NEW YORK — Security enhancement has become a recurring theme at the New York City Marathon.
In 2013, the city was on edge because the race was held seven months after the Boston Marathon bombing. In 2016, the presidential election was two days away and both candidates were New Yorkers planning victory parties in midtown. This year, 50,000 runners will descend on the city just five days after a man deliberately plowed a rental truck onto a bike path in lower Manhattan, killing eight people before smashing into a school bus shortly after 3 p.m. on Halloween. Officials called it the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since September 11, 2001.
As a result, the 2.1 million spectators lining the route on Sunday can expect to see more than twice as many rooftop observation teams and counter-sniper teams than in years past, additional heavy-weapons teams, and the “the most ever [sand trucks and blocking trucks] deployed at this event” to prevent vehicles from entering the course, according to New York Police Department Chief Carlos Gomez.
Shalane Flanagan, who placed second in New York in her 2010 marathon debut, ran the Boston Marathon in 2013 when two bombs went off near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
“It very much hits home and (it’s) very personal to me,” Flanagan said Thursday. “It definitely brought back some of those feelings and emotions of that 2013 Boston. But what I know, 100 percent, is that we’re a very resilient nation and I don’t know tougher people than New Yorkers. Marathoners are pretty tough people, too. So I think it’s an opportunity to show resilience and strength and coming together. I think when you come together as a community it empowers people, makes people feel better. It’s a cathartic experience to be part of the marathon.”
New York Road Runners, which organizes the annual race, called the safety of the runners, staff, volunteers, and fans “our top priority.”
Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 New York champion, 2013 Boston winner and 2004 Olympic silver medalist, has witnessed several security scares in his career and said Tuesday’s attack didn’t necessarily change his outlook.
“I worried about it at the Olympics that got interrupted by the crazy person in 2004 who pushed Vanderlei de Lima,” Keflezighi said of the Brazilian who was leading the race at the 22-mile mark. “Ever since it’s in the back of my head. Every time you look into the crowd, you think about it, but what are you going to do? Not go out? We want to be positive examples. If I’m going to go, I’m going to go out running.”
Keflezighi will have 30 family members on hand to watch him run his 26th and final professional marathon on Sunday. Meb and his brother/agent Hawi were in New York on Tuesday, but many of their relatives weren’t.
“They heard the news before we did,” Hawi said. “I think sometimes it’s scarier when you’re further away. We know here that the New York Road Runners and the New York City police department is going to do its best. If it’s not safe, they’re not going to have the event.”
Abdi Abdirahman, who placed third in New York last year said, “To be honest, I don’t notice security. I see the same amount of police when I’m walking the streets. It’s always good to see the uniform. It makes you feel extra safe.
He added that Tuesday’s attack “affects all of us. It doesn’t matter where you live. I just really, really feel for the people of New York and Argentina, the victims. It just breaks my heart.”