SALT LAKE CITY — Ron Castleton was reveling in the achievement of a life-long dream when he heard the explosions that killed at least three people and injured more than 100 others near the finish line of the country’s most prestigious marathon.
“It was kind of freaky in the sense that right after the explosion, you didn’t see any runners at all. There were thousands of runners behind me, walking through the corral, getting their medals, getting food, but after the explosions, everyone kind of scattered. You didn’t see any runners at all," he said of Monday's Boston Marathon.
It was a heartbreaking and terrifying experience, but it will not keep the Sandy man from running this Saturday’s Salt Lake City Marathon.
“It doesn’t deter me at all,” he said, noting that it was his run in last year’s Salt Lake City Marathon that qualified him for Boston. “I’m ready for the race.”
As resolute as he is to run his 45th marathon on Saturday, he isn’t sure it’s even possible to completely secure an event like the one planned this weekend at Liberty Park.
“How do you protect runners?” he said. “This is such a massive, major event, how do you protect them? Or spectators?”
Salt Lake City Marathon Director Steve Bingham said organizers have been meeting each month with local police agencies to review security and a meeting was already scheduled for Tuesday morning.
“This will be the number one topic we’ll be discussing because it’s on everyone’s mind, and rightly so,” Bingham said. “We’re the first marathon after this incident, and we’ll just continue to keep (safety) a priority.”
Fraser Bullock, managing director of Sorenson Capital, was Utah's chief operating officer in the 2002 Winter Olympics. He called Monday's bombing an event organizer's "worst nightmare."
Bullock said the sheer distance that has to be secured during an event like a marathon — including this weekend's Salt Lake City Marathon — poses a formidable challenge:
"The only way to be 100 percent secure, as close as you can, is with a hard perimeter and with extensive intelligence. That's what we had inside the venues at the Olympics," he said. "But when you're looking at a broader theater, like a 26-mile marathon, there's no way to do a hard perimeter, so they do the best they can through intelligence and through law enforcement personnel."
Vigilance along the race route can be provided through police, bomb-sniffing dogs and volunteers, but it comes down to whether someone tries to take advantage of any "weak spots" along the way, he said.
Bingham said event organizers provide education and training to the volunteers and staff who will work this weekend’s race, which will attract between 7,000 and 10,000 participants in a marathon, half marathon, 5K and bike tour. He said the safety of runners, spectators and volunteers is the main concern of race organizers.
“If you’re a race director, you’re always wanting to improve how you manage a race because there is always room for improvement. It’s not a business that’s up and running every single day so that you can practice and know what you’re doing. So we’re always looking for opportunities to improve.”
Even those runners who've never participated in the Boston Marathon feel the race's impact on other marathons.
“It’s the gold standard,” Bingham said. “It’s what people work towards. The Salt Lake City Marathon is a Boston qualifier. People are coming here with their sights on Boston. For some people it’s a lifetime goal to get to Boston."
And despite concerns about the tragedy, locals said they don’t plan to stay home Saturday.
“We run in more dangerous situations every day. We train in the roads, we train in the hills, and there are dangers no matter what sport you do,” said Elizabeth Jenkins, marketing director for Salt Lake Running Company. “It’s sad that in such a controlled environment like a race, that something like this happened, but at the same time, it doesn’t dissuade me from wanting to do a race.”
Bingham said he was shocked and saddened to hear about the bombings, but hopes fear won’t keep people from enjoying a unique sports experience.
“I think everybody should still come out,” Bingham said of the event which celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday. “It’s an amazing event, and people have been working so hard and it’s in Liberty Park, a brand new site for us. …I think people will be really surprised and happy about what they find.”
Contributing: Rachel Lowry
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