The Boston Marathon has been run annually since 1897, but after bombings at the finish line last year, there will be enhanced security changes this year. The race is run on Patriot’s day, which this year is April 21. 36,000 runners are expected, 9,000 more than last year, and more than 1 million spectators.
3,500 uniformed and plainclothes police, bomb-sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras, and several hundred National Guard will provide security at the race start, finish, and along the course. There will be significant changes affecting race participants and spectators as well.
Last year’s bombs, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others, were left at the finish line in backpacks. This year neither runners nor viewers will be allowed to carry backpacks, and any bags brought to the race will be subject to inspection by law enforcement officials.
There are important changes for runners this year as far as baggage goes. Runners board buses in downtown Boston for transport to the start in Hopkinton, 26.2 miles away. They typically have bags for the extra clothes they wear while waiting, books, snacks, and water bottles. There are buses or trucks in Hopkinton that, in the past, have transported those personal items back to Boston where runners pick them up at the finish line.
This year runners will not be allowed any bags or backpacks on the buses. Transparent plastic bags will be provided by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), who organizes the marathon, when the runners pick up their numbers at the bib pick up the previous day. These bags are the only thing gear will be allowed to be checked in.
These bags will not be transported from Hopkinton back to Boston as in the past. Instead they can be checked at a station about ½ mile from the finish line on the morning of the race. This makes for an early start to the day, since the buses, which are the only transportation guaranteed to get a runner to the start because of road closures, leave for Hopkinton between 6:15 and 9:20 a.m.
Once in Hopkinton, runners wait in the Athletes Village for the 12-noon race start. This year they will have to depend on food and snacks provided at the Village, since supply bags are not allowed. Additional layers of clothing may be worn, but must be left in Hopkinton. Discarded clothing is donated to a local charity.
Bandits, or unregistered runners, are a tradition at the Boston Marathon, but with this year’s enhanced security they will be absolutely forbidden. Also not allowed this year are military “ruck” marchers, who have sometimes joined the race and marched alongside the course. This year the ruck marchers will not be allowed on the course unless they have an official number.
The BAA and the National Guard of Massachusetts have developed a partnership this year with the BAA providing 130 official bibs for soldiers, who will be required to follow the same rules as runners.
Other changes for runners include the banning of personal hydration systems, such as Camelbaks, as they are considered a type of backpack. Small fuel belts for holding energy gels or bars are allowed, as are small fanny packs. Costumes are another tradition at the Boston Marathon, but this year only those that are not bulky and do not cover the face will be allowed.
Kurt N. Schwartz, director of Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, says he is confident that the overall experience of runners and spectators will not be impacted by the enhanced security changes at this year’s Boston Marathon, and that all will enjoy a fun day.
By Beth A. Balen