“The world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it,” President Barack Obama said during his visit to Boston on Thursday, three days after the bomb attacks at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
WBUR producer and reporter Alex Ashlock, who has covered the Boston Marathon for 15 years, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Alex, where were you when the bombs went off on Monday?
AA: Well, Bill, I was actually back here at the station, WBUR, to report on the results of the race. But in a way I was really lucky because normally I stay down at the marathon finish a lot later than I did on Monday and the last thing I do before I come back to the station is I sort of wander out into the sea of runners as they flood across the finish line just to talk to them, see what their experiences were. And normally I do that at about the time the bombs went off on Monday. So I was fortunate in the fact that I wasn’t down there but I did quickly go back as soon as we got the reports about the explosions.
BL: You have reported extensively this week on the aftermath of the attack. Is there one response that has really stood out for you?
AA: There was one response that was made by almost every runner I talked to, and these included runners who didn’t finish the race because it got stopped, as you know, by the bombings. And there were thousands of those runners who didn’t get to finish. For many of them it’s a life-long dream to have finished the Boston Marathon. But what they basically said was this situation on Monday, the bombings, the hundreds of injuries, and the three deaths, only makes them more determined to come back and run the 118th Boston Marathon.
BL: Alex, you have covered this marathon 15 times. You’re as familiar as anybody with what it means to try to establish security along a 26-mile long course. Is there any way to prevent the kind of thing that happened on Monday?
AA: That’s a very difficult question. I think we saw in those videos of the suspects in the marathon, they drop their packages, it looks like, only about 10 minutes before they went off, and this was when thousands of people were crossing the finish line. As you said it’s a 26.2-mile course, it starts way out in rural Hopkinton, Mass. It runs all the way into Boston. It goes through eight towns or communities. So policing it is very difficult. They have stepped up the number of police they have since 9/11 that are along the course, but I think it’s very difficult to completely secure it. I saw bomb-sniffing dogs on Boylston Street Monday morning in the hour or so before people were really starting to finish but obviously the bombs that exploded weren’t there at that time so it’s very difficult.
BL: Race organizers at the Boston Athletic Association have been very quiet this week. But others, like the President of the United States lots of Bostonians, have been quite vocal about running the race next year. Is it too early to be making those plans?
AA: Well first of all I wonder if the President has a qualifying time? They might wave that for him, but as you said they’re being quiet about next year’s race, being quiet in general, because what they’ve been telling me is they’re part of the investigation. But I did ask one of the officials from the Boston Athletic Association just to confirm something for me because I wanted to say people want to come back for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, and it’s scheduled for Monday, April 21 of next year, and that isn’t changing.