Boston Marathon technical director Dave McGillivray said last week he hopes participants view the centennial event as "a 26-mile celebration more than a 26-mile footrace."

McGillivray made his plea in light of the increase in the number of official entrants from 9,519 in 1995 to more than 37,000 this year.

Last year, 56 athletes dipped under 2 hours, 30 minutes and 1,031 cracked the coveted three-hour barrier. Preliminary figures for this year's event based on official qualifying times show those numbers growing to 117 and 4,484, respectively, according to Boston Athletic Association officials.

"The density of high-peak finishers, normally around 3 hours, five minutes to 3:15, or about 300 per minute, will be greater because of the increased number of qualifiers," McGillivray said. "This year, because of more qualifiers, there will be more high-peak finishers, perhaps as many as 500-600 per minute, and it will stay there for a longer period of time. It will be constant. Our finish line chute has to be able to handle that density.

"We've taken a data base if everyone ran their exact (qualifying) time. Most people run slower at Boston so we've backed it up 10 minutes (to 3:15 and even longer). That density is being elongated for half-hour and 45 minutes.

"That is the very reason why we're going with the champion/chip system," said McGillivray, who will rely on a manual timing system as backup. "There's only a certain amount of real estate to work with at the finish area. The width of the road is only 50 feet and we have to maintain medical areas. I am confident it will work."

McGillivray will present a preview report on the marathon tomorrow night at Regis College in conjunction with the USA Track & Field-New England Quarterly meeting.

"The key to the success of the overall race is for us to develop a plan, and we have. And to aggressively communicate that plan to everyone that touches this event," said McGillivray, who managed to fit into his hectic schedule an appearance at his alma mater Merrimack's recent 7-4 upset hockey win over defending national champion Boston University.

"We sort of request everyone's cooperation in following the plan. That all comes down to their expectations and their attitudes, not only for the unofficial runners but official runners. Those who have worked so hard have to understand there will be delays.

"Being a runner myself, I know what it's like to have the gun go off and you don't move. People just have to understand that the gun will go off this year and 98 percent of the field will be standing still. If you stay calm and have patience you'll enjoy it."