fb-pixel

Boston Marathon canceled for first time in 124-year history

The race — which had been postponed from April to Sept. 14 due to coronavirus — will be held as a virtual event.

The men's elite runners take off for the start of the Boston Marathon in 2019.
The men's elite runners take off for the start of the Boston Marathon in 2019.David Ryan/Globe Staff


For the first time in its 124-year history, the Boston Marathon has been canceled, dashing the dreams of thousands of runners and delivering an emotional and economic blow to a region hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than two months after postponing the iconic race until mid-September, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Thursday that the Marathon, which draws more than 30,000 runners from around the world, was “not feasible” this year

“There’s no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity," he said. "While our goal and hope was to make progress in containing the virus and recovering our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on Sept. 14, or anytime this year.”

Advertisement



Thomas Grilk, chief executive of the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the world’s oldest annual marathon, said the group will instead offer a virtual marathon, in which participants will be required to complete the 26.2-mile distance within a six-hour period and show proof of their time.

They can run anytime between Sept. 7 and Sept. 14, and all those who complete the race will receive an official race program, T-shirt, medal, and runner’s bib.

"Our top priority continues to be safeguarding the health of the community,” Grilk said in a statement. “While we cannot bring the world to Boston in September, we plan to bring Boston to the world.”

Runners who had registered for the race, which has been held every year since 1897, will be offered a full refund of their entry fees, the BAA said.

The economic costs of the cancellation are far reaching. 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.

Advertisement



Governor Charlie Baker said Boston officials and the BAA made the “right decision.”

“I think we’ve all concluded . . . for the time being that we’re better off being careful and cautious when it comes to big events,” Baker said after touring the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Fabric Discovery Center.

The Marathon’s cancellation came as officials reported that the state’s death toll from the virus had risen by 93 cases to 6,640. The number of confirmed cases climbed by 675 to nearly 95,000. More than 10,100 new tests were conducted, bringing the statewide total to more than 562,000.

While the death toll and infection tally rose, three of the four key metrics being watched closely by state officials remained stable or improved.

The seven-day weighted average of positive test rates held at 8.1 percent, down from a high of more than 16 percent earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the three-day average of the number of virus patients in the hospital dipped slightly to 2,109 on Wednesday, down from 2,115 a day earlier. It has dropped 41 percent since April 15.

The decision to cancel the Marathon reverberated throughout the region among runners and and fans. After his family started a foundation after the bombings near the finish line in 2013, Bill Richard was looking forward to their Marathon team’s final year. Their team was named in honor of his son, Martin Richard, who was 8 when he was killed in the attack.

The Richards had planned to field a team of 141 runners, including their 18-year-old son, Henry. Bill Richard also planned to run. It was going to be their first marathon.

Advertisement



“We’ve been trying to maintain proper perspective these last few months,” Richard said. “Sure, our team will be disappointed, but we will do our best to make sure the final year of Team MR8 is memorable.”

“As for Henry and me, it looks like our first Boston will have to wait," he added.

Katonya Burke, 44, a truck driver from Dorchester, had already raised more than $10,000 for Trinity Boston Connects and was looking forward to the “bragging rights" of crossing the finish line of her first marathon.

“It’s disappointing, but I understand this was the best decision for everyone’s safety,” she said.

For many runners, the past few months have been something of an emotional roller coaster.

Richard Webster, who was looking forward to running his 18th Boston Marathon, called the decision in March to postpone the race a “silver lining" because it gave him something to look forward to and more time to train.

"Though the right call, the cancellation . . . is a crushing disappointment,” said Webster, 67, the music director at Trinity Church in Boston.

In Hopkinton, where the race starts, local officials said they were saddened to learn of the cancellation. The race provides an economic boon to the community.

“We unequivocally support the BAA’s decision, but I’m personally disappointed,” said Brendan Tedstone, chair of the town’s board of selectmen. “We, as a community, will welcome the Marathon back with open arms next year, with the enthusiasm and vigor that we always have.”

Advertisement



The race is also a major source of revenue for businesses in the Back Bay, such as Marathon Sports, which had been holding out hope that the race would be held in September.

“The five days around the Marathon are our biggest days of the year,” said Dan Darcy, a spokesman for the business. “Without the Marathon, those days don’t happen. It’s a tough tradeoff. What price can you put on keeping people safe? I think they made the right call on this.”

Also Thursday, the state Legislature sent Baker a bill aimed at beefing up the COVID-19 data his administration reports each day. That includes requiring the state to disclose demographic info on those who test positive beyond what it already releases, including primary language and occupation.

It also requires that elderly care facilities notify residents and their emergency contacts by the next day whenever there is a new confirmed case or death among residents or staff, or when three or more people at the facility “present with new onset of respiratory symptoms within the previous 72 hours.”

In Boston, Walsh announced the city was publishing guidelines for offices before a limited reopening on Monday. He said the guidelines were not a mandate, but a best-practices framework that covers social distancing, hygiene, staffing, operations, cleaning, and disinfection. The guidelines are available at boston.gov/reopening.

Advertisement



The Baker administration has said businesses should initially limit their offices to less than 25 percent of total capacity, though Walsh has indicated he believes that even that limitation is too high.

“Going back to work brings risk. The fact that your offices are running at low capacities, and you have measures in place, doesn’t mean that risks are eliminated," Walsh cautioned on Thursday.

Matt Stout, Adam Vaccaro, Jaclyn Reiss, and Katie McInerney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.