Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Aug 15

Learning From Other Events And Event Professionals - The Boston Marathon

Mags in here recently travelled to the Boston Marathon with representatives from the Dublin Marathon organising committee. The idea was to see how the marathon is run there and see what they could learn to help develop the marathon here in Dublin.

A word about Mags

Mags joined us here in Cuckoo a little less than a year ago now. Prior to that, we'd worked alongside Mags for many years on all sorts of events. She is responsible for getting Mark here involved in the safety side of events and has a wealth of experience, while always looking to learn more.

She works with Dublin Marathon as a Safety Consultant now and was delighted to head to Boston and learn from how they do things. 



I was in Boston in April 2015 to observe the Boston Marathon and the first thing that this trip confirmed for me was the importance of attending other events, both as a punter and also in an official capacity.

I am a firm believer that EVERY event can teach you something, sometimes the smallest of things, sometimes significant lessons. To be able to see such a prestigious and historical event up close was a great learning opportunity for me and a great experience personally.

I was fortunate to be in the company of some of the Dublin Marathon Committee members whose knowledge and understanding of such an event was invaluable. Sometimes I get tunnel vision and concentrate on predominately the safety perspective of events so to be around people discussing different viewpoints was interesting. All of these people give their time and expertise to the Dublin Marathon voluntarily and have always done so. Their commitment is admirable.  

The Boston Marathon

The city of Boston is steeped in history so it is fitting that the Boston Marathon is the same. Here's a taste:

  • Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest marathon, the first one taking place back in 1897
  • In 1975 it became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division
  • It is the first marathon that a woman officially participated in. That happened in 1972, however the first woman (Bobbi Gibb) ran in 1966 having sneaked in. The first woman to run and finish with a race number (Katherine Switzer) did so in 1967. The latter even survived an incident whereby the race director tried to rip off her number and eject her from the race!

The Boston Marathon attracts 500,000 visitors to the city and this is evident as soon as you arrive. The local support is apparent everywhere. There are flags raised all throughout the city and the local brewery even had a special brew ‘Sam Adams 26.2’ especially for the weekend. It would have been bad manners not to partake in all aspects of the visit!

There are over 30,000 participants and such is the demand that there is now a qualifying time which in itself is a goal and achievement. In order to qualify the runners must have a qualifying time of approx. 3hrs for men and 3.5hrs for women. The exception to this rule is for runners who receive an entry from a sponsor, partner or charity.


All around the City were blue pots with yellow daffodils and the words ‘Boston Strong’. These were to mark respect for the tragedy of the bombs in 2013.

There were small pots placed everywhere; in doorways, on windowsills, on restaurant tables and even at entrances to shopping malls. All were perfectly intact and everyone seemed to respect they were there for a reason.

There was one Police Office posted to the spot where one of the bombs had gone off at the finish line. There was no obvious reason for him being there and if you didn’t know you’d have thought he was minding the doorway to a building. His presence was very subtle yet so fitting. And that is how I would describe most of the tributes we witnessed; subtle and very tasteful. This was no PR exercise.This was a genuine tribute from the City.

Learning from other events

In the days leading up to the Marathon I was lucky to meet with the Production Director who gave us a tour of the area and explained the systems and operations.

One thing that struck me was how open the site was so close to event day. Contractors were running TV and internet lines whilst rush hour traffic passed by. Tourists were posing for photos on the finish line as the Race Director was actually out for a run in the middle of preparations. There were no security or stewards present guarding things or restricting access to anywhere.

I thought about a couple of things then:

  • This wouldn't work back in Ireland. We couldn't build an event like that with rush hour traffic hurtling by. We also couldn't leave access to things unrestricted. 
  • In Boston, it worked. It's how they do things there. People are used to it and they know how it works. 

Away from the route and the organisers altogether, we then visited the Major Emergency Office for Boston City which for anyone who has an interest in Emergency Management is just an Aladdin’s Cave. To witness first-hand the intrinsic and strategic operations of how the City runs on a daily basis and meet the people responsible was fascinating and I felt exceptionally privileged to have been able to visit here and see it actually in operation.

Event day

On event day we were up and out early and our group naturally separated and we each went to separate areas of interest.

I started at Boston Common where the runners board the hundreds of yellow school buses to the start line. Unlike Dublin, in Boston the runners go outside the City and run back in. In Dublin it’s a loop around the city. In military fashion all the buses filled with no fuss or confusion and as soon as the last bus left the crew get to work on tidying up and opening the road again.

Boston road closures

From here I found myself initially walking the cordons of the event space and watching the crowds arrive.

When they say 'road closure' in Boston they mean parking a large snow plough or council vehicle at the end of the street. These are HUGE vehicles. No way are you by passing these by accident!

As I got closer to the viewing areas I entered the search areas and there is no doubt of the security presence now. There is security, police, sniffer dogs and CCTV and yet there were no really long delays. No one complained and people just waited to be searched before entering.

The actual viewing areas appeared to be divided into zones so if I wanted to travel along the finish area I had to leave one zone and onto the street parallel and then enter again, going through another security and search area. This in itself deters spectators from moving too much and allows specific areas to be established with no cross over. 

The scale

When you actually walk the event space it allows you to feel the magnitude of the event and the span across the city yet there appeared to be minor impact to other city users.

I could write an essay on our few days there but I appreciate that other people don’t get the excitement I do at looking at temporary structures or climbing a scaffolding structure erected over the finish line.

The learning

This trip opened my eyes wider to an inalienable truth:

Difference in culture and attitude affects and influences an event from start to finish. That is both as an organiser and a participant. I saw similar for AC/DC 2009, the Europa League Final 2011 and Olympics 2012. Local culture and participants' / attendees' profile / psyche have to be considered when assessing an event and can be major contributing factors to the success of an event.

Wrapping up

It was a great opportunity to learn about an event type I'm not as familiar with as others: athletics. I am grateful to Dublin Marathon for affording me the opportunity. It was a chance to network with senior members and discuss how the Dublin Marathon has evolved as well as how other international marathons have also.

I am excited to use my new knowledge along with my competency in events and crowd movement and to further improve the Dublin Marathon in cooperation with the Board and crews involved. 


September 15, 2015, 11:49 AM

I like The Boston Marathon event ,and i also attend last time.suddenly here saw about this .its really nice for me.

Leave a comment

All fields need to be filled in.