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4 Things To Know About The Cancellation Of The Boston Marathon

The deserted Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton on Patriots' Day this year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The deserted Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton on Patriots' Day this year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

There will be no 124th running of the Boston Marathon, at least this year. Officials decided that even the rescheduled marathon, moved from April 20 to Sept. 14 because of the coronavirus pandemic, cannot be run safely in the fall either. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said it's just not feasible to put on the iconic race this year "for public health reasons."

Here's a look at what this decision means.

1. It's historic

As in, it's never happened before. Since its inception in 1897 the Boston Marathon has never been canceled. It's never even been rescheduled until, at least initially, this year. The race has weathered extreme heat and storms — literally, when a monsoon hit in 2018 — without stopping. It was run during the 1918 flu pandemic, which also coincided with the end of World War I. World War II didn't interrupt the race's history either. And while the terrorist attack in 2013 did stop the race for thousands of runners, it led to one of the largest fields ever with 36,000 runners competing when the race came back in 2014.

Before this year, the only other major marathon that's been canceled entirely is the New York Marathon, which wasn't held in 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

2. It's a blow to the region's economy and psyche

The marathon pumps an estimated $200 million into the area's coffers. There are normally 30,000 runners who come from all over the world, filling the city's hotels and restaurants. Now that won't happen in September, either. The financial toll is enormous. But there's also an emotional toll.

The Boston Marathon is part of the fabric of the city and the region. It happens on Patriots' Day, the anniversary of the "shot heard round the world," which kicked off the Revolutionary War in 1775. It's a sign post on the calendar, something people look forward to. It focuses the eyes of the sporting world on Boston.

When the April race was postponed, there was hope that the September race would become part of the race's unique history, a special one-time event. But now that's gone too. It only adds to the overall feeling that no one really knows what the future holds during this pandemic.

The Boston Marathon is part of the fabric of the city and the region. It's a sign post on the calendar, something people look forward to. It focuses the eyes of the sporting world on Boston.

3. It adds to the uncertainty about the other major marathons still on the schedule

Boston is part of the World Marathon Majors, a series of six races that yields hundreds of thousand of dollars in prize money to the elite athletes who have the best records in those races.

The series includes the marathons in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York. Tokyo canceled its mass participation race in February and limited its field to just elite runners. London, which is typically run the weekend after Boston, has a new date now, October 4. Berlin was supposed to run September 27 but that marathon has also been canceled for this year.

That leaves Chicago on October 11 and New York on November 1.

Given the decision that's been made in Boston and what we know today about the dangers of COVID-19, it's hard to believe that any city in the world will be able to hold an event that attracts thousands of people, participants and spectators in the coming months.

4. Runners are sad, but not surprised, and they have questions.

When the marathon was rescheduled for September, everyone who entered got an automatic spot in the fall race. Now that there is no 2020 marathon, the process of getting into the race begins all over again, probably in September when 2021 registration opens.

Other than the American Olympic Trials, the Boston Marathon is the only race runners have to qualify for. Runners who got into this year's race — other than those who run for charity programs — have a qualifying time they can use to try to get into the 2021 race, but there's no guarantee they'll get a coveted bib for next year. This year's qualified runners will get a full entry fee refund, but there are no deferments.

This is significant because just about ever year, it gets harder to qualify. You actually have to run a qualifying time faster than your age and gender standard to really have a chance.

It is possible that race organizers could decide to allow a larger field. They did that in 2014, the year after the bombings, but that was basically to allow for the 5,000 runners who didn't get to finish the 2013 race. The typical field for the race is 30,000 and that had already been enlarged to 31,500 for the now-canceled 2020 race. Making the decision to increase the field size has to be something the communities that host the marathon have to agree to.

Runners who were looking forward to the September race are disappointed, but not surprised.

"With the pace at which things were opening up, I figured that it was a long shot chance that something as grand as the marathon would happen, but there was some hope in the back of my mind that it would," says Sam Fazioli, who would have been running the marathon for the eighth straight year. "It's definitely a really hard decision, and I don't envy the race organizers for having to make it. They're likely just as disappointed as anyone."

Fazioli said he hopes that the cancelation makes 2021's race even more special.

Boston was going to be William Hague's first ever marathon, and he, too, understands the decision.

"I'm definitely disappointed but there really isn't any shock to the announcement," Hague says. "After everything Americans have gone through and the headlines we're used to seeing over the past three months, you can't really be too upset with this. It seems right on with what's appropriate for the city and for public health."

There will be a Boston Marathon in September, but it will be run virtually. Participants in the virtual 2020 Boston Marathon, which can be run any time between September 7 and 14, will be required to complete the 26.2 mile distance within a six hour time period and provide proof of timing to the Boston Athletic Association. All athletes who complete the virtual race will receive an official Boston Marathon program, participant shirt, medal and runner’s bib.

“Our top priority continues to be safeguarding the health of the community, as well as our staff, participants, volunteers, spectators, and supporters,” BAA CEO Tom Grilk says. “While we cannot bring the world to Boston in September, we plan to bring Boston to the world for an historic 124th Boston Marathon.”

Related:

Alex Ashlock Twitter Producer, Here & Now
Alex Ashlock has been a producer for Here & Now since 2005. He started his WBUR career as senior producer of Morning Edition in 1998.

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