Whether we like it or not, Marathon Monday has changed forever. It changed the moment the bombs exploded in Copley Square. It changed the instant little Martin Richard was pronounced dead. It changed when we received notice that our school and our city were on lockdown. We felt it when we were escorted from our dorms to the dining halls by police officers. We knew it as we kept our eyes and ears glued to the TV to find out any shred of information about the attack. Despite our cheers and celebrations when Boston’s Bravest tracked down the bombers, we understood that this joyous day would henceforth be stained with tragedy.
Unsurprisingly, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) and Boston Police Department (BPD) plan to enforce tighter security restrictions to ensure that an incident of this nature does not occur again. As a result, runners are no longer permitted to leave backpacks at the finish line. Spectators who choose to carry bags are subject to random searches from the police. Athletes are prohibited from wearing bulky clothing and cannot wear costumes of any kind. These new rules, while slightly annoying, are necessary to maintain a safe environment for runners and spectators alike. The BAA announced a new rule that I cannot comprehend, however. On Feb. 26, BAA Spokesperson Marc Davis announced that bandit runners are prohibited from participating in the 118th Boston Marathon. He stated, “It is just not the year to run if you’re not registered. We’re asking unregistered runners to just stand on the sidelines and cheer.” With upwards of 3,500 police officers on duty and the number of runners cut nearly in half, this year’s Marathon will be very different indeed, especially for Boston College students.
The presence of bandit runners has been a unique attribute of the Boston Marathon for the past century. It generates camaraderie, inspiration, and charity among the Boston community. Most importantly, it gives amateur runners like you and me the chance to compete in the Marathon without prior experience. Otherwise, runners have to endure the stringent qualification process to be granted an official number. For starters, athletes must prove that they have completed a marathon within a certain time limit just to qualify to register. Men between the ages of 18 and 34 must have proof of a qualifying time of under three hours and five minutes, while women must qualify in three hours and 35 minutes. Likewise, the registration process is comparable to BC course registration, with thousands of hopeful participants racing to enter their information quickly enough to secure a spot on the course. This year, runners were so eager to participate that race registration closed within just three hours of opening. In addition, there is a significant registration fee. Consequently, very few BC students qualify for an official spot, so most choose to compete as bandits. Usually, bandit runners start after the official start times, and BC students can expect to see their friends climb Heartbreak Hill around 3 p.m. on race day. Most students sport a gold and maroon t-shirt designed by the Campus School Volunteers of Boston College (CSVBC). They pool their collective fundraising efforts to donate to the on-campus charity, the Campus School.
Last year, a group of nearly 250 students raced and raised a total of $70,000 for the charity. This year, however, we won’t see the sea of maroon and gold t-shirts among the runners.
Athletes have mixed feelings about the BAA’s decision to bar bandits from the race-on the one hand, they are disappointed that they do not get to race with the sea of 30,000 runners. They will not hear the echo of voices cheering them on at all points along the course. For most runners, the constant encouragement from spectators is something that keeps them motivated throughout the 26.2-mile stretch. On the other hand, students are happy that they will get to enjoy the events as spectators. Knowing firsthand how important cheering can be, I predict that BC students will be more enthusiastic about the race than ever before.
Heroically, the Campus School team is not letting the decision deter them from running the race. In order to keep the 20-year tradition alive, the CSVBC organized its own race, which occurred yesterday. While students pledged to show their support and cheer for their friends as they raced along the contours, hills, and streets of Boston, their experience was certainly different.
This drastic change in the structure of the Marathon leaves me skeptical about the BAA’s decision. I understand that extra security measures need to be taken after the dreadful events of last year’s race. I find it unfair, however, that athletes who have been training all year for the Boston Marathon are forced to sit on the sidelines. They are excluded from the monumental race, which should be a beacon of strength and inspiration after the tragic bombings that killed three people. Worst of all, most runners were at the tail end of their training program when they found out that they would be prohibited from participating in the 118th Boston Marathon. Had the BAA announced the decision a few months ago, perhaps it would have been a bit better received. In my experience, the Boston Marathon has been an opportunity for whole city to come together in celebration. Excluding the dedicated athletes, who were hoping to experience the marathon in its entirety, is not the appropriate way to move past the tragedy of 2013. Rather, we should join in remembrance of the victims and their families, while preserving the traditions that have made Marathon Monday so great in the past.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.