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Marathons as 'soft targets' for terrorists? Why panic isn't warranted.

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“I think we put too much emphasis on specific events,” he says. “At this point, we are at a disadvantage since we don’t know their motive and ideology” in the Boston case.

Nevertheless, marathon aficionados are disturbed over the prospect that their events might routinely become terrorist targets.

It's not just that the races are open to spectators and have easy access. It's also that terrorists may perceive that they are striking at a collective expression of achievement, endurance, mutual support, and good will, some say. Many runners, after all, compete on behalf of charities, raising millions for worthy causes. And as Mr. Jordan says, marathons are nothing short of "celebrations of the human spirit," as runners set tough goals and then reach them. 

Soon after the Boston bombing, Roger Robinson, an author and a runner, wrote on a Runners World website about how marathon crowds renew one’s faith in human nature. The spectators stand for hours “with no seating, no cover, no bathrooms, to cheer thousands of strangers,” he wrote. In fact, he noted, marathons could barely function if it were not for the volunteers who do everything from handing out water to massaging tight leg muscles.

All of these good feelings, worries Mr. Robinson, may make marathons even more of a target.

“Our problem is that this marathon world of goodwill and prelapsarian innocence has made us vulnerable,” he wrote on the website. “Our sport is such a great photo-op, and global media coverage is guaranteed. Modern murderers like those things.”

After what happened in Boston, some marathon organizers in other cities say they are reviewing their security arrangements. On Saturday, the London Marathon anticipates that 37,000 runners will take to its streets.

Nick Bitel, the race's chief executive, said Tuesday in a statement: "We want to reassure our runners, spectators, volunteers, and everyone connected with the event that we are doing everything to ensure their safety and that the Virgin London Marathon 2013 is an outstanding success."

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