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Walsh: 2020 Boston Marathon Canceled

Hundreds of runners pour through Kenmore Square at the 2016 Boston Marathon. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Hundreds of runners pour through Kenmore Square at the 2016 Boston Marathon. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

There will be no Boston Marathon in 2020.

The Boston Athletic Association has decided, in consultation with municipal, state and health officials, to skip this year's running of the world's oldest marathon, opting instead for a week of virtual events held online.

In announcing the cancellation on Thursday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said holding the marathon would “not be feasible this year for public health reasons.”

"This is a challenge, but meeting tough challenges is what the Boston Marathon is all about," Walsh said. "It's a symbol of our city's and our commonwealth's resilience, so it's incumbent upon all of us to dig deep, like a marathon runner, like we all did in 2013, and keep that spirit alive."

This is the first time the marathon has been canceled since its inaugural run in 1897. Organizers had hoped postponing the race from Patriots' Day to Sept. 14 would allow them to preserve that tradition and get runners lined up in Hopkinton under healthier circumstances. Given the danger large gatherings still pose during the pandemic, that's not possible.

“At the time, it was a forward-thinking decision — and it was the right decision," Walsh said. "It helped us set the tone for major decisions nationwide. So we should all be proud of that. It became clear as this crisis developed that Sept. 14 was looking less and less plausible.”

Walsh said the warnings from health and epidemiological experts about a potential second of the wave of illness pushed him to call off the marathon.

"The concern of a second surge really put fear in me … [and] made me have some real reservation about, can we have the marathon or not?" Walsh said. "All the experts are saying that potential second surge could happen any time between August and October, and the marathon was scheduled for September 14th. So rather than prolong this and have runners train and lock everything up, I felt it was going to be very difficult to have it.”

Speaking later in the day, Gov. Charlie Baker said he felt the city and BAA made the right decision by canceling the live race.

"For the time being, we are better off being careful and cautious when it comes to really big events like that," he said.

Runners who have already registered for the race will receive a full refund, according to BAA CEO Thomas Grilk.

The organization is planning a week's worth of online events to celebrate the marathon instead, and will offer some of the race's most-cherished gifts to those who participate, such as the unicorn medal.

The cancellation of this year's marathon could deal a financial blow to local charities that typically raise money on the race. Some groups expect to miss out on donations at a time when contributions were already declining because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Esplanade is an unofficial marathon training ground, and the nonprofit Esplanade Association that helps maintain it counts on charity runners for $1 of every $20 in the annual budget.

Those runners had raised three-quarters of this year's goal before the race was called off, and Executive Director Michael Nichols doesn't think the remainder will pour in at the last minute, as it has in previous years.

"We've had people who donate by the mile, where on the day of the race they're supporting their friends as they run the race," he said. "And so, all of that, I'm sure, is going to be, at best, on hold."

On the plus side, Nichols doesn't think donors will demand refunds of what they've already given.

At the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, Development Director Terri Ladka similarly believes supporters will want the group to keep the $237,272 they pledged to charity runners before the cancellation. But the foundation may have lost an opportunity to meet, or exceed, its $250,000 goal.

"There's a big chunk of the fundraising that happens right in that last month leading up," she said. "That's unfortunate for us, and all nonprofits, right now, are struggling."

This article was originally published on May 28, 2020.

Roberto Scalese Twitter Digital Producer
Roberto Scalese is a digital producer and editor. 

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Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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