NEWTON — With the Boston Marathon 46 days away, debris-filled snow banks line the course and cover popular spectator perches. Snow surrounds the famous statue near Heartbreak Hill that depicts two Johnny Kelleys, young and old. One bronze Kelley wears a Superman T-shirt, the other a Batman T-shirt. The costumes seem oddly appropriate. These days, it seems, readying the course for race day may take superhuman efforts.
Race organizers and town officials are confident that most, if not all, of the snow along the route will melt before runners arrive at the Hopkinton start on April 20. The great unknown, however, is what lies beneath it and what road conditions will be when course inspections start in early April. For now, race organizers plan to stick with their usual preparation schedule, though they will adjust if the weather requires.
Asked his level of concern, on a scale of 1 to 10, that snow will pose problems for the marathon, Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk said, “Probably around 5. Given what’s happened this winter, who knows?
“If you look across the annals of history, the probability of there being snow on race day is pretty close to zero. If you take this winter and compare it to the annals of history, it doesn’t make any sense.
“So who knows? Some of the stuff could still be there. It is, of course, already in the contingency thinking of people, in the event we need to react to it.”
The areas where runners congregate present the biggest concerns: the athletic fields behind Hopkinton High School and Middle School that serve as the Athletes’ Village, Copley Square and Boston Common, and water stations along the course.
Not only must the Hopkinton fields be clear of snow, they must be dry for runners who wait there before the start. For finish-area staging and postrace activities, Copley Square and Boston Common must be free of snow and debris. And water stations need ample space for tables, volunteers, and runners.
This month, race organizers, town officials, and facility managers will regularly assess the situation, looking at long-term weather forecasts, seeing what melts, and determining how more heavy snow could affect the situation. If necessary, snow will be removed from key gathering spots at the start and finish, and areas where water and medical stations will be placed.
“We’re certainly talking about the what-ifs, but I don’t think anyone is changing plans at the moment,” said race director Dave McGillivray. “We’re hopeful that Mother Nature takes care of this for us between now and then. But we’re prepared if that doesn’t happen to take some measures to make it race-ready for all our participants.”
When the calendar turns to April, McGillvray and other officials will run or drive along the course multiple times, looking for road damage. McGillivray is confident the roadway will be in good shape by Patriots Day, but the same may not be true for the sidewalks and other spots where spectators stand.
In Newton, the grassy area between the carriage road and Commonwealth Avenue is usually packed with spectators on race day. Right now, it’s packed with snow and ice.
“I’m hoping Mother Nature really helps out on that one,” said Newton Police sergeant Jay Babcock. “I’m not saying there’s no plans to remove snow there. That’s just not the focus now.
“What we’re looking for is making sure the roadway is clear from curb to curb and any potholes or other holes are filled. Our routine is everything is the same, except for the snow. If the snow doesn’t melt, it will be removed. From curb to curb, it will be cleared.”
Time is still on the side of race organizers and town officials. Plus, they’ve dealt before with all kinds of tricky weather leading up to the marathon and on race day. Ed Jacobs, technical producer for the marathon, is helping with race logistics for the 44th year. He recently served as technical producer for the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade on snowy downtown streets.
“That one I lost sleep over,” said Jacobs. “It was like, ‘What’s going to happen? How are we going to assemble all this stuff?’ But we proved that we could do it.
“I can’t lose any sleep over the marathon. I know there are folks out there ready to fix anything that needs fixing.”