For The First Time, Boston Marathon Runners Race Remotely

In this April 20, 2020 file photo, the Boston Marathon start line in Hopkinton, Mass., is vacant on the scheduled day of the 124th race, due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (Charles Krupa/AP)
In this April 20, 2020 file photo, the Boston Marathon start line in Hopkinton, Mass., is vacant on the scheduled day of the 124th race, due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. (Charles Krupa/AP)

This was supposed to be Marathon Monday.

The 124th Boston Marathon had been rescheduled to Sept. 14 during the early stages of the pandemic back in March, but then the race was canceled altogether when it became obvious that putting 30,000 runners on the roads between Hopkinton and Boston, lined with 1 million spectators, wasn't safe.

But that doesn't mean runners aren't crossing the marathon finish line on Boylston Street. They did it all weekend long as part of the first-ever virtual Boston Marathon. And virtual doesn't mean this is a video game. People are actually running 26.2 miles — not just in Boston, but all around the world.

At the finish line on Sunday, it felt almost like it does on a typical Patriots Day. Runners were thrilled and emotional to cross the line near Copley Square, falling into the arms of their family and friends, as people cheered and rang bells. Drivers honked their horns as they passed by. Fire trucks parked on the side of the street flashed their lights as firefighters finished.

While some local runners ran the official course, others made up their own courses that ended at the official finish line.

But Boston-area runners are not the only ones participating in this virtual marathon. The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) says runners from all 50 states and more than 50 countries have finished their marathons since the window to run them opened on Sept. 5. Those runners ran the race wherever they were. Many documented their experiences on social media.

The 30,000 runners registered for the marathon that was supposed to be held in April could sign up for this virtual experience instead, and more than 17,000 did. The participants got access to an app, where they could upload their results. The app also offered them audio cues they could hear while running, like the sound of the starting gun in Hopkinton and the sound of cheering crowds at the finish, so it sounded like they were running Boston even if they weren't physically here.

"It was a journey. It was a challenge against myself," said Claudia Cornacchione after she completed her marathon Sunday morning.

Cornacchione lives in Boston now, but she posed for pictures standing on the finish line holding the Italian flag, the flag of her home country.

"I was hoping to have my family here but we couldn't go back to Italy because of COVID," she said. "So I think this is for all the expats. I dedicate it for them because I'm sure a lot of other people were unable to see their family this year."

Runners are also raising money for charities just as they do around the regular Patriots Day event.

Dr. Amy Comander, who treats breast cancer patients, raised $16,000 for that cause. She also crossed the finish line on Sunday.

A few minutes before her, Greg MacCurtain finished his marathon, along with his daughter Abby. He pushed her in a special racing chair for 26.2 miles. This was Greg's third Boston Marathon; Abby's first.

"I run for [Massachusetts General Hospital] for a lab, called the Mootha Lab, raising money for them, for my daughter,"MacCurtain said. "Team Abby Mac. She's got Leigh's Disease, it's a form of Mitochondrial disease. She's doing really well. She loves to get out there and run."

The window to run the virtual Boston Marathon closes Monday, but the BAA has extended the deadline for runners on the West Coast who are dealing with raging wildfires.

The BAA's decision-making has been on a fast track since last winter when coronavirus started in Asia and spread around the world. The organization has formed an advisory group of medical and public health and safety officials to discuss the future of the race. Registration for next year's marathon, which would normally be open now, has been postponed.

"We don't want to make predictions as to when we can come back or how many people we can have at a certain time in the future, because the information doesn't exist yet," said BAA CEO Tom Grilk. "We don't want to discourage people from looking forward to the next Boston Marathon, but neither do we want to give rise to false hopes before we have done the work with the experts necessary to know when we can realistically plan to do that and in what numbers.

"The future is so uncertain. COVID-19 makes everything uncertain. So when will we or anyone else be able to conduct a mass participation race again? Nobody really knows."


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



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