The large, colorful plastic bags that Boston Marathon runners usually sling over their shoulders and take to Hopkinton will be missing this year. In an e-mail sent to all race participants Wednesday afternoon, the Boston Athletic Association announced a “no bags” policy for this April’s race.
There will be no bags allowed on buses from Boston to Hopkinton. No bags transported from Hopkinton back to the Boston finish. Additionally, bags will not be permitted in certain areas, near the start, along the course, and at the finish.
The no bags policy and other safety measures come in the wake of last year’s Marathon bombings, when two explosive devices were concealed in backpacks and detonated on Boylston Street. The e-mail explained that “with an increased field size and for everyone’s safety, we will work with public safety officials to ensure that we preserve the exceptional race day experience.”
BAA executive director Tom Grilk said the no bags policy, as well as other new regulations in place for the 2014 Marathon, were “part of a collaborative process with public safety authorities” and that Marathon organizers “followed their lead.” Other new regulations include the prohibition of backpacks, glass containers, bottles capable of carrying more than 1 liter of liquid, strollers, suitcases, bulky costumes, and large flags. Additionally, the BAA warned in the e-mail that unofficial participants on the course for any distance are “subject to interdiction.”
“You want to achieve the right balance between security and the joy and the celebration that has always been a part of Marathon weekend,” said Grilk. “Public safety officials and the BAA want to see the proper balance being struck.”
To help handle some of the issues that may arise due to the no bags policy and other restrictions, the BAA will provide a “gear check opportunity” on Boston Common the morning of the April 21 race. This will give runners a chance to pick up warm, dry clothing shortly after the race. Also, participants will receive warmth retention capes at the finish, which are more substantial than the typical space blankets.
Runners’ reactions to the restrictions were mixed. While they understood the need for tighter security and appreciated the advance notice, some wondered if the new regulations went too far.
“My first reaction is that it’s overkill and it means that runners have to suffer because of what happened,” said Stephen Peckiconis of Roslindale, who will be running his 24th Boston Marathon. “I don’t see a runner with a bag being a problem. But when these things happen, organizations go to another extreme to lock things down . . . We’ll survive with no problem. It’s just, we have to adjust.”
Marathoners typically bring large gear bags to start areas, packing changes of clothing, extra food and liquids, maybe toilet paper, and cellphones, iPods or crossword puzzles to pass the time before the gun goes off. Runners like being well-prepared and then some
“I know a lot of folks bring more stuff to the start than they actually need because they like knowing you’re prepared for different contingencies,” said Brian McNamara of Cambridge, who will be running Boston for the third time. “It’s more difficult to take stuff to the start if you don’t have a bag. It’s one extra thing you have to plan for. But not having a bag is not going to make me five minutes slower on race day.”
Even though McNamara recognized the BAA and public safety officials were considering all the angles and complimented them on the job done, he did question the reasoning behind some of the new policies.
“I certainly understand the need to take measures that will ensure safety and to be seen taking measures that are going to ensure safety,” said McNamara. “There’s the actually safety portion and there’s the optics. I think this [no bags policy] is more the optics half.”
When asked whether the no bags policy and other restrictive measures might be overkill, Grilk said he expected a “diversity of opinion.” He also said the BAA would listen to specific questions and concerns raised about the new regulations and “be helpful as we can to people who are coming here to run.” And he noted that there was an optics component of the safety plan.
“Public safety authorities and the BAA want people to be safe,” said Grilk. “It’s also important for people to feel safe. They should see there’s a lot going on. There should be something visible for them.”
Running the Marathon for the fifth year for Dana-Farber, Cherie Hendrickson of Somerville wasn’t surprised by the restrictions. She planned to make the best of it.
“I’ll just be buying myself a fashionable fanny pack,” said Hendrickson of one of the few permitted carry-alls. “All the necessary things I think can fit in the fanny pack. I’m just excited to run and be part of something that’s going to be really important for the whole city. The safety changes won’t dampen my day at all.”