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Security always on minds of officials at marathons

Inside the Oak Long Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, runners, race officials, agents, coaches, and spectators ate postrace meals and watched televisions with the latest news on the blasts at the Boston Marathon finish. The hotel serves as the Marathon’s race headquarters and annually becomes a popular postrace gathering place for elite runners and their support teams.

The Oak Long Bar bustled Monday afternoon, but the mood was somber. Runners at the restaurant and in the lobby talked about what happened, tried to fathom what it all meant for marathons, for major sports events, for large public gatherings.

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“I’ve lost sleep over the fact that you have 52 miles of open roadway, 26 on each side,” said Guy Morse, who served as Boston Marathon race director from 1985-2000 and BAA executive director from 2000-2010. “That’s the way I looked at it. You look at both sides of the road, as well as the course itself. It is impossible to secure it to the extent necessary. So, it has significant ramifications for major events.

“From the Olympics on down, we’re all in the same mode of providing as effective a security net as we can for runners and spectators.”

Certainly, the two Boylston Street bombings forever will change the Boston Marathon. The 117th edition of the race will be remembered for what happened in the finish area, the deaths and countless injuries. The future will bring tighter security in Boston and at marathons around the world, though security always has been a pressing concern for all marathon organizers.

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In addition to scores of police and public safety officials along the roads from Hopkinton to Boston, bomb-sniffing dogs inspect parts of the route and the start area. Additionally, well in advance of race day, BAA officials, race director Dave McGillivray, and public safety officials meet to review security plans and emergency contingencies.

Still, an event run on open roads like the marathon presents challenges from many angles, as do all large-scale sporting events.

The London Marathon, the next world major, takes place Sunday. Officials there are looking at what happened in Boston and reviewing their security plans.

At last summer’s 2012 London Olympics, security was a constant concern. In the post-9/11 era, large sports events present appealing terrorist targets because they attract large crowds. Every year, approximately 500,000 spectators line the Boston Marathon course with large grandstands at the finish.

In the past, fans presented a danger to runners. Elite American marathoner Meb Keflezighi remembered competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics when a crazed spectator attacked leader Vanderlei de Lima at the 35K mark.

While Keflezighi earned a silver medal in that race, the image of the attack on de Lima still lingers.

“Ever since de Lima from Brazil got attacked, I’m fearful that when I’m running with my USA jersey some lunatic like that can do something stupid with a gun,” said Keflezighi. “That’s always in my head and I cannot avoid that. New York is high security always and they will take it even higher. Even today here, after my run this morning, I couldn’t get where I need to go because of security.”

Marathoners are resilient athletes when it comes to getting from point A to point B. While what happened on Boylston Street may make them nervous, it may also make them more determined to compete in future Boston Marathons.

Concord-based agent Tom Ratcliffe, who manages 20 marathon/track and field athletes, said that Monday’s tragedy “might attract people who want to show some resolve to run here and show that they’re not going to be deterred from doing things that people have always done here. Ironically, it may make the event stronger in showing that resolve.”

In the hours after the explosions, runners in the Fairmont Copley Plaza lobby planned to return to Boston. But they were also brainstorming ways to strengthen security.

“It won’t sour me, but I might be a little bit more nervous in the corrals,” said Lisa Zappala of Derry, N.H. “There are 1,000 people right there in the corral. Maybe now they’re going to have to look at that, have dogs there and heavy security there. We’re so closed in right there.

“Next year is going to be a lot different. They’re going to have to do some more security stuff. It’s really sad that it has to go to that point.”

Added Nadine Palmer, also from Derry, N.H., “It completely dumbfounds you. I can’t believe this is happening. No place is safe. That’s how I feel.

“This is my 12th time in a row doing the Boston Marathon. I do it because of the people, because of how festive it is here, because it’s alive and we celebrate after . . . I hope I’ll be back next year.”

Part of the thrill of running a marathon is that family and friends line the course in support. From Wellesley College women offering runners kisses to small kids handing out sponges and orange slices in the Newton hills, the intimate relationship between runners and spectators is a hallmark of the Boston Marathon. Even elite runners often remark how fan enthusiasm along the route creates an atmosphere unlike any other marathon.

Still, Keflezighi wondered if the area around the finish would need to be guarded and placed under surveillance a number of days before the marathon.

“One of many things it could mean is that the public is pushed even further back,” said Morse. “But I don’t want to think about a scenario where you finish marathons in a stadium where no one can get in. This sport is much about the spectators as well as the athletes. It’s a relationship that’s important to the marathon world and marathoning.”

But Monday’s tragedy goes far beyond the marathon world. And those locked down at the Fairmont Copley Plaza knew that.

“This was about Patriots Day, not just about the marathon,” said 1983 champion Greg Meyer. “The marathon is a piece of it. It’s another attack on America. It’s sad that they choose a day that brings countries together and they do this to rip it apart. I don’t understand it.

“But Boston will come back. Boston will rally itself. It will be stronger, probably different, slightly scarred, but it will be back. It’s what Boston does.”

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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