Do New Boston Marathon Rules Punish Runners?

Wellesley, MA - 4/15/2013 - Staff Sgt. Mark Welch (cq), right, of Taunton and Spc. Jorge Pacheco (cq) of New Bedford walk along the route for the Army National Guard carrying 35 lbs. of military equipment for fallen Massachusetts soldiers before the start of the marathon. At left are Charlotte Reber (cq) of Johnson, Vt., front, and Caroline Guild (cq) of Carlisle from Munger Hall who worked with about 30 students to create over 200 signs hung along Route 135 at Wellesley College. The signs took about one week to make. The 117th Annual Boston Marathon makes its way by Wellesley College on Route 135 in Wellesley, MA on Monday, April 15, 2013. The college also features the "Scream Tunnel," a tradition involving students that cheer, hug and kiss runners at the near halfway point of the race. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff) Slug: n/a Reporter: n/a LOID: 6.1.1898144683
In this 2013 photo, staff Sgt. Mark Welch, right, of Taunton and Spc. Jorge Pacheco of New Bedford walked along the Marathon race route for the Army National Guard. Military personnel hoping to march with ruck sacks – to honor fallen soldiers, a common practice in previous years – will be unable to do so due to new race rules.
Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Athletic Association issued new rules for the annual race for security reasons. But are the restrictions helping or hurting the runners?

On Monday, runners will be not be allowed to carry backpacks and strollers into the Athletes’ Village. Costumed participants and “bandit” runners will be turned away. Containers that hold more than one liter of liquid or are made of glass will be prohibited. The list goes on.

Todd Deluca of Newburyport isn’t happy about that. At 52, he will run his ninth marathon on Monday. Deluca has already run the Boston Marathon three times, but the events of last year inspired him to take on Heartbreak Hill again in 2014.

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“I did not run last year but I had the finish line camera on my computer as I worked,” Deluca said. “I looked up and thought the channel had changed because the scene had changed from a normal finish line to a smoky, chaotic mess. I decided to run again on that day and here I am.”

Deluca said he was shocked when he heard about the new rules. So shocked that he took to Reddit to air his grievances. Under the username Steel12, Deluca started a thread in r/running that received over 400 comments and almost 1000 “upvotes.” An “upvote” on Reddit is similar to a “like” on Facebook.

Deluca’s post is critical of the BAA’s new measures, but it’s not the rules themselves that he has a problem with.

“I think it’s more the general approach of applying rules to runners I take issue with,” he said. “I don’t think any rules should have been added. The runners had nothing to do with the trouble.”

Marathon hopefuls train rigorously just to qualify for the big race in Boston. Like many of the commenters on his thread, Deluca doubts attackers would even bother entering in a race when they could inflict damage from the sidelines. Because of this, he said, it doesn’t make much sense to restrict the runners.

“I think it’s a reflection on how we are reacting to threats, generally speaking,” Deluca said. “I’m sure the people at the BAA are good people, but like many private organizations, they’re overreacting to threats made by people meaning to do us harm.”

To Deluca, these new rules are representative of a growing problem – the willingness of society to “give up freedom for security.”

Tim McQuade, 32, of Natick has run seven marathons – nine if you count his bandit runs. As a member of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Miles for Miracles team, McQuade has tackled the Boston Marathon six times. Last year, he was stopped at mile 26 after the bombs went off.

McQuade will run again this year and also anticipates a very different experience.

“As someone who has done this before, we have established routines,” McQuade said. “The restrictions are going to make this hard for us.”

McQuade’s routine includes having a bag to carry water, snacks, and a cell phone. This year, he’ll have to run without it. It may not seem like a drastic change since food and water will be available at race checkpoints and he can keep his phone in his pocket. But what might be a minor switch in a shorter race could become a jarring adjustment over the course of 26.2 miles.

“For me, as a longtime runner, it’s certainly a disappointment,” McQuade said. “But I’m hopeful that in the future, not all restrictions will stay in place.”

The BAA doesn’t have any say over the crowds of spectators, but they are responsible for participants. Deluca said the organization knows that runners aren’t the problem and issued the new restrictions for the appearance of security.

“I can’t imagine anyone in any of these meetings is saying, ‘Look at these runners, they’re looking pretty suspicious,’” Deluca quipped.

Although McQuade was disappointed by the new rules, he said he is inclined to trust the BAA’s decision to implement them. New rules might “deter” possible attackers, he said, but it’s more about peace of mind for the city.

“It’s absolutely inconvenient,” McQuade said. “But I’ll do what I can to make people safe, or at least make people feel safe. Those are two different things, I think, actually being safe and feeling safe.”