GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Extra security didn't stop thousands of racers from hitting the pavement and thousands of spectators from watching the 36th Fifth Third River Bank Run Saturday morning.
From the first timers to the veterans, thousands crossed the finish line as teams, families, friends; some for a cause, others for the challenge.
While the participants moved along the course, around a half dozen police departments converged to assist with security for the event.
The Grand Rapids Police Department was hands on downtown and Chief Kevin Belk was front and center along the race route.
"We've been working with fifth third officials, people with the FBI, our area police departments. We put together a very comprehensive plan. Security is always our top priority at any race, but this year obviously with concerns from Boston it's greatly enhanced," Chief Belk told 24 Hour News 8.
As part of the plan, there was a new feature this year: a new gear check-in process. Participants had to put gear in white bags provided at check-in. Police with bomb sniffing dogs did periodic sweeps. The focus was on backpacks, bags or anything suspicious left along the race route especially near the start and finish lines.
But runners we spoke with said all felt safe with the security in place.
"I know our police department and the race itself has upped its security. There's always that risk, yep, but in West Michigan I feel pretty safe here," said Jason Andersen.
Despite the security measures, runners were out and about. Some ran with a cause and a message; Walker Army Reservist Justin Howard crossed the finish line armed with his heavy gear to support and inspire.
"They get to see us, they struggle though a 5K and then they see us go it. Like 'Oh wow they are here for us, they do train really hard' and we want to protect them," Howard said.
24 Hour News 8 saw some kids finish their first River Bank Run. A Grand Rapids 9-year-old finished his first River Bank Run Saturday and is making the event a family tradition.
"I saw my dad do it, he's been running for like three years now so I wanted to try it once," 9-year-old Tanishka Shenoy said.
The chilly weather didn't stop spectators from crowding the finish line or dampen the enthusiasm of the dedicated volunteers. Flora Jackson congratulated runners one by one for hours; her excitement never once wavered.
"I just have that gift I guess, I don't know. God sent me out here and so that's where I am," Jackson said.
Organizers of the Fifth Third River Bank Run said there were 21,228 participants this year. Authorities believe there were at least that many spectators and observers in the area watching the participants.
Saturday afternoon, Chief Belk told 24 Hour News 8 things went "extremely well" during the event. There were "no calls of suspicious packages and no arrests" Saturday morning. Five people were treated for medical issues, but none of them were serious.
Chief Belk said he's thankful for all the cooperation from runners, spectators and the neighboring agencies during the Fifth Third River Bank Run.
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