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Runners, fans determined not to shy away from London Marathon

Police in London are boosting security at Sunday's London Marathon after the attacks in Boston.

Runners in the London Marathon take in sights any tourist would envy: Big Ben, Parliament Square, Tower Bridge and a grand finish on The Mall, the majestic road leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. But this year, visions of Boston will be front and center on many competitors’ minds.

Set to take place on Sunday, the event comes less than a week after the deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon, prompting concern among runners and fans about being potential targets, but also determination to not let terrorists or fear disrupt the competition.

“I guess everyone can’t help thinking about it, but I don’t think it will put anyone off,” said Tony Johnson, who lives in Horsham, England, a city south of London, and who is planning to be at the marathon as a spectator.


“By not going -- it’s giving in to the people who do these stupid things.”

Johnson heads Horsham Joggers, a running club that had a close brush with the bombings. Two members competed in the Boston Marathon on Monday, but finished before the attack and escaped harm, Johnson said. Now, 25 members are planning to run in the London Marathon – some for the first time – and no one has pulled out because of security concerns, he said.

Manisha Bhikha, a New Zealander who lives in London, will be running in the marathon for the first time and said she is not worried.

"I am really determined and excited to run," Bhikha said.

"London is... a place that has done a lot of thinking about how to prevent, protect and prepare the city in the event of any attack. We can't let terrorism stop us from going about what we would usually do."

Travel agencies are reporting a similar resolve from visitors descending on the city for the big event.

Courtesy London & Partners

Competitors get closer to the finish line in last year's London Marathon.

About 450 people have booked a trip to the London race through Boston-based Marathon Tours & Travel and only one person has canceled because of security concerns, said Thom Gilligan, president and founder of the company. Most travelers contacting the agency about London are expressing their readiness to go, he added.

“We’ve had a lot of people call and say if anybody is not going to London, we’ll be happy to run in their place,” Gilligan told NBC News.

“We’ve had so many people inquiring about running the Boston marathon next year as a show of solidarity and unity in the sport.”

There will be lots of tributes to the victims of the Boston bombings at the London Marathon. Runners will observe 30 seconds of silence at the start of the race and organizers are encouraging them to wear black ribbons as a “show of solidarity with our Boston friends.”

The marathon will donate 2 pounds (about $3) for every finisher in the race to The One Fund Boston set up to raise money for blast victims.

Meanwhile, British running organization SPAT is urging competitors to cross the finish line with their hands over their hearts as a sign of respect and compassion to those affected by the explosions.

Courtesy London & Partners

The Mall, the majestic road leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, serves as the London Marathon finish line.

About 36,000 people are expected to take part in the marathon. Media representatives for the race did not reply to repeated requests for comment about whether any runners withdrew after the Boston attack.

High-profile Britons are making a point to attend the race, including Prince Harry and Richard Branson, who vowed his family was “not going to change our way of life.”

London tourism officials said they haven’t been fielding calls from people worried about security at the marathon, noting that tourists know the city is used to hosting big events, such as the Olympic Games last summer.

“We’ve got everything in place,” said Chloe Couchman, a spokeswoman for London & Partners, the city’s official tourism agency.

“We have a robust security system and we’ve got an excellent track record. We delivered the world’s biggest major event last year.”

The race is a big deal for the city, attracting a million spectators to the marathon route and generating about $180 million in economic activity for the U.K., Couchman said. A third of pubs along the route reported that Marathon Sunday is their busiest day, according to London & Partners.

As this year’s event gets closer, the theme among the competitors and their fans seems to be defiance.

“Runners always feel for each other whenever there is anything that interrupts their passion for running events,” Gilligan said.

“(The message is) we will not have anyone take our freedom to run away from us.”