Coronavirus outbreak may push Boston Marathon into the fall

Postponement would preserve at least some of the massive economic benefit the race provides the region.

The global coronavirus pandemic may push the Boston Marathon into the fall, the first time in more than a century that the race would not go off as scheduled. David Ryan/Globe Staff

UPDATE: The 2020 Boston Marathon has been postponed until Sept. 14.

Local officials along the route of the Boston Marathon, including city leaders in Boston, are closing in on a plan to postpone the world-famous race until the fall in response to the escalating coronavirus crisis.

Officials from the various communities met Wednesday at Boston City Hall, according to two people familiar with the plans, amid growing acceptance that it would be irresponsible or even impossible to hold the race as scheduled on April 20. Government officials have been in regular communication with leaders from the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Marathon.

Neither city officials nor race organizers would confirm their discussions publicly.

“Our collective priority is the health & safety of residents, participants, & all who come to MA for this worldwide event," the BAA posted on Twitter. "This is rapidly evolving & details will be forthcoming.”

A delay would mark the first time in 124 years that the Marathon, which regularly draws about 1 million spectators and thousands of visitors from around the world, would not be held as planned. The event injects some $200 million into the Boston economy each year.

Local officials along the route from Hopkinton to the Back Bay said they have grudgingly come to accept what seems to be inevitable.

“At this point, postponing it seems like the best course of action,” said Brendan Tedstone, chair of the Board of Selectmen in Hopkinton. “I don’t foresee the virus going away soon.”

Stephanie Hawkinson, a spokeswoman for town officials in Wellesley, added: “I think the general consensus and collective priority is the health and safety of the residents, runners, and visitors. We will follow and support any decision the BAA will make.”

In Ashland, Michael Herbert, the town manager, also said he would be receptive to the race being postponed.

“I think everyone realizes that a decision of this magnitude has to be done right, but it can’t linger,” he said.

Officials had hoped to hold the race on a long weekend, but deemed Labor Day too challenging because it’s peak time for college students to move into dormitories, many of them located along the Marathon route. Columbus Day, another target date, would conflict with the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11.

For that reason, officials are exploring the idea of creating a state holiday on a Monday in September, according to the two sources. The holiday would require legislative approval.

The primary reason to postpone the race, rather than canceling it outright, is to preserve its economic benefits at a time when local businesses, from hotels to restaurants to retail stores, are being battered by the impact of the coronavirus.

Large conventions, smaller conferences, and one-off galas are canceling, tourism has plummeted, and workers are staying home. The effect has rippled through virtually every part of the economy, from major investors to local shopkeepers.

More than 31,000 runners from 120 countries are registered to run in this year’s race. Richard Webster, who has been training for his 18th Boston Marathon, called the uncertainty hanging over the event “heartbreaking.”

But he said he was happy to learn that it may be held later this year.

“It’s disorienting,” said Webster, 67, the music director at Trinity Church in Boston. “This is something we’ll all have to get through together.”

After three other marathons, Taylor Schuster had longed to cross the finish line in Boston.

The 28-year-old sports marketer, a charity runner who already canceled a planned fund-raiser, urged the organizers to make a decision soon rather than “dragging it out and waiting for the inevitable.”

“Although we may not be running in April, I'm still determined to bring people together and raise the money,” she said.

For his part, Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston Marathon four times, said he supported a postponement as well. “The runners will be on board,” he said.

The impact of such a decision would have a major impact on many local businesses that rely on the Marathon.

“It’s definitely going to affect us,” said Dan Darcy, a spokesman for Marathon Sports, which has a store beside the finish line in Boston.

He said the company had no plans to close its stores or lay off employees.

“As this evolves, we’ll continue to monitor the situation and do what’s in the best interest of our customers and employees,” he said.

The decision has a significant effect on many of the charity teams. Susan Hurley manages 480 runners for 40 teams, which were planning to raise $5 million for various charities.

“I’m trying to remain optimistic,” she said. “But we’re at a very concerning point.”

Bill Richard has been looking forward to this Marathon, the last time runners would raise money for the Martin Richard Foundation. The MR8 team was named for his son, Martin Richard, who was 8 years old when he was killed during the bombings on Boylston Street in 2013.

The Richards planned to field a team of 141 runners, including Bill Richard and his son, Henry. It was going to be their first time running the Marathon.

“It’s been a tough couple of days,” he said. “At this point, we’re just looking for some resolution.”

Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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