TAMPA — From one second to the next, the world changed when the bomb exploded in April near the finish line at the Boston Marathon.
Three people were killed. More than 260 injured. Millions shocked. Horrified.
The emotional upheaval rippled outward, and runners everywhere, as runners are adept at doing, took deep breaths and stepped up in greater numbers to starting lines from one end of the world to the other.
“Those guys messed with the wrong crowd,” said Boston marathon race director Dave McGillivray, who has had a record number of applications for this year's race in Boston. “Runners just won't be denied their running freedom.”
For proof in the Tampa Bay area, look no further than this weekend's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic race weekend, where a record number of participants — more than 30,000 — will compete in four races: The 15k and 5k Saturday, and the half marathon and 8k Sunday.
But with this change comes heightened security, which local law enforcement is taking seriously.
New to this year's event will be a bomb sweep of all trucks (vendors, etc.) entering race areas, with explosive-sniffing dogs meandering through the route. Several “teams” of officers will be placed around race routes, featuring a tactical officer, and a bomb and intelligence expert. Mobile video cameras, first used for the Republican National Convention in 2012, will also be placed throughout the route, and an officer will sit in a “skybox” to observe the event.
Officers are encouraging spectators to be proactive in reporting anything suspicious.
“If you see something, say something,” Tampa Police Department major Mike Baumaister said. “That's a message we want everyone to know.”
Baumaister suggested participants and spectators download the Tampa Police Department's mobile app on their smart phones and call 911 if necessary. Baumaister also encouraged everyone to pack lightly and to not leave backpacks unattended because they might be confiscated by officers.
“We don't expect any problems at all,” Baumaister said. “It's a great (weekend) in our beautiful city, and we are prepared to make sure everything runs smoothly. Our goal is to help make sure everyone has a good time.”
For McGillivray, the Boston bombing has strengthened his determination to spread his message that running will improve your life.
“I encourage everyone who goes to the race to be in the moment,” McGillivray said. “All the runners who are participating have earned the right to be there. Be aware of your surroundings, yes, but let the law enforcement experts do their job, they know what they're doing. More than anything, enjoy yourself.”