“The 2014 Boston Marathon will be a special event for the City of Boston and all of the municipalities along the course, as well as the sport. The B.A.A. and all involved with producing the event and staging the race are committed to retaining the characteristics which make the Boston Marathon unique. As we seek to do this, official entrants (registered participants), volunteers and spectators may be asked for additional cooperation in certain areas, including transportation, baggage and other logistics.”
I recall reading this on the BAA website when registration opened in September. So I can’t say I’m surprised by the BAA’s announcement Wednesday that they have changed their baggage policy and will restrict the items allowed by participants in all marathon venues.
The biggest change will be that runners will no longer have the option to bring belongings to Hopkinton that they would like to have meet them at the finish line. In the past, runners were given a plastic bag by the BAA that they could fill with clothes, food, cell phone or whatever fit. The bag was stored on a school bus in Athlete’s Village and then driven to Boylston Street to meet runners when they finished the race.
Not having baggage drop off in Hopkinton is inconvenient, but other races have done it before. The New York City Marathon offered it as an option for runners in the 2013 race. It was a brisk November morning when runners of that race waited on Staten Island, and somehow they made it work. My friend Laura ran the race last fall and chose to go “bagless.” She said that not having a bag at the finish worked out fine. Boston Marathon runner’s will be able to leave any clothes behind when the race begins. Volunteers will collect all clothing left in Hopkinton and donate it to charity. The BAA will provide new “warmth retention capes” for runner’s at the finish to keep them a bit warmer than the standard Mylar blanket usually given out. Boylston Street will likely empty out more quickly and less congested as runners finish. It’s inconvenient, but it’s doable.
The difference at Boston will be the BAA has prohibited participants from bringing any bags out to Hopkinton on the BAA buses. Depending on what time they plan on dropping runners off at the start, it could be several hours that runners are waiting for the race to begin. My biggest concerns are 1) I’m always cold and will need to find A LOT of clothes I don’t mind never getting back to wear to Hopkinton and 2) I’m always hungry and will need to figure out how to bring food with me so I am well fueled for the race. One friend was also concerned about where to carry her role of spare toilet paper, which is totally valid if you’ve ever been in the port-o-potties at a race this large. We’ll have to trust the BAA does a good job fulfilling its promise to provide food, beverages and post-o-potties in Athlete’s Village.
Oddly enough, a fanny pack, no larger than 15x5x5 is permitted to carry small personal items that runners want to take with them to Boston, such as cell phones, house/hotel keys, ID, nutritional items, such as Gu and as one friend noted, extra toilet paper. I did some research on fanny packs and most are smaller than this max size. A 15x5x5 inch fanny pack actually has quite a bit of room, and is probably larger than I’m willing to carry 26.2 miles. I found one fanny pack that is 14x5x4 inches and while I wouldn’t carry it for marathon, it could hold a few things and get me to the start.
Some of the items prohibited this year (glass containers, strollers, suitcases) are often not allowed at races. Other items, like personal hydration systems like CamelBaks, may physically affect some runners. And while prohibiting runners from wearing large bulky costumes may disappoint spectators, it will be nice NOT to get passed by the guy in a banana suit at Mile 19 this year.
The BAA has always discouraged unofficial entrants from running the race and with this year’s larger numbers, I can understand why they feel even more strongly about that. New this year, however, the race is prohibiting unofficial entrants on the course, like cyclists who in the past rode the course early in the morning while the streets were closed or the military ruck-marchers.
I polled my friends on Facebook to hear how they felt about the new policies. This highly unscientific research sample included runners and non-runners, those at or near the finish line last year, those stopped on the course and those who were a bit further away.
Many understood the changes, but not all agreed with them. Those running said they would figure out how to make things work, despite the inconveniences. A few agreed with the changes and acknowledged the security measures made them feel a bit better about attending the event. Many, however, were frustrated by the changes and questioned their real impact improving security. And some questioned how changes, like the restriction on carrying larger flags and unauthorized participants now including military ruck-marchers, will impact some of the spirit around the race. Sure these guys were never registered entrants, but didn’t they always get some of the loudest cheers as they marched by?
Personally, I’m still unsure how I feel about the changes. I’ll use the need to find throw-away layers as an opportunity to clean my closets and figure out how to eat properly before the race. It’s frustrating that the actions of 2 people now impact the actions of tens of thousands. As one friend commented, the announcement was a sobering reminder of last year’s events. She and I, probably like many runners, flip back and forth between excited for this year’s race and nervous about our emotional response come April 21st.
But there are changes. And they are changes that almost certainly wouldn’t have been implemented this year if not for the events at last year’s marathon.
Since watching my first Boston Marathon in the spring of 2001, “Marathon Monday” has become one of my favorite things about living in Boston, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Whatever individual opinions are held about the new changes, I think they all come from a similar place; however we each define it, we all want the Boston Marathon to remain a special day for runners, for Boston and for the entire running community.
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