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  Japanese runners Makoto Ogura, left, and Yukinobu Nakazaki pose in front of a sign promoting the start area of the Boston Marathon, as fellow runner Hironobu Saito takes their picture Wednesday in Hopkinton. All three runners are from Hiroshima. (AP Photo)

Hopkinton enjoys status as the start of something big

By Ted Flanagan, Globe Correspondent, 4/12/2001

OPKINTON - At 5:30 a.m. Monday - Patriots Day - the first of more than 1,000 volunteers will make their way through the predawn darkness and mid-April morning chill to Hopkinton Center.

There they will begin preparations for the town's annual moment on the world stage: the local rite of spring for which 15,600 runners converge on this little town for the start of the Boston Marathon.

This year will mark the 105th running of the race.

The volunteers' work that day will be the culmination of a year's worth of effort and planning involving scores of local businesses, hundreds of public-safety workers, and untold numbers of citizens who have taken the race to heart.

Although the Marathon spans 26.2 miles, passes through dozens of communities, and ends in the state's capital, it all begins in sleepy downtown Hopkinton.

For Dorothy J. Ferriter, the Marathon is a yearlong labor of love. Today, with just days until the race, it is perhaps easiest to see the labor, although a love for the event is evident whenever she talks about the Marathon.

''From now until the race, it'll be crazy, meetings every day,'' Ferriter said.

As director of the town's Marathon Committee, Ferriter is in as good a position as anyone to know the commitment it takes to get the Marathon going at square one.

''This is really a worldwide event,'' she said. ''For the last few months it's been a full-time job in addition to [my regular job]. But I love it. The thing I find amazing is the cooperation I get. Whenever I ask a local business for something, they almost always ask what they can help with before I even have a chance to ask for anything.''

Ferriter doesn't bear the burden alone.

Hopkinton Police Chief Thomas R. Irvin and Fire Chief Gary T. Daugherty Sr. have been deeply involved with solving the complex public-safety, health, and traffic issues that inevitably crop up when the Marathon comes to town.

Along with the 18-member Marathon Committee, officials from the event-organizing Boston Athletic Association, the State Police, and even the National Guard have been in on the planning, much of which has taken place in the underground bunker in Framingham that serves as the headquarters for the state Emergency Management Agency.

David J. McGillivray, the race director from the BAA, praised the folks in Hopkinton for their help.

''They're perhaps the most cooperative group that I've ever dealt with,'' he said. ''The support of the community we receive is significant, and I think the success of the event is based on that kind of cooperation; that's why it seems to run so smoothly.''

He said Ferriter ''runs a tight ship, and everyone [in Hopkinton] knows their responsibility and gets it accomplished in an efficient manner.''

Turning the center of Hopkinton into the hub of a world-class running event is no easy feat, but the town's years of experience help, Ferriter said. Over 1,000 people - including several hundred Hopkinton residents - have volunteered to help, mainly to set up and run the so-called Athletes' Village, a temporary staging area for the runners at Hopkinton High School. Some will hand out food and beverages, or direct runners to the Village itself.

Others will be part of three ''human chains,'' Ferriter said, ensuring that runners stay in their assigned places in the corral system that feeds the mass of competitors onto the course.

Some volunteers will also have the job of keeping ''bandits,'' or unregistered runners, off the course, and helping manage the massive parking demands and 250 buses that shuttle racers and fans to the Town Common.

The health care of all the runners - from Hopkinton's Town Common to the finish line near Copley Square - will be a vast patchwork of medical workers from the local communities and hospitals along the race's route.

Overseeing this ad hoc medical staff will be Dr. Marvin Adner, chief of medicine at MetroWest Medical Center's Framingham Union Hospital, which is sponsoring the medical tent that will be pitched on Dartmouth Street in Boston, next to the end of the race course. Adner, the Marathon's medical director, has run the race 20 times.

A staff of 24 doctors from the medical center and 75 nurses will operate the medical tent and its 200 cots, with each of the towns and cities along the route handling medical emergencies as they crop up.

''We had a lot of muscle and foot injuries and dehydration,'' Adner said. ''Some people can get sick from the race, although we've had just one death, in 1996 of a heart attack. Usually, we send maybe 10 people to the hospital from the medical tent.''

For the start of the race, medical officials worry most about someone getting trampled, he said. ''For the 100th running, when we had 40,000 people coming, we really worried that if something were going to happen like that, it would happen at the beginning.''

Ferriter said a local fife-and-drum corps will escort legendary runner John A. ''Johnny'' Kelly into the Athletes' Village on race morning. Perhaps the most revered competitor in the event's history, Kelly, 84, started 61 Boston Marathons from 1928 until 1992, winning the event twice, in 1935 and 1945. He finished the Marathon 58 times.

The town also embraces its role as a host for racers from around the world, granting honorary residential status to the popular Kenyan runners. Most of them are scheduled to spend the day today with students at the Elmwood School on Elm Street, Ferriter said.

No matter that the race has been around for 105 years; it's never too late for a little tinkering. One of the year's unique efforts begins at the beginning, where race officials are altering the starting line in hopes of easing congestion, particularly for the legions of midfielders who won't see so much as the sole of a Kenyan running shoe on Patriots Day.

McGillivray said organizers will narrow the starting line - or, more precisely, a point just behind it - by about 9 feet.

''The current starting line is about 39 feet wide, but about 400 or 500 yards down the road, the course narrows somewhat, creating a bottleneck,'' McGillivray said. This bottleneck isn't a problem for the small groups of pros who start ahead of the bulk of the race runners, but for the rest of the field it means significant delays.

''Some runners are slowed almost to a walk at the beginning of the race by the bunching,'' McGillivray said. ''This can be very frustrating for the runners.''

He and race organizers hope that narrowing the start line will eliminate the bottleneck and help the runners make an easier trek from their staging areas on Main and Grove streets and onto the course itself.

''They'll be running onto a roadway that is effectively wider, or initially as wide as, where they came from,'' McGillivray said. ''The hope is that it would cut down on gridlock, and that should be interesting to see. It's better to give it a try; it's not going to be any worse, since the traffic's either going to be better or the same. It won't be worse.''

Ferriter also said runners this year will join the course on Main Street from Grove Street, rather than Hayden Rowe Street as in the past.

And as the last runner begins the trek to Boston, and the cleanup is finished you can bet Ferriter and the rest of the Hopkinton crew will take a deep breath and enjoy another successful Marathon start.

Then they'll begin getting ready for number 106.

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