In spite of all the heightened security at Chicago in the wake of the Boston Marathon, over 40,000 runners turned out for a gorgeous weather day, fast leader times, all without incident. The race is already covered in hundreds of media outlets, including this one in the “Chicago Tribune: Jeptoo leaves no doubt this time,” which speaks to the increased security in particular. However, I just feel compelled to mention the view from a spectator — and seasoned marathoner, plus a Boston participant — make that two of us.
First, there were the two days spent at the Marathon Expo, where I spotted the adjacent signage upon entering the vast hall of exhibitors. It was the first sign of measures taken, and a comforting one at that. The buzz amongst the crowd was in agreement that heightened security measures were necessary, however no one felt suffocated by them. In fact, for the most part, one wouldn’t even notice the difference, things were smooth and subtle.
My good friends with Marathon & Beyond magazine, who so kindly arranged my book signings, had sung the praises of this outstanding marathon Expo and they did not disappoint. I was thrilled to be present, meeting new runners and reuniting with quite a few friends as well.
Once out on the course on marathon day, my friend and I studied our maps on the subway, as we traversed the city. We went to our usual favorite spot in the first 5K of the race, on Michigan Avenue to view the runners from a bridge where they would run beneath us — but no! Not allowed. No standing on bridges. So we found a comparable spot where we would be up above on some steps, but the runners would be running by, not underneath.
As we made our way around the city, I noticed nearly every intersection had an FBI vehicle standing by. Later, all around the park area where the race would finish, several intersections were blockaded with snow plow trucks. The presence of police was evident on motorcycles, squad cars, bicycles and even horseback. It was clear the city was on alert, but only noticeable if you were looking for them . . . . and repeating, no one ever felt suffocated.
The one difference I have not heard or read anyone else mention, but seemed, as my friend put it, just plain “eerie” was the finish line area. We could watch with the crowds of onlookers, and hear the announcer calling out the finishers as they streamed by, but only from a spot 400+ meters before the finish line. At the 400m mark, there was a high and broad chain-link fence separating the spectators from the runners. The marathoners then crossed a bridge overlooking the railroad tracks, with Soldier Field in the backdrop, as they turned toward the finish line where it appeared (from my distant view) the bleachers were pretty empty for the most part. It must’ve been a quieter finish than most runners are used to, that’s all I can imagine.
As we wandered around the park finish area, we saw double-chain-link fencing surrounding tents for the runners to reunite with their charity organizations or families. One could only enter with proper credentials and underwent thorough searches. I was reminded of Olympic Villages. Is this a case of innocence lost? Yet, I also imagine everyone of the 40,000+ runners, their friends and families, and the countless race committee members and volunteers must’ve been so relieved and grateful the event went seamlessly smooth . . . . . and the alert level remained green for “low.”