The Boston Marathon is still unsure if it can compete with COVID-19.
As Massachusetts begins to slowly loosen regulations in an effort to restart an economy halted by the coronavirus, organizers of the historic race remain in consultation with governmental entities to see if they can avoid canceling the event for the first time in 124 years.
Even with the marathon still four months away, the magnitude of ensuring runners and spectators stay safe and do not become vectors of the coronavirus is a colossal one.
More than 31,000 runners would have to be bused or find transportation to Hopkinton the morning of Sept. 14, then socially distance themselves before the start of the race when runners usually stand in close quarters.
When the race begins, the concerns only mount. Runners face the prospect of unwittingly transmitting or receiving the virus from not only fellow runners, but an estimated million spectators who usually line the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to the Back Bay.
“The Boston Athletic Association continues to work closely with local and state officials as we consider what Sept. 14 looks like for the Boston Marathon,” said the BAA in a statement Tuesday. “Guided by public officials, we are actively exploring all options for this year’s race and will continue to follow public health and safety guidance.”
In comments to reporters at his daily briefing, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also struck a cautionary tone while stressing that no official decision on a cancellation has been made.
“Certainly when we originally made the decision to postpone the marathon [to] September, we were already hopeful coronavirus would no longer be a significant public health risk for our residents,” said Walsh. “We are continuing to have, right now, a conversation with the BAA on the best way for all of us to move forward. I don’t have any specific updates to share on the Marathon at this time, but will keep everyone informed as we move forward.”
The marathon has been run every year since 1897, making it the oldest annual marathon in the world.
In 1918, the year of the last pandemic, the race was switched to a military relay event on the course due to American involvement in World War I.
The race is believed to pump some $200 million into the Massachusetts economy.
When the postponement was originally announced, Governor Charlie Baker said of the September date, “It won’t look right on the calendar. But it is certainly the right thing to do.”
When the race date was switched, the state said it intended to make the Sept. 14 race date a state holiday, much like Patriots Day is each April.
In its last official race update, posted on its website May 8, the BAA stated, in part: “Our priority continues to be the health and well-being of members of our community, participants, volunteers, and supporters. Guided by public officials, we will continue to proactively address and explore all options surrounding this year’s race, and will continue to follow public health and safety guidance. Health and safety remain our utmost priority.”
Other spring and summer marathons around the world have faced similar postponements or cancellations.
Boston is one of the six major marathons in the world.
On March 1, the Tokyo Marathon restricted its field to elite runners and wheelchair participants, drastically reducing it from some 38,000 to 200.
On March 13, the London Marathon, scheduled for late April, was pushed back to Oct. 4.
On May 7, the Berlin Marathon announced that it was canceling its race, which had been scheduled to take place Sept. 27.
The Chicago Marathon is still on track to be run Oct. 11, with the New York Marathon still scheduled to be run Nov. 1.
The Madrid Marathon, usually run in late April, has been rescheduled for Nov. 15.