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New Policies Create Challenges for Marathon Spectators

Posted by Chrissy Horan  March 11, 2014 10:39 PM

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In 2012, I decided to train for a different spring marathon and experienced the Boston Marathon as a spectator. I parked my car in Newton, just north of the Mass Pike. I threw on a backpack stocked with a dry tee shirt (it was 90+ degrees), sunblock, water and “supplies” like markers, to make signs, and cow bells to cheer on runners. I walked about 1.5 miles to a spot on the course near Newton Wellesley Hospital, the dedicated Alzheimer’s Association “cheering station”.

If I was going to be a spectator again this year, I would probably adjust this plan.

Six weeks before the 2014 Boston Marathon, state officials announced Monday security restrictions for spectators of the 118th running of the race. The announcement came a little over a week after the BAA announced new policies around baggage and prohibited items for runners.

As with the changes in place for runners, the changes for spectators will require greater planning for those attending the event. Despite new potential inconveniences, I think many, even if they disagree with the changes, will still attend the event.

The list of items include:

  • Weapons or items of any kind that may be used as weapons, including firearms, knives, mace, etc.
  • Backpacks or any similar item carried over the shoulder.
  • Suitcases and rolling bags/rollers.
  • Coolers.
  • Glass containers or cans.
  • Flammable liquids, fuels, fireworks or explosives.
  • Any container capable of carrying more than 1 liter of liquid.
  • Handbags or packages or bulky items larger than 12 inches x 12 inches x 6 inches.
  • Large blankets/comforters, duvets, sleeping bags.
  • Costumes covering the face or any non-form fitting, bulky outfits extending beyond the perimeter of the body.
  • Props (including sporting equipment and military and fire gear).

The official statement says this list of items are discouraged, and may result in delays going through security checkpoints and enhanced screening. While this means that none of these items are technically prohibited, I wouldn’t want to be the one testing the flexibility of these rules either.

When you break down the list, I think the change and impact are smaller than the size of the list suggests. Maybe it’s the first time it’s been in print, but I think some of these items have no place at the Marathon, whether it’s one year after the bombings or 20 years before. I’m totally ok with the elimination of weapons and flammable liquids.

While prohibiting coolers, glass containers and cans may put a damper on some marathon parties, I am pretty certain that no one will go thirsty. Fortunately for many fans, they did not restrict Solo cups.

The items that will cause the greatest change to marathon day plans are the restriction on bags such as backpacks, suitcases/roller bags and large hand bags. Having done it myself, standing out on the side of the road for hours, often walking a ways to just get to that spot, it’s nice to have my bag of supplies, whether it's clothes, food, or chapstick, with me for the day.

For those watching the race with young children, it’s probably a little more than nice, and closer to necessary. One of the consistent concerns I’ve heard is that the changes to security might discourage those with young kids to attend the race. I’m sure there will be some parents unwilling to sacrifice this experience for their children. Others may go but choose to watch from more accessible, less congested locations. But for other families, it might just be too complicated.

Along those lines, I’m still a little unclear on the policy around strollers. Today's announcement did not mention strollers at all. However, the BAA stated that strollers were not allowed in the list if items by official participants, adding that strollers would be prohibited from the start and finish areas.

There will be double the number of police at the event, video cameras and bomb-sniffing dogs stationed along the course. Yet I think the most valuable security measure will be the spectators themselves.

Spectators will be encouraged to participate in the “See Something Say Something” campaign, to be aware of their surroundings and speak up if they see something suspicious. The same collective attitude that sought to put together the many broken pieces left by last year’s tragedy, I believe, will be the best protection the race will have against something like this happening again.

The fans coming out to watch this years race will do so to celebrate the strength and determination of the runners, as they do every year. But this year, we will all cheer for the strength and determination of this city as well. Boston Strong.

As always, let me know what you think and what’s going on in your running community. Post comments here or email me at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

     Chrissy Horan has been running around Boston and nearby neighborhoods since 2000. An athlete through high school and college, she has found the running community in Boston to More »

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