As a volunteer at the Boston Marathon keeping an eye on an official race clock at Mile 22, I had something of an inside look within the metal barriers at the big race/parade/celebration on Monday. I was hunkered down from about 10am until 5pm rooting on thousands of Boston Strong runners, lending a couple of shoulders to lean on for one guy who had blacked out, and offering a chair to another whose shoelaces came untied. Volunteers at a medical tent next to me lifted the spirits of worn-out runners throughout the warm day and took aside those who needed fluids, massages or more serious attention.
I hung up my marathon shoes more than 10 years ago, though regularly attend this and other races. I've seen the introduction of wireless runner-tracking chips and other technologies over the years, but technology's presence at this year's event was much more noticeable, for good and bad.
It's great for runners' family and friends to be able to track participants online so that they can figure out where and when to be in order to cheer them on and then find them in the mass of humanity at the finish line. Head- and chest-attached cameras make for some crazy photos and videos to savor and share. And advances in handcycle, wheelchair and prosthetic limbs make it safer and just plain possible for more people to take part in events like the Boston Marathon.
As we know from last year's post-bombing investigation, technology plays a huge role in security and safety too (Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans recently discussed this topic at an event I attended in Boston).
But technology also made me cringe at times on Monday, not to say that participants' hearts weren't in the right place: this truly was a triumph for the city, its residents and visitors. There were the usual hoards of runners tuning into music on their iPods and obliviously weaving and cutting off other runners. One woman asked me to take her photo doing a handstand in front of our mile marker (felt bad that it took me 2 takes, being a professional photographer of sorts). One man had me take a photo of him while he sprawled on the ground (why?). And then there were endless selfies, some narrated, with runners stopping short in front of fellow runners and creating usually slow-mo collisions.
The worst smartphone incident involved a guy who apparently dropped his device in our vicinity and was backtracking to try to find it -- as if 26.2 miles wasn't far enough to run. I hope he had location-tracking technology turned on so that it could be found and returned to him.
Though in the end, technology wasn't able to solve every issue we came across on our stretch. The medical staff was handing out tongue depressers with gobs of vaseline on them for runners to rub on their irritated body parts. Unfortunately, more than one person mistook the goo for some sort of food and shortly after, made priceless faces. Now those would have been some colorful selfies.