National Guard soldiers guard a roadblock near the Boston Marathon, where twin bombings near the marathon finish line last year resulted in the deaths of three people.
National Guard soldiers guard a roadblock near the Boston Marathon, where twin bombings near the marathon finish line last year resulted in the deaths of three people. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Anyone who has competed in a road race knows that extra police and security are as much a part of the event as water stops and cheering spectators.

But the last time John Gilligan ran the Boston Marathon in 2012 — a year before two bombs exploded near the finish line and changed the racing landscape — he didn't take notice of law enforcement.


"I don't remember any security. You didn't think about it," said Gilligan, a 46-year-old Towson resident. "It didn't occur to anybody. You just hopped on the buses … You [could] bring all sorts of stuff. You were there two hours before it starts, and you have the bag full of gear to pick up at the end."

When Gilligan returns to run the marathon Monday, the experience won't be quite the same. More than 3,500 police officers will be stationed along the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston, and extra barriers will serve as checkpoints for the million-or-so spectators expected to line the course.

Those bags full of gear that some runners might like to carry with them to the starting line won't be allowed, and liquid containers kept by anyone on or along the course can't hold more than 1 liter.

The changes have caused some in the running community to fear a day that the big-city marathon becomes too inconvenient to organize, run or watch.

"I remember I got the email and sat there and tried to decipher the code of what you could and couldn't bring," said Nick Klastava, a 32-year-old Perry Hall resident who will run Boston for the first time Monday. "I kind of get why they do what they do. I understand … but … if it was a cold day or a rainy day, [it would be] hard not to have my gear with me."

While attention has been intensely focused on security policy changes at the Boston Marathon, similar measures have been taken at virtually every road race since last year's explosions on Boylston Street, including changes at the Baltimore Running Festival in October.

There were bag checks set up for the marathon, half-marathon, relay, 5K and kids fun run, check points intended to funnel crowds through certain areas and more than 100 cameras monitoring the finish line between Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.

Lee Corrigan, president of Corrigan Sports Enterprises and organizer of the Baltimore Running Festival, said changes necessitated after the Boston attack were initially worrisome.

"That was a real concern, certainly, when it occurred," said Corrigan, who also organizes the Frederick Half-Marathon, the Oakland Running Festival and several other races.

He worked with local and federal law enforcement to develop the right security measures last year, and instead of registration decreasing, Corrigan said numbers were up in 2013 and that registration for 2014 was already ahead of last year's pace.

But there's not a great deal of room for error.

"There's a fine line. ... 'Where's that line of security and taking away from the feeling of the event and pageantry of the event?'" he said. "We really need to make sure that all of a sudden guys aren't finishing alone in a parking lot with nobody around."

That can get expensive, said Ryan Lamppa, media director for industry research group Running USA.

"You can't totally secure any venue," Lamppa said. "But what you can do is you can deter certain beheaviors and have measures to ensure the sport is as safe as possible. There's also a cost involved in that. ... The registration fees for road races in particular have been going up for the last 10 to 15 years."


Changes started after 9/11, he said, and security has steadily tightened since, with the Boston bombing accelerating the trend.

Many say the Boston Marathon — a prestigious race that runners must qualify for — will persevere, even with stricter security. But Christine Brewer, a 29-year-old Canton resident excited to run her first Boston Marathon on Monday, said she can imagine a day when the casual runner becomes frustrated and gives up on big races.

"I think that initially any changes that are going to be made are going to take time for people to get used to," Brewer said. "And, ultimately, that does have an impact and an effect on the enjoyment of the event. … There are definitely people who would stop participating, both spectator- and runner-wise.

"But ... when you compete in these kind of things, you become part of this running community. And the people who do that, that becomes part of their lifestyle."

Lamppa said there were 26,000 running events in the United States in 2012, and he expected that number to be closer to 27,000 when 2013 was counted. If a decline in participation is coming, it isn't here yet.

"It's there, kind of on the periphery right now," Lamppa said. "We're not seeing it impact our sport as far as participation. We had a record number of people doing road races last year. … There's something about the human spirit and saying we're not going to let a heinous act like this stop us from enjoying the sport we love."

Klastava, who qualified for Boston on the last possible weekend last year, said he'll be vigilant Monday, but he never considered missing the race.

"A lot of people came up to me and said, 'Don't you fear for your safety?' " he said. "Anywhere I go, if I go to a baseball game, something could happen. If you live your life that way, it's hard to get along."

When Gilligan returns to run his second Boston Marathon, he said he won't be bothered by new security restrictions on his quest to finish the course in less than 3 hours, 20 minutes, a pace that will allow him to absorb the emotion of the day.

He hopes others will do the same.

"They should be so thankful that they're even doing the race," he said. "The inconveniences are minor, as far as I'm concerned."


Recommended on Baltimore Sun