21 April 2014

The Marathon Tradition Endures

I live about three blocks from the route of the Boston Marathon as the race winds through Boston’s suburbs toward the Back Bay. For many years every Marathon Day looked much like the photo above, with families lining both sides of Commonwealth Avenue to watch, cheer, and pass out cups of water or other replenishment.

Naturally, the kids clapping and holding out water would edge into the road, and every half hour or so a motorcycle cop would roll slowly along the gutter, herding everyone back. Early in the race people would wait for a break in the runners and then dash across to visit friends on the other side, sometimes getting stranded until the field thinned out again. Some parties brought multiple lawn chairs, campers, and spreads of food, either to eat or to sell to other spectators.

But that was before last year’s bombs.

Three days ago, we found that the whole of the race route through town had been marked off with orange plastic delineators, or “candlesticks” as a cousin told me the professionals call them. On the side of the street away from driveways, a cord had already been threaded through those plastic stakes. Clearly the public-safety officials were planning to keep everyone off the road.

Meanwhile, race organizers issued several strict warnings about this year’s event. No unauthorized runners. No running in costume. No march along the route by service people. No backpacks, coolers, or thick blanket rolls. All understandable regulations, but I feared the Marathon I enjoyed would disappear.

I’m pleased to say that even with cords strung on both sides of the road and signs warning that all coolers, backpacks, and other bags were subject to search, the atmosphere is much the same. Kids were still edging out into the road, just not as far. People still dashed from one side to the other, just not as often. There were plenty of lawn chairs, coolers, and unrolled blankets, as well as plenty of security officers. And at least one runner in a tutu.

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