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First time since 1897 event canceled

Runners disappointed, adapt as Boston Marathon goes virtual

'I allowed myself about an hour to cry about it. It was the right decision.'- Kathryn Daggett
By Mark Haskell | May 29, 2020
Courtesy of: Boston Athletic Association

Boston, Mass. — When the 124th running of the fabled and historic Boston Marathon was postponed from April 20 to Sept. 14 — with the fast-forward button hit for 22 Mondays from the original date — most felt that would be a practicable amount of time for society to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, with Boston being one of the country's prevailing hot spots for coronavirus, Martin Walsh, the city's mayor, made the announcement on Thursday, May 28 that the race would be canceled for the first time since it began in 1897.

“The concern of a second surge (of the coronavirus) made me have some real reservations about can we have the marathon or not,” Walsh said Thursday in news reports.

In response to Walsh’s wishes, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), which hosts the event, announced the marathon, for the first time in its history, will be held as a virtual event.

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

Participants who originally were registered for the April 20, 2020 event will be offered a full refund of their entry fee associated with the race and will have the opportunity to participate in the virtual alternative to the 124th Boston Marathon, as any 26.2-mile distance can be run Sept. 7–14.

All who compete the distance will receive an official race program, t-shirt, medal and runner's bib.

There will be no deferments to runners for the 2021 Boston Marathon.

This latest change to the event will affect more than 33,000 people worldwide, including 200 Mainers and six Midcoast residents.

Those area participants officially listed for this year's Boston Marathon included: Katherine Collins, 49, of Winterport; Douglas C. Johnstone, 71, of Camden; Abigail Leaming, 30, of Thorndike; Shawn Rumery, 34, of Searsmont; Greg Soutiea, 36, of Spruce Head; and Kathryn Daggett, 51, of Washington.

Of course, all these changes to the 26.2-mile event has wreaked havoc with runners' training schedules leading to the first and then the second rescheduled event. Now runners must adapt for a third time, this time from the cancelled in-person event and to a potential virtual event.

“I allowed myself about an hour to cry about it,” said Daggett. “It was the right decision.”

Daggett said she is unsure if she can participate in a virtual race. Daggett planned to run as a member of the Semper Fi Fund, a charity organization which provides immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the US. Armed Forces and their families.

Daggett was contacted by the Semper Fi Fund “and they will be having a conference call with the B.A.A. next week to find out what this all will mean for the Boston Marathon charity teams.”

She hopes she is invited back to participate in 2021 by the Semper Fi Fund and applauded “the running community” as a whole for their unwavering support for one another.

“I have had many offers from runners near and far to run the Boston Marathon virtual race with me, beside me, helping me and encouraging me,” she said. “They’ll get nothing out of this except maybe blisters! The running community has always been such an encouragement to me. It’s so refreshing to know they ‘have my back’ should I decide to run the Boston Marathon virtually. It’s very moving and empowering.”

Soutiea agreed "the race being full-on canceled was the right thing to do."

"With what we've all learned in the weeks since the race was postponed, it is logical that there shouldn't be tens of thousands of people gathering in Boston for the footrace," said Soutiea, who ran his own marathon in St. George on April 20. "While it is disappointing to runners that their races are being canceled – I also coach runners and all the races my athletes were training for this summer/fall have been canceled already — I believe that general health and wellness of a community of people is more important. In my experience, most runners I know would agree with that statement."

Leaming added that the cancellation “was expected” and she “wasn’t at all surprised.”

“I'm disappointed as it was my first Boston Marathon,” she said. “However, I have hope that it will be back the following year. Given what is happening in the world right now, I don't think I have any room to complain over the cancellation.”

Leaming, who planned to run for the Special Olympics, “will be taking part virtually, but that’s just for the sake of my team. It is not comparable to doing a live race of any kind. Everyone knows that the crowd and energy is a huge factor.”

“I will continue to train with my team because it's an encouraging, uplifting community of athletes and I think that continued participation is critical for my mental and physical health.”

Collins was “extremely disappointed” in this decision.

“I've been training for Boston since early December and was going to be in wave two, which was a big deal,” she said. “I knew that there was a big chance that it would be canceled because of the political issues in Massachusetts, but I figured it would be better to train and be ready than to give up. After I found out yesterday, I went for a run, had a few beers, and decided to run the virtual race. Likely I'll run the Black Bear Marathon course up in Orono with some friends.”

She added that “I think the overly cautious approach to the virus in Maine and Massachusetts has affected more than what is obvious such as millions of lost jobs, canceled the tourism season and canceled almost all group events.”

“This shutdown was unprecedented and unnecessary.”

Boston Marathon officials said 2020 qualifying times will be honored and carry over and be eligible for the 2021 Boston Marathon. Registration for next year’s race will open in late September.

The cancellation of the marathon also is an emotional and economic blow to Boston specifically and Massachusetts, a state that has seen nearly 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 7,000 deaths from the pandemic. The race brings more than 30,000 runners from around the world, along with thousands of volunteers.

According to the Boston Globe, the race generates about $200 million in tourist spending each year and roughly $40 million in charitable donations, while drawing more than a million spectators.

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