20 May 2016

Change of Fortune

The punchline of this story for some reason demands to be said with a quaint (and obviously faked) British, perhaps slightly East-End, accent: I won a pottery! That sounds so much more appropriate and interesting than to say that I won a hand-made dish. Really, it’s a lovely pottery, useful, too. Face it; you can’t eat your breakfast out of a trophy. So I’m good with this, and that’s a good thing, because the effort of getting this bit of clay, awarded for winning my age group (and above, for that matter, but I dither) at the Sugarloaf Marathon, left some damage in its wake.

But if there’s a lesson of the day, it’s simply that it ain’t over till it’s over. This one was a milestone in that it was my twenty-fifth marathon, and also in that it was probably the one of the most dramatic wins I’ve ever notched in any race of any distance.

Let’s back up a bit. Though I hinted at this coming adventure in my last article, I hadn’t truly fessed up to it. And so I hear you say, “Wait, another marathon? Didn’t you just run Boston?” To which I say, yes, of course, a mere three weeks and six days earlier (or, if you want to go OCD and compare starting times, even less than that, but once again, I dither. I’ll stop. I promise).

So next I hear you say, “Why?” (Actually, I hear you say things that are far more impugning of my mental stability, but I promised not to dither anymore, so I won’t discuss those things.) And to this I say, because this one is quite well known to be a fast course, I’ve always been a bit curious just how fast, and I was egged into it by a certain colorful running personality from Maine who hinted that Boston training can be translated to a five-to-ten minute time gain when doubled down with the “Boston Sugarloaf Double”. Provided, of course, that you can stay healthy. And since you have to plan these things months in advance, when the time comes, that’s a crap shoot.

The plan was straightforward: two weeks of Boston recovery, pop in a moderately paced long run to refresh the legs to the idea of another marathon, then two weeks of bringing the mileage back down in something loosely resembling a taper. That taper would be interrupted by the Clinton race, well, because it’s Clinton and it must be done, but it would also be handy to remind the legs what quality, speed, and hard effort feels like. Just don’t break anything. And it almost worked.

At the midpoint of the Marathon Interregnum, the twenty-two miler came off as planned with low effort, not that my legs didn’t recall having done a marathon thirteen days prior, but it was eased that day by a slow finish owing to my companion’s fade. That fade served me well, protecting the legs from overload, and served him well as well, as he’d accompany me to Maine and, having gained both conditioning and experience from the outing, pop in his first marathon in a highly respectable time.

Clinton came a week later with no apparent ill effects. But a couple days later, with time short before our Maine departure, something went south in the left knee. It was nothing I could put my finger on; there was no “Oh Crap” moment, but somewhere things started hurting and power faded rapidly – and rather strangely – in the left leg. Of course I knew this when I wrote of Clinton, but discussing readiness for an adventure not yet disclosed didn’t fit that narrative, so I left that bit of kvetching off the paper and quietly nursed my wounds, hoping for a late-week miracle healing.

But right up to the day before, as we scoped the course and soaked in the Maine scenery on a sunny, gorgeous, but downright hot day (knowing race
day would be cold, wet, and unpleasant, probably the lesser of the two evils), no miracle arrived, and I had no idea how this bit of flesh would react when called upon to perform. Thus I arrived at the starting line in what they claim is Eustis, Maine but is really just a mark on the road next to a campground (after a bus ride through a raging downpour that screamed just plain Ugh! – can’t think of anything more poetic) not knowing if I would be racing a marathon or simply going for a jog. The first few miles would tell.

Hoping to avoid pre-drenching, we cowed in the buses till twenty minutes before lift-off. Mercifully the rain stopped, but with little time to tune clothing, loosen up, and assess the damaged goods, it was still anyone’s guess what would work or not. No time to worry, no warning was given to rouse us from our starting line chit chat, just a sudden shotgun blast. Yeah, guess we’d better go.

And the knee? It hurt a bit, but not bad. It worked, but not well. We sliced through the first four on target pace for a good day, but I could just tell that it wasn’t right. I could feel I was compensating for the lack of power. I sensed I was running the engines way too high for the splits that were clicking in.

Worse, somewhere in the first mile or two, a small, wiry, and decidedly male-pattern-bald guy went scooting past, showing little expenditure of effort. His hairline said, “Fifties!” though his overall package was a little more vague. With my alert system already alarming over the fuel burn situation, I had to concede – barely ten minutes in – that if this guy was over fifty, my shot at taking the age group crown was probably torpedoed before the ship had been launched.

So bad had already gone to worse, but tragedy was just around the bend. We cruised the village of Stratton, where at least I began to see the surprising amount of course support on what I expected to be a lonely run. Still on pace but wearying early, we commenced into the hills. Sugarloaf is pretty much the opposite of Boston. Whereas Boston front-loads with downhills and hits you with the climbs late, Sugarloaf knocks off the climbing early, then gives you the ride of your life, with big downs (sometimes too big) for miles before flattening out, though still trending gently down, save for a few late insulting bumps in the twenties, all the way into the village of Kingfield.

From our recon the day before, I knew the work started around mile six, hit a big climb in mile nine, and topped out around ten. Six came, then seven and eight, and the ascents were mild, but the rain went into overdrive, and by the time I was expecting to see the big one I knew was ahead, stuff was numb. That already powerless leg was feeling almost anesthetized – I reached down to feel my laboring thigh and felt…nothing. The body said Uncle! and this was at what, mile eight?

And then… around a bend, there, there it was, the big one, right around eight-point-five. On a good day, a mere hump to work through. But on this day?

That was pretty much it. Game over. Not even an hour into the race, I was done, toast (well, cold toast), killed, defeated, mentally as well as physically. Never before could I recall a marathon where the curtain dropped so early. What I’d previously defined as a bad day – say, struggling by sixteen or so – had just been blown out of the cold rain. A new standard had been set. I was to be a tourist for nearly eighteen more miles. Mile nine clocked in a minute off pace. A slowdown I’d expected, but decimation? That added minute felt like four, and there was more climbing ahead.

But fate, she is fickle, and not always in a mean way. My day was not over. Not by a long shot.

A hundred miles to our south, friends and neighbors labored through the Maine Coast Marathon under sunny skies but battling obscene winds. We were cold and drenched, but at least enjoyed calm air. I’d feel wind only once all day, and it came precisely at the right moment.

In my head, I expected one more big climb before topping out around mile ten. With each broad bend in the highway I anticipated the groan I’d exude when it came into view. But contrary to my recollection of the profile, the climbs were mild, and to my somewhat confused surprise, I spied the highway downhill warning sign ahead announcing the summit.

I can’t make this up, really. At that moment there came not so much a divine wind, but at least an inspired puff. It lasted no more than half a minute, but that brief tailwind combined with my realization that I’d topped out, there was no more major climbing, I was still alive, and, as a bonus, at the ten mile mark, I was still twenty seconds ahead of three hour pace. Having missed that golden mark at Boston by fewer seconds than that, just the idea that it might still be out there.... well, kids, maybe, just maybe, we can bank enough on the downhill roller coaster ahead, and…

It was off to the races. Linking up with a couple other racers, we dropped the pace and cranked up the intensity. The halfway mark passed with a minute in the bank. Then, through the big drop from fourteen through seventeen, it was a good thing there was a small airport next to the course because flight was a good description. I knew the free ride would end well before the end of the road, but now, not an hour since falling into the toaster, I’d done a mental one-eighty. It ain’t over till it’s over. But that ain’t the half of it. Hang on for the rest of the ride.

By nineteen, we’d burned out most of the big drops, and I’d also burned out my companions. Plenty of miles to go, still some downgrade but mostly flat, and nobody matching pace to help hold the intensity. This is where it helps to be running number twenty-five. This is where you know it’s going to be ridiculously uncomfortable, miserable, unbearable, but you know what you need to do if you want redemption from missing your last one by eighteen seconds. This is the meat grinder.

Seven miles is a long way to go when you were declared dead over an hour ago. Seven miles is a long way to go when you know that your knee, indeed, your entire left leg, wasn’t working right at the starting line. Seven miles gives you time to think about how at this point, you, or for that matter, most people save the front-runners, no longer care about position in the race and just care about holding it together for forty more minutes, thirty, twenty, up those last mini-insulting rises at twenty-two and twenty-five, into Kingfield… At this point, position is irrelevant, right?

Sugarloaf is a course on which you cannot get lost. You travel twenty-six-point-one miles on highway twenty-seven (there’s some irony there), and then make exactly one turn onto a side street, through an extended chute, and over the finish line which on a good day would be in a pleasant fairgrounds-style field though on our day was effectively a mud-pit. One turn.

I made that turn. And there he was. Male pattern baldness.

You’d think I would have seen him before the turn. You’d think I would have noticed I was closing on him. You’d think it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But I didn’t see him. It was a surprise. Entirely.

But there he was. And while I was hammering it home, he was doing the Death Shuffle. It’s easy to spot. I’ve been there. When you’re there, there’s really no escape.

I blew by him so fast that I put twenty seconds on him by the finish, which was only about four hundred feet away.

I then spent a half-hour sitting in what passed for a med tent, not only over-chilled but far more woozy than usual, trying to come back to reality. I’d slipped in two minutes under three hours, but the effort felt like I’d just challenged the Kenyans on Boylston Street. So it wasn’t till a good forty minutes later that I wandered over to the results postings to learn that he was, in fact, fifty one. He was, in fact, second in our age group. I was, in fact, first. Damn.

Now, days later, the quads are recovered but the knee is a bit of a mess. I am wondering if there is, in fact, much cartilage left in there. Time will tell.

But my, my, what a fine pottery. It ain’t over till it’s over.

Congratulations Dept: To training and travelling companion Thor and to club-mate Judy, both of whom notched their first marathons! I warned them not to make any judgments about their second for at least a week!

11 May 2016

Hilly Clinton

No, it’s not a political statement, it’s just an annual tradition that this year turned out rather politically pun-worthy (don’t we drop Rs in New England?). If it’s May, it’s time for the Hill From Hell, or really, the collection of hills ranging from purgatory to hell that comprise the Clinton Tribute.

I return to this race because it’s on our local club racing circuit, which isn’t really a good excuse because I tend to miss most of the races on that circuit anyway. I return to this race because the local paper that organizes it actually has a habit of reporting on the racing aspect of the event – a rarity when media outlets usually only speak of the charity seeking funds. I return to this race because it’s a fun townie event, even if it’s for a town that isn’t my own. But mostly I return to this race because it’s one of the toughest five milers in the Commonwealth, and let’s face it, I love pain.

Four hills in five miles, with only the first ranking below the level of ugly, and that one begins at the starting line to really get your circuits humming. It also has the convenient effect of tuckering out the townie tots by the top. I love the fact that the kids turn out in force for this – it’s good for the future. I’m annually amused by the irrationally exuberant few who always insist on having their moment in the sun, or in the case of this year, the gloom, by leading the pack for the first two blocks of elevation gain. Then they die. Then the real fun begins. This year was no exception.

Clinton comes around three weeks after Boston, just when the legs are just starting to feel human again, so why not insult them with a little vertical racing? This year brought an added twist: it came in the middle of what technically should be yet another taper, because yes, I’m embarking on a lark of spring foolishness by running a second marathon within four weeks, the “Boston-Sugarloaf Double” as I’ve heard it referenced. Three weeks and six days post Beantown (as it was on a Monday), or in other words, a mere week after Clinton, I’ll be slicing through the wilds of Maine, doing it again. Why, you ask? Good question, but we’ll leave that pontificating until a future episode. Suffice to say that while I intended to race Clinton, I didn’t intend to blow out anything along the way – neither times nor bodily parts. Preservation was a specified goal.

I recently had the fun of mentioning to a local reporter that the fun of being old is that you can enjoy it when you beat the young guys, yet have a good excuse when you don’t. That being said, my only real goal in this one was to beat the really old guys and go home with another of the absurdly oversized trophies this race bestows, because I have such an excess of flat spaces needing to be filled in my basement office. That outcome would come to pass, though not for lack of really old guys vying for small town glory. In fact, though the overall field was somewhat thinner than usual, there was a plethora of us relics. In a statistical oddity that happens only in small town races, five really old guys – seniors in their fifties like me – would cross the line before the first of the moderately old guys – masters in their forties – made it home. This day, the really old farts ruled.

That thin field also boosted the surprise of the day, my best placing in four outings at this venue. Lining up on the inexplicably narrow starting line timing mat (only ten feet wide, while the field was lined up across the entire wide street), no obvious players were in sight save my friend John. He noticed it, too. But never knowing who might be the wolf in sheep’s clothing, or for that matter who might be in earshot, we kept our whispers low as I suggested that this one could be his; my presumption being that though it’s happened on rare occasions, I had no expectation of landing in front of him that day. He agreed, he went for it, he was never challenged, and he won it. Well done. I’d roll in behind him in second place, but forty-two seconds back, an eternity. It wasn’t close. And though John was lonely throughout, getting to my spot involved a little more work.

Once the youth had gone hari-kari by the top of the starting grade, I slipped to the inside of an early competitor on the first turn, edged into third, and the game was on. John had already opened a sizeable lead, and though I knew he sometimes had a tendency to fade late, he gave no hints that that was the cards on this day. The guy in second also looked strong and was opening it up so quickly that once we’d plunged down the first drop to the mile mark, the gap probably exceeded sixty yards. Rationalization set in quickly: another marathon in a week, don’t break anything, third still smells pretty good.

Change set in just as quickly. Barely a quarter mile later, when the course turned vertical again, Number Two’s strength showed its softer side. By the top of that second hill, as we made the turn onto the only significant flat stretch of the course, I’d rapidly shrunk the gap to mere feet. Bag rationalization, go for strategy. It was clear this guy beat me up on the down, but I guessed I could wear him down on the up. And ups we had a’plenty. The Hill From Hell loomed.

I crept past on the flat, turning Number Two into Number Three, peppering our brief meeting with a little chit-chat, establishing he was local and well aware of our looming trip to Hell. So while I had perhaps ten yards on him entering Hades, I had no element of surprise. Holding second would require hammering hell hard. Up we go, kids. And may I say, it didn’t escape me that the sponsorship sign on the three mile marker, halfway up the Hill From Hell, was courtesy of a funeral home. Nice touch, Clinton, nice touch.

Somewhere from the depth of my memory that’s incapable of recalling what I did on Tuesday, I recognized a tree that I knew to mark the top, and gave it a burst over the summit, not having any idea how successful I’d been at opening the gap. I needed it to be large enough to hold on through my weak zone – the obscene screaming descent ahead. That drop starts in earnest before the course takes a one-eighty, a tough enough maneuver on the flats, but far worse when trying to wring everything out of the downgrade. Still, in exchange for that highly inefficient swinging turn, it offers the benefit of seeing how far behind your rivals may be.

Did I mention that change sets in quickly? My plan, concocted only minutes earlier, was to open it up on Number Three enough to hold him off through the plunge, knowing that if things got tight, the fourth and final hill should give me a last chance to cement my spot. But my post-hairpin glance back up the hill revealed a surprise: Number Three was now Number Four; the new Three was none other than a club-mate and occasional training partner from virtually next door (OK, down the street) whom I knew was a killer on the hills.

Crap. Now that fourth hill insurance policy meant nothing. My plan was kaput.

Forgetting about the ‘don’t break anything’ directive, it was all-out on the dive, all-out on the last climb, and the full Death Warmed Over look crossing the finish, turning the last mile – which to be fair included the second half of the Killer Plunge but also that final insulting dead-legged climb – into by far the fastest of the day. A little number crunching would reveal that the drop in my last mile split, compared to my average for the first four, would exactly equal the seventeen seconds that separated me from my club-mate. Go figure.

OK, so maybe John won it easily, but I’d say my race was a bit more interesting. Perhaps even more fun.

Then again, it was worth asking, this was a taper?

Amazing Department: A new award was created this year. The Ed Powers Award will be given each year to the oldest finisher. It was named after its first recipient, Ed Powers, who at age NINETY completed Hilly Clinton in sixty six minutes at thirteen minute pace, before hopping almost spryly to the stage to collect his honor. And consider, nine people finished behind him.

08 May 2016

Boston Insecurity

[ Ed note: This has been bouncing around my desk, mostly finished, for two weeks. I hadn’t published it because, frankly, it’s too long, and I wanted to cut it down. Today I say, “So what?” It’s got to be said, so invest an additional three minutes and ponder… ]

The third post-bombing Boston Marathon has come and gone, thankfully incident-free. This could be due to the sheer unlikelihood of another attack; after all, even after that horrific day we were only one-for one hundred and seventeen, and hopefully those odds or better will carry on long into the future unscathed. Or it could be due to enhanced security enacted since that day acting as a deterrent, or, in fact, having broken pending plots which were not (perhaps rightfully) made known to the public. I’m not in a position to say.

I am in a position to say that while many facets of that enhanced security enacted after 2013 made sense and continue to do so, others never did and still don’t. Further, gaps still remain. Long-time readers of this column know that I’ve been vocal in my reactions to Boston’s security enhancements, and while it might sound a bit repetitious, I’m revisiting the topic. I’m of the view that acceptance is the wrong path; continued attention should be drawn to areas that need improvement. Humor me while I relate previous statements to this year’s reality on the ground.

Let’s put the positives on the table. Some changes made sense. Increased security presence, both uniformed and plain-clothed, among the crowds at busy places is the obvious right thing to do. Nothing tops human intelligence or the knack of a trained, vigilant person to detect something awry. Increased video surveillance is an obvious plus. And asking those in the crowd not to bring items that might raise suspicion is fair game. Overflights with detection equipment that enhance the ability to find things that shouldn’t be happening are a good use of technology to increase safety. This year an aerial radiation scan was done before the race to establish a baseline against which any unusual emissions could later be measured. Smart. Human eyes in the sky and more perched on buildings, some even armed, provide real security and the ability to respond in a crisis.

So far none of these actions touched the runners. But some must, and that’s perfectly acceptable. The chief sensible change is a reasonable check of runners entering the Athlete’s Village (or for practical reasons, as they board the buses to the Village). We like to think of runners as good folk, but we shouldn’t assume that out of thirty thousand people there won’t be a few imbalanced ones, and there’s no reason not to take action to assure that one of them doesn’t see a field of people at the village as a rich field of sitting ducks. Scanning runners on the way in won’t entirely eliminate the ability of someone to sneak in via an alternate path, but it’s a reasonable thing to do.

Further, it’s not off-base to limit the runners from brining certain things to the Athlete’s Village and the race. Big costumes that can easily conceal nasty things? OK, I’m with that, they’re not needed in a race. Weight vests? Absolutely. Let’s face it, they resemble things that go boom in certain parts of the world, and again are not needed in a race. If you want to challenge yourself by piling on an extra fifty pounds, do it in your training run – there is no “Weight Enhanced” award category at Boston or any other race I’m aware of.

But we now cross the line from the positives to the areas that still need improvement. I’ll focus on four: two that I’ve harped on before, and two that have become apparent in recent years.

First, the harping: While it’s not off-base to limit runners from bringing things that aren’t needed for the race, it certainly is off-based to limit runners from bringing things that are needed. The current rule is that you can bring only what you can wear. On a warm sunny day, this works. On an ugly wet day, it’s entirely unclear if you can even bring a pair of dry shoes in a plastic bag (I tried to get clarity on this from the BAA in 2014 without success). And if the weather is uncertain when you depart your home or hotel, you’ll have to guess on the proper race attire and hope you’re right, because you can no longer check a bag at the Athlete’s Village with items you don’t need for the race, or, for that matter, items you do need at the finish. I don’t mind tossing “rental clothing” in the donation bin before the race (this year’s shopping for that stuff was rather fun), but I’m not willing to toss away good racing jerseys and clothing should the weather change. Limiting runners from selecting what they need at race time has the potential to impact their race performance. And on a seriously hypothermic day like we had last year, not being able to send dry clothing to the finish exposes runners to entirely unnecessary discomfort and potentially serious risk.

I’m fortunate to have a club willing to carry a bag of dry clothing into the city for me, and many have friends or families able to perform this task. But many do not, and the BAA has eliminated this nearly universal marathon courtesy. They do provide a bag check – but only if you can get to the Boston Common early in the morning. This is entirely impractical for anyone living or staying near the starting line or further west. And even for those who can take advantage of this limited service, while it can provide dry togs at the far end, it doesn’t solve the game-time gear decision problem.

How, I ask, does the elimination of the bag check in Hopkinton enhance security? Since they still run a baggage check, the risk of nefarious cargo still exists, and there are still queues of people arriving to check bags and pass the pre-bus security scan. As we were reminded after the attacks at the Brussels airport, which occurred outside of the secure area, mayhem can be perpetrated outside the security perimeter just as effectively as inside. You cannot eliminate the perimeter.

Perhaps the thinking is that this reduces the amount of material coming into the Village? But can’t a reasonable balance be struck? It’s enlightening to look elsewhere for comparison. The New York City Marathon tried eliminating the Athlete’s Village baggage check entirely in 2012. As this was before the Boston bombings, their intent appeared to be logistical convenience rather than security. But in the face of massive protest, they reversed their decision. Today, they offer the choice of either bag check service or, if you opt not to use it, an enhanced poncho at the finish to try to stave off hypothermia (noting that Boston’s enhanced heat sheet paled compared to New York’s version, and failed utterly in last year’s post-race nastiness). But here’s the kick: In New York, even if you opt not to check a bag, you’re still allowed to bring the clear checked baggage bag they provide to the village with your dry shoes or other gear. It’s not a big bag. You are limited in volume. But you can bring what you need.

Boston’s only softening this year was to allow a gallon-sized clear plastic bag for food items. It was a nice gesture, as I’ve known people who have had Dunkin’ Donuts muffins taken because they were in (gasp!) Dunkin’ bags. Until this change, no bags were allowed, save fanny packs (that weird oddity for all the competitive Boston athletes who race with fanny packs?). Even this softening, however, was applied with no leniency for reason.

This year, I left home with the clothes on my back and little else. Besides hand carrying my fuel belt (allowed, though nobody looked inside the pockets for contraband), I stuffed my pockets with a pre-race gel, a baggie of sunscreen, that ever-critical wide-mouthed bottle, and my starting line final layer of warmth and privacy, my rolled up black garbage bag. So equipped, I would have experienced nothing more than a two-second waving of a metal detector wand across my body. But at the last moment I decided it was likely that the garbage bag and the bottle might pop out of my pockets on the bus, so I grabbed a plastic grocery bag and popped those four items inside.

You can guess where this goes. I was stopped at security. The bag (which to be fair wasn’t clear, but off-white) was not allowed. Never mind that there were only four small items in it, items which I removed in front of the security staff and jammed back in my pockets without any staff examination. Never mind that one of the items was itself a bag! They took my grocery bag and sent me on.

This is silly. Search my stuff, I’m fine with that, but search it well; make it credible, not meaningless. But also be reasonable. Follow New York’s lead. Allow me to bring the bag check bag you gave me at the expo. Better yet, let me to check it. In short, stop getting in the way of my race.

Yet despite all of these things that the BAA does, what has become apparent in the last two years are the things they do not do. And that is making reasonable attempts to halt fraudulent runners, who enter the race using counterfeit bibs or fraudulent qualifying times.

After 2013, the time-honored tradition of running as a bandit was banned. The validity of that decision is a different discussion, but it suffices to say it upped the ante for people trying to run Boston without a valid qualifying time (or charity or club entry). The result has been an upsurge of counterfeit bibs and falsified qualifying times. One could say that this too is an entirely different discussion, but when security is paramount, it becomes important to know who you’re shuffling into the corrals. While, as noted, it’s entirely possible that one of thirty-thousand officially registered runners could be an unbalanced danger, it’s far more likely that someone trying to impart havoc will seek to gain entry without enduring the training and pain of actually qualifying for the race.

Thus, while the second item on the list – those running with falsified qualifying times – is the more vexing problem, it’s also the lesser of concerns when the question is security. Someone who has registered based on a fraudulent qualifying time is a cheater worthy of disqualification, derision, prosecution, and perhaps flogging. But when they pick up their bibs, they must show photo ID to prove (within the limits of what a race can police) they are who they say they are.

Catching their cheating becomes a post-event forensic exercise. The running community has responded with creative solutions. As an example, enterprising individuals have devised ways to filter results which are vastly different from qualifying times. Such discrepancies don’t always mean fraud; after all, everyone has bad days, but they do winnow out suspicious results. Social media has been abuzz with cases where such techniques have led to investigations of qualifying races, where examination of photos and timing mat data have found hired guns running qualifiers as well as course-cutting and other forms of outright cheating. These retroactive solutions don’t stop cheaters from running the race before they’re caught. But it would serve the BAA well to partner with these resources to turn the unregulated and error-prone court of the Internet into hard cases and publicly take action. The BAA needs to make some noise, prosecute a few for fraud, and make it known that they won’t stand for it.

That other item on the list, fake bibs, while equally rage-inspiring to truly qualified runners, is the far bigger issue so far as security is concerned, because it means that people who are entirely unknown to race officials are in the Village and on the course (and of course, stealing services and medals). Paradoxically, this is by far the easier one to solve.

There’s a chip on the back of a real bib. Use it.

The BAA goes to lengths to tell people not to post pictures of their bibs on social media in order to avoid having them copied. The BAA threatens people who have their bibs copied assuming that they must have been complicit – a fair act when directed at those who knowingly copy and sell bibs, but what also amounts to going after the victim of identity fraud rather than the perpetrator. Yet again this year, people found themselves numerically replicated when they pulled up their pictures on OverpricedRaceFoto.com. Wailing and lamentation was heard throughout the land! How could this have happened?

Let’s face it. A Boston bib – or most any race bib – is easy to fake. We’re not talking about finely detailed scrollwork and inscriptions like those on our currency. We’re talking about a bunch of big numbers and an Adidas logo on a colored background. Once you see one, you can create one that’s good enough to pass quick visual muster, on just about any computer, and you can put any number you want on it (which blows out the ‘prosecute the victim’ logic) in a few minutes. Print it on a color printer, on Tyvek if you want to be fancy, pin it on, and you’re off to the race.

Except that you have no chip.

I’m not going to say that the chip can’t be faked. In a world where just about anything else can be faked, so can a chip. But this would be a lot tougher, and it would easily thwart the typical counterfeiter. It helps to realize that each chip can be encoded not just with the bib number, but with a unique ID that would only tie to the actual bib number inside of the BAA’s database.

The rest is simple. While security is busy confiscating your four-items-or-less grocery bag, they can also be looking at the computer screen attached to the chip scanner stationed at the entry point. How easy is this? Easy enough so that at the New Bedford Half Marathon, chip scanners and monitors were set up both at the end of the finish chute and in the gym so that just by being in range, my name and results popped up instantly. How hard would it be for Boston security to set this up and assure that the number printed on your bib is real, because the chip reports your bib, name, and hey, if you want to get really over-the-top sophisticated, even a photo? But at remote locations? Hey, I can get a credit-card striper that works on my cell phone. Trust me, this is easy.

By taking this simple step, you’ll knock off the bulk of the fake bibs before those people board the buses to the Village. As a nice touch, have a few beefy guys handy to hustle the cheaters off for fraud prosecution. And while I won’t advocate a police state, heck, put a second station between the finish line and the medals and goodies chute to weed out those who jump in. Maybe they got to run, but you don’t have to give ‘em a medal.

None of these suggestions are perfect and they’ll never catch everyone, but if the BAA is serious about security, they’re easy and common sense answers that will enhance, not degrade, the runners’ experience. Do the smart stuff. And then get out of the way to let us run our peak race, properly equipped both for the race and afterward..

[ Ed. note: I told you this was too long. If you have read this far, kindly post a comment to humor me. And thanks for your time. ]