It's been more than 900 days since the last Boston Marathon. That means Monday's 125th running of the iconic race will stand out in the long history of the event.
"While the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton to Boston remains the same — the streets are the same — pretty much everything else this year is different," says Boston Athletic Association CEO Tom Grilk.
The differences are numerous, starting with the return of a traditional feature of the New England calendar, a sign of normalcy after more than a year of a deadly pandemic. It's also the first Boston Marathon run in October, set among autumn colors instead of the usual spring blossoms of Patriots' Day.
The field size is smaller than usual: 20,000 runners instead of 31,000. And each entrant will face safety protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. That includes either proof of vaccination or a negative test; you can't toe the starting line without meeting one of those two requirements. Those same requirements apply to the thousands of volunteers who support the race.
The start times are split among several divisions. This year, unless otherwise added to a specific division, runners will cross the starting line in a rolling fashion instead of the usual waves of runners seen in past years. Here are the planned start times:
- Men's wheelchair: 8:02 a.m.
- Women's wheelchair: 8:05 a.m.
- Handcycles and duos: 8:30 a.m.
- Professional men: 8:37 a.m.
- Professional women: 8:45 a.m.
- Para-athletics division: 8:50 a.m.
- Rolling start begins: 9:00 a.m.
Spectators are encouraged to show up but use common sense in what is usually a massive crowd crammed together downtown, with masks maybe in place to account for the impossibility of social distancing.
There will be winners in the races, but in a sense the 2021 Boston Marathon isn't going to be about the results. It's going to be about the fact that it's actually happening, the sort of big in-person event that hasn't been possible the last year and a half.
In fact, Boston's marathon is just one of the five World Marathon Majors being run this autumn. Berlin and London, which both had more than 20,000 participants, are already in the books, with Berlin run on Sept. 26 and London last Sunday.
Chicago is Sunday — the day before Boston — and New York is Nov. 7. Normally those races, along with Tokyo, would be run between March and November. The Tokyo Marathon was rescheduled for Oct. 17 but it was canceled due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19 in Japan.
For individual runners, the sport helped them cope during the pandemic, a solitary activity safely enjoyed. Now it's time to reconvene the community that has always been such a key aspect of its appeal.
"Most runners hopefully have been able to use running as an outlet, a way to balance their lives. I know I have," says Ilana Casady, of Hopkinton.
She'll be running her eighth Boston Marathon on Monday. And on that day she knows exactly what emotion she'll be feeling.
"Joy that it's returning, joy to be back with other people," she said. "Joy is the first word that pops into my head."
She won't be alone.
This article was originally published on October 08, 2021.