Coronavirus — Boston Marathon Canceled for the First Time in Its 124-Year History

Lawrence Cherono (Kenya) crosses the finish line to win the 2019 Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., April 15, 2019. (Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports)

Well, it was a good run. But after 124 consecutive years, the Boston Marathon will not be held in 2020. The Associated Press reported yesterday:

Organizers canceled the Boston Marathon on Thursday for the first time in its history, bowing to the social distancing requirements of the coronavirus outbreak and ending a 124-year run that had persisted through two World Wars, a volcanic eruption and even another pandemic.

Earlier this year, race organizers had delayed the race to September 14, joining many other springtime races that punted to the fall in the hope that something like normal life would resume by then. But for Boston, it was only that: a hope. And Boston mayor Marty Walsh concluded that “it became clear as this crisis developed that Sept. 14 was less and less plausible.”

This is an understandable decision. Having raced Boston last year (somewhat fortuitously, in hindsight), I can attest that the whole experience depends on the kind of close contact and common usage not ideal for a pandemic: Thousands of runners in intense proximity, not only on the starting line and in the race itself — with plenty of sweating and expectorating throughout — but also in the buses on the way from downtown Boston to the Hopkinton starting line outside of the city. Not to mention people using the same portable restrooms. And of course, thousands of spectators. I get why all of this would be a dicey proposition in the biggest city of a state still dealing with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in America.

None of this means Boston’s cancellation isn’t a sad occasion. It is, of course. For virtually its entire history, the race has been one of the most important parts of running culture, serving both as a showcase for the sport’s best talent and perhaps the most prestigious race that a hardworking but otherwise unheralded runner could reasonably hope to reach. I was not planning to race Boston this year, though I know many people who were. Now, the earliest anyone can hope to make that 26.2-mile journey is April 2021.

It’s also a reminder of how far we still have to go for normal life to return. Running is, in some senses, immune to the restrictions and closures that have affected other sports and activities; its simplicity allows it to be done just about anywhere, and it can be done alone. I have derived considerable solace — and sanity — in this strange time from running because of this. But Boston’s cancellation is a sober reminder that, in its more complex forms, running is subject to the same cautions and hesitations that are likely to complicate and prolong the return to normalcy for football, baseball, and other sports. The best one can hope for, at this point, is that 2020 ends up as the sole interruption in the storied history of this race.

Jack Butler is an associate editor at National Review Online.

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