For the first time in its 125-year history, the Boston Marathon, typically held on Patriots Day in April, will be run on October 11th. The postponement allowed organizers and municipalities along the course to plan for the first gathering of runners, volunteers, and spectators since 2019.
After more than a year of cancellations and virtual races, Boston was not the only city eager to bring back its marathon. Fall is a popular season for marathons, and with those regularly scheduled races back on the calendar, plus spring races that had been postponed, it has given runners itching to race again lots of options from which to choose.
Many runners registered for multiple races to ensure a backup plan should more cancellations take place. Tommy Marincic of Boston registered for this month’s London and Boston Marathons.
“It’s hard to believe I’ll be traveling internationally and that this event is even going to go on. I’m like ‘Pinch me!’ And I’m still, with the rise in COVID, mentally prepared for all this to be cancelled,” Marincic said.
For those hoping to run in Boston, uncertainty regarding their meeting the qualifying-time cutoff led many runners to sign up for other races in case they did not make the cut. With the 2021 race capped at 20,000 runners — a third fewer than the last several Boston Marathons, qualified runners needed to run 7 minutes and 47 seconds faster than the already stringent standards because more registration applications were submitted than available entries.
Jessica Stryhalaleck was excited to run a qualifying time last spring, but it turned out to be two seconds shy of the cutoff. After her initial disappointment, Stryhalaleck accepted Boston wasn’t in the cards this year and focused on her original plan to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on Nov. 6.
Much to her surprise, Stryhalaleck was given a second chance at Boston when she was offered an invitational entry from Amazon, one of the race sponsors, because she was an essential worker during the pandemic and her qualifying time had been so close to the cutoff. She still plans to run Indianapolis as well.
“I couldn’t say no. You can’t say no to Boston,” said the two-time Boston finisher, who was a teacher and is now an assistant principal.
Others, like Brian Hsia of New York, knew they’d make the cut for Boston because after having completed 10 consecutive Boston Marathons, since “streakers” need only meet the qualifying standard (not the cutoff time) to guarantee entry. However, failure to continue the streak means the loss of this benefit.
Hsia hopes to keep his streak alive by completing his 14th consecutive Boston Marathon — the day after running the Chicago Marathon. Hsia registered for Chicago Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, before the Boston Marathon date was announced, but is eager for the challenge. To make it work, he will travel from New York to Boston to pick up his bib, then fly to Chicago on Friday. Following the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, he will jump on a plane to Boston before heading to Hopkinton Monday morning.
Although the ultramarathoner has run marathons on back-to-back days before, he doesn’t take the challenge lightly, especially since he hopes to run hard in Chicago to try to qualify for Boston 2022.
“I think having done ultras, you kind of have that ability, but it’s always a fresh new game because it’s running. You could feel awful and anything could go wrong on race day,” said Hsia.
Unfortunately for Marincic, a 30-time marathoner whose personal best is 2:54, an injury during the London Marathon on Oct. 3 left him unable to complete the race. He is back in the United States and seeking medical care, but his plans for Boston remain uncertain.
“It’s an unpredictable event and you have to respect the distance. It’s a long race and anything can happen,” said Marincic.
Yet, despite the risks of pain, failure, and heartbreak, marathoners are eager to run whatever races they can this fall.
“We’re either going to be loving life or this is the dumbest decision we ever made,” said Will DiTullio of Woburn.
DiTullio first registered for the Berlin Marathon, which took place Sept. 26, and later received a charity entry to run Boston for the TB12 Foundation for the third consecutive year. In addition to running two marathons in two weeks, raising money this year has been an added challenge.
“It is a hard time to ask [for donations], but if you want to run, unless you’re qualified, it’s part of the process,” DiTullio said.
“To be at the starting line in Hopkinton after 910 days since the last in-person Boston Marathon — that’s going to be a real special moment.”
Jessica Gimbel of Cambridge will also be running Boston, 15 days after finishing the Berlin Marathon. She is excited but also grateful for the chance to run these races, recognizing not everyone has the resources to participate in the Boston Marathon, much less train for, travel to, and run two marathons within weeks of one another.
“I’m thrilled on a personal level, but it’s not lost on me that I am extremely fortunate and I try to bear that in mind,” said Gimbel.
Stryhalaleck thought she had lost the opportunity to run the race again when she contracted a breakthrough COVID infection in late August. But after completing a 16-mile training run a few weeks later, she felt confident she can finish the race and is glad she has that second marathon in Indianapolis to possibly run a faster time.
“I think what I’m looking forward to most [about racing this fall] is showing up. Being there and feeling grateful to do it when things could be a lot worse,” Stryhalaleck said.