Boston Marathon to cap entries at 20,000 to allow for social distancing on course

Sarah Lorge Butler
·3-min read
Photo credit: ALEX GAGNE
Photo credit: ALEX GAGNE

From Runner's World

  • The 2021 Boston Marathon, which is typically run on the third Monday in April, has been rescheduled to October 11, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The BAA announced on Monday 15 March that this year's race will be limited to 20,000 to ensure runners can safely distance on the course.

The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) have announced that this year's race, due to be held on Monday, October 11, will have a limited field of 20,000 to ensure runners can safely distance on the course. This is 33% less runners than normal on the start line.

'In addition to a smaller field than in previous years, we will have significant additional protocols in place to ensure participant and public health,' BAA President Tom Grilk said in a news release.

Last October, the BAA said that the race would be pushed to an autumn date and said they hoped to specify the date before the end of 2020. With a surge in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts in December, however, the race date announcement was put off until January 26.

'We announce the 2021 Boston Marathon date with a cautious optimism, understanding full well that we will continue to be guided by science and our continued collaborative work with local, city, state, and public health officials,' said Tom Grilk, president and CEO of the BAA. 'If we are able to hold an in-person race in October, the safety of participants, volunteers, spectators, and community members will be paramount.'

Boston typically has more than 30,000 finishers, with roughly 80 percent getting into the race by running faster than the qualifying time for their age and gender, and the rest gaining entry by running for a charity or earning an invitational bib. The qualifying window for the 2021 race opened on September 15, 2018.

The BAA will also offer a virtual option for the 2021 Boston Marathon.

Mass participation races continue to grapple with how to hold their events safely in a pandemic. Boston, along with the Tokyo Marathon and the London Marathon—two other World Marathon Majors traditionally held at the beginning of the year—have all shifted their dates to the autumn of this year.

In a bit of awkwardness on the calendar for World Marathon Majors races, the Boston Marathon will now be held the day after the Chicago Marathon. Pre-pandemic, organisers of the various races tried to give some space between events.

But the official announcement of the date shows the upheaval COVID-19 has brought to the running industry, for longer than anyone might have predicted, and the BAA’s statement reflects the ongoing uncertainty.

Almost 30 months will have elapsed since the most recent in-person Boston Marathon, which was held on April 15, 2019. (In the early part of 2020, organisers originally postponed the event from April 20 until September 14, before ultimately cancelling any in-person race for a virtual race instead.)

Some events have experimented with scaled-down versions focusing on the fastest of the fast. Tokyo held an elite-only race on March 1, 2020, and the London Marathon pulled off an elite-only race, with 30 women and 30 men running separately, on a 19-loop course on October 4.

Qualifying for Boston is the Holy Grail for many recreational runners, a marker that shows a level of ability and dedication. Charity runners often have to promise to raise five-figure sums in order to gain a bib.

Massachusetts was hard hit early on by the coronavirus, and in October, the Boston Globe reported that rates of COVID-19 deaths remain higher than in other neighbouring states.

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