The Boston Marathon bombers had used backpacks on April 15 to smuggle in the two pressure cooker bombs they set off near the finish line, killing three people and injuring an estimated 264.
To prevent similar attacks in Milwaukee, the Lakefront Marathon’s organizers beefed up police presence at the race, limited finish line access to racers only and required permission from a race official for runners to re-enter the area.
Volunteers checked spectators’ backpacks for the first time. Runners weren’t allowed to keep personal items along the race route and couldn’t bring their own backpacks — instead, they had to stow their belongings in numbered gear bags they picked up with their race packets.
“These are dropped off with trucks at the start area, driven to the finish area and picked up afterwards by runners,” race spokesman Matt Braun said, adding that no one complained when organizers explained why the rules were changed.
Race organizers had six months to learn from precautions taken at other marathons around the country, and the Green Bay Marathon and the Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole Run were leading examples, Lakefront Marathon race director Jon Mueller said.
“There’s a little extra police. We never know if there’s a copycat out there,” Mueller said. “We asked the residential areas to be our eyes and ears.”
Braun said marathons in New York and Washington have banned the CamelBak-style water backpacks that runners strap on and drink from during the race and asked runners to use clear bags instead of backpacks.
The Lakefront Marathon organizers didn’t think that was necessary, Mueller said. However, they partnered with the Milwaukee Police Department’s endurance athletic club, which sent eight to 10 officers to make sure spectators stayed out of the runners’ area.
Runners said even at smaller marathons like the one in Milwaukee, the Boston Marathon bombing always will be at the back of their minds.
“I noticed it was a little different, but I think they do a very good job. I never felt unsafe,” said Ryan Meissen of Mukwonago, who won Sunday’s Lakefront Marathon, just as he did in 2009.
“This is definitely more security than it has been, more police out there,” Meissen said, but “I think they struck a real good balance.”
Runner Amanda Daws of Milwaukee agreed, saying the changes didn’t feel like a hassle because organizers were good at informing runners ahead of time.
“Having your bag the night before really helped,” she said. “We received emails every week or every other week reminding you about the rules.”
Even so, the need to take security precautions casts a shadow over a sport that prides itself on its sense of community.
“The sport is based around camaraderie, so the whole thing kind of shakes that notion,” Daws said.
But local runners still like the “small town” feel of the Milwaukee marathon, where check-in is less of a logistical hassle, where they see friends during the race and where spectators celebrate runners who finish, even if they’re not in first place.
Meissen said his co-workers at U.S. Bank may give him some extra attention at work Monday because of his win. He said the thought of them giving him a hard time if he didn’t win helped him push through in the end.
“I was hurting pretty bad, but I knew I wasn’t going to hear the end of it, so I had to keep going,” he laughed. “Some of the people I work with think every race I’m in, I have to win. They laugh if I come in second.”
He planned to celebrate his win in true Wisconsin fashion — by watching the Packers, eating pizza and drinking beer.
“You gotta have a little fun,” he said. “Otherwise, why would you be here?”
Rachel C. , PhD
Research Scientist Consultant @ U-VIB
PhD, Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling
NREMT-P (National Registry of Paramedics)
– 911 Medic for over 15 years
– Scientist for over 7 years
– Runner for LIFE
source: Journal Sentinel By Gitte Laasby