Country Music Marathon gets serious about security

Country Music Marathon gets serious about security

Published Apr. 25, 2013 12:50 p.m. ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The recent bombings at the Boston Marathon shook the nation to its core. With more than 27,000 participants and even more spectators and volunteers, the storied event, more than a century old, is an annual rite of passage for the arrival of spring.

On Saturday, more than 30,000 runners from all over the world will participate here in the 14th annual St. Jude Country Music Marathon & Half Marathon. Along every mile of the 26.2-mile route, there is something happening in this citywide festival.

Along the route, notable local hot spots will roll out the red carpet for runners and spectators, live bands will be stationed and playing all genres of music, themed water stations will nourish the runners, cheerleaders will push the runners on, volunteers will be scurrying about and spectators will be watching and participating in a variety of ways.

The four-day affair starts today with a health and fitness expo at Nashville Convention Center, features a country music concert Saturday night after the race, and concludes Sunday with some 6,500 youths participating in a physical fitness event at LP Field.

And everyone involved will be doing so against the backdrop of the Country Music Marathon, the largest U.S. race since the tragedy in Boston that killed three and injured more than 260 spectators. 
Certainly, the images of the carnage of April 15 are still fresh in everybody’s mind.

“Some of my first thoughts when I saw what happened in Boston were whether they would cancel the Country Music Marathon and other marathons around the country this spring,” said Adam Sparks, who lives in nearby Mt. Juliet. He has run six Country Music half marathons and will run his first marathon here Saturday.

“At the starting line … everyone is packed in there like sardines for blocks," Sparks said. "The opportunity for something to happen is going to be there every year.”

In as much, race officials and local law enforcement announced expanded security measures four days after the Boston Marathon and then held a news briefing Tuesday to discuss even more expanded security measures for all four days, especially the races on Saturday.

“In light of the horrific tragedy in Boston, there will be many additional security measures put in place at all of our events, beginning with the 2013 St. Jude Country Music Marathon,” said Josh Furlow, senior vice president of operations for Competitor Group Inc. (CGI), organizer of this weekend’s events as well as other similar races around the country.

“Safety is our first priority,” he added. “Working in cooperation with the local government agencies and law enforcement, some of the measures will be obvious to runners and several others will be unnoticeable behind the scenes.”

Some of the enhanced security measures include:

* Increased public and private security presence at both the start and finish lines. More than 150 private security officials have been added to the staffing plan. 

* Additional security will monitor Gear Check vehicles used for storage and transportation of gear bags at both the start and finish line venues. 

* Security will control entry and exit into 32 runner corrals at the start line.

* All participants, spectators and volunteers are subject to random bag checks at the Health & Fitness Expo and on race day and at all-race related events and locations.

* All media members and others with access to restricted areas will be required to produce a photo ID. All bags and equipment will be subjected to inspection.

“The Nashville Police Department continues to put together the final elements of a plan that underscores our absolute commitment to a safe and enjoyable marathon,” Metropolitan Nashville police chief Steve Anderson said. “A number of law enforcement resources will be utilized.”

Anderson said the Nashville police department and its federal partners are urging citizens to be cognizant of and report any suspicious behavior, including unattended packages and backpacks. 
With the increased security naturally comes more inconveniences for all involved, including runners, spectators, volunteers and race officials.

“We apologize in advance for any inconveniences participants and spectators may experience,” Furlow said, “and suggest that they arrive at the expo and start line earlier than in past years while everyone works to ensure the safest experience possible.”

For Nashville’s Heidi Huerta, who has run the Country Music Marathon and is running her fifth Nashville half marathon here Saturday, the extra inconveniences should not be a bother to anybody involved when considering what’s at risk.

“The precedent for something like that happening has been set in Boston,” she said. “But I trust in the ability of the race officials and law enforcement to secure the race. I think everybody is going to understand the inconveniences. If somebody is irritated by it, then they are losing sight of the bigger picture. I can’t imagine there will be one runner who will disagree with the heightened security.”

There are several initiatives among runners and running groups to honor the dead and injured spectators at the Boston Marathon, including one spearheaded by CGI and other organizations representing all facets of the running industry called “Run Now” — a coalition formed in response to the Boston Marathon tragedy.

More than 100,000 wristbands stating “Run Now – Boston 04.15.2013” will be distributed here over the next four days. The website is the hub for information on participating, volunteering and sharing all activities of the racing community and solidarity among runners. Free race entries have been established for 4,500 Boston Marathon runners who did not finish the race, and there is a goal to raise $1 million for The One Fund Boston by National Running Day on June 5.

During the races on Saturday, there is the initiative “Run 2Gether, Run 4 Boston” where runners are asked to join hands with others crossing the finish line at the same time to show solidarity among runners in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy.

“Every time I think about holding other runners hands at the finish line Saturday, I get emotional,” Huerta said. “That really hits close to home to me and makes what happened in Boston even more of a real event because it seemed so surreal.”

Over the 14-year history of the Country Music Marathon, more than $23 million has been raised for a variety of charities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.