilk, more than 80 percent of the runners in the Marathon have met the finishing times for their category by participating in a qualifying race. About 20 percent of the participants will be raising funds for charity, and do not have to meet qualifying times.
Grilk said that the Boston Athletic Association is not hosting the event at its own facility, and wants to be respectful of the communities along the route.
Each year, the association contributes funds to the host communities to help cover the cost of providing public safety personnel and other services. The Marathon is capable of accepting more entrants, as shown by last year’s event, but for next year the organizers wanted to “do so in a way that was a fairly moderate increase,” he said.
Hopkinton, because it is the start of the race, and Boston have the greatest impacts from the Marathon, and because of its size, Hopkinton feels the pressure of the entrants more keenly. The BAA recognizes that and tries to maintain close communications with the town about its plans for the race.
“We are extremely concerned about being as forthcoming as we can,” Grilk said.
For Hopkinton, the anticipated size of 30,000 runners should be accommodated without concern, according to officials. In 2012 and 2013, the race had a field of 27,000 participants.
Police Chief Edward Lee said he had already had conversations about security with agencies including the Massachusetts State Police, which said it was committed to the same levels of security seen in this year’s event.
“Obviously, we will assess the needs, look back at last year,” Lee said, referring to this spring’s race.
For Hopkinton, security is the most important consideration in the Marathon planning, said Selectman Benjamin Palleiko. The impact of the increase from 27,000 participants to 30,000 would be negligible, he said.
The largest field for the Boston Marathon was in 1996, its 100th anniversary, when it drew 38,708 entrants.Mary MacDonald can be reached at marymacdonald3@ aol.com