May 28th came the news many of us were anticipating but were hoping would never come – the Boston Marathon had been canceled for the first time in its 124 year history. I was really disappointed when Boston was postponed in March being only 6 weeks out from race day at the time. It was because of this that I wanted to guard myself from these feelings again and so I approached the last couple of months thinking that I would train and if the race happened in September, it would just be an added bonus to gaining the fitness. My heart was also in a different place this time around as I had been itching to do a speed block after April’s Boston anyway, and so I decided in April that I would spend the rest of the year working on my speed in shorter distances like the 5K and potentially train for a half marathon in the Fall. When the news that the September Boston was canceled was announced, I was sad, but not devastated because I had prepared myself for this likely being the case.
My heart is broken for first-timers who will not get the opportunity to line up in Hopkinton in 2020. I ran my first Boston last spring and I know I would be reacting much differently today had this been my first one and because it was so recent for me, I feel that pain and emotion for these runners. I am sad for the charity runners who don’t know if they’ll get to run again next year but had likely worked hard to race the funds for this year’s race. I am sad for the Boston community that rallies around this event year after year and loves welcoming the world to their city for the weekend. The B.A.A. announced that the qualifying window for the 2021 Boston would extend the first qualifying date back to September 15, 2018 which was the first day a runner could qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon. However, they do not guarantee that there will be enough places for everyone to run in 2021. In my opinion, they should give priority to the runners who would have been first timers in 2020 and have these runners be automatically entered into 2021’s race and then fill the rest of the field size accordingly. In an ideal world, they’d roll over all of the 2020 entrants to 2021 (if they want to run) and add an additional wave to account for people who qualified for 2021; it would be the largest Boston ever and they’d likely have to start earlier in the day but it also wouldn’t be fair to 2021 qualifiers not to have an equal shot of running. It took me 6 years of hard work and determination to qualify for Boston so I understand the pain a first-timer might be going through right now. When I finally ran a BQ in Berlin in 2018, I was so, so happy and I’ll never forget that day crossing the line in Berlin knowing I had finally caught my unicorn. Many people work for years to have the opportunity to line up in Boston and these 2020 runners earned their place in the race; they shouldn’t be left out because of a virus that was out of their control and it disappoints me that so far the B.A.A.’s stance is to leave it up to chance next year for these runners.
However, I have to believe that the B.A.A. is making the best decisions with the limited information that they can right now and that maybe the decisions to be made are ongoing. The email and Q&A seemed to leave a lot of room for changes and in today’s world, nothing appears to be set in stone. No one wins in this situation; the B.A.A. doesn’t win, the city of Boston doesn’t win, and the athletes do not win. I truly am curious to know how many runners have qualified for 2021 so far (Berlin, Chicago, and New York were all run pre-COVID so it would be interesting to get the stats on how many qualifiers came out of the majors) and if that guided the B.A.A.’s decision at all. As someone who was supposed to run the 2020 race, I can say I appreciate all of the communication the B.A.A. has provided throughout this process and that they made this decision before marathon training was in full swing to allow people to make other plans before getting in too deep. I hope that in the months to come, they reevaluate their qualifying process for 2021.
A virtual option is being offered for the 2020 Boston with limited information so far on the price since it will include a shirt and a medal. As for me, I am unsure if I will participate since I don’t have much interest in training for the next 3.5 months to run a marathon by myself in the September heat but have not ruled out running it for fun with other friends who were supposed to run Boston 2020 if it is safe to run with others at that time. Prior to this, my plan had been to work up to about an 18 mile long run just to be able to run the marathon distance safely, but I wasn’t going for any PRs in September wanting to focus on short speedwork instead for my summer. I may end up still working up to those 18 miles, or I may not. I do know that this season of speed feels right to me though and I am following gut instinct this year to keep enjoying running and having fun trying something more outside of my comfort zone. I’ve had some people ask me how I continue to have motivation without races on the calendar and I feel lucky that my motivation in this sport has always come from just a pure love of running and pushing myself to reach my potential. It does make it tougher not having a date in mind at the end of this all to work towards, but it’s also been freeing in a sense to be able to give into how I’m feeling and let my heart dictate what the focus is this year. I can’t really explain it but if I never got to race again I think I’d still be waking up 6 or 7 days a week to get out the door just loving the sport.
Moving past Boston 2020, I do have thoughts for bigger races once they’re offered again. I haven’t shared this with many people but I do technically have an entry into this year’s Chicago Marathon. I entered with a time qualifier hoping that my siblings or my dad would get in through the lottery and that we’d get to run their first marathons together, but unfortunately, none of them got through. As a result, I had been planning on deferring that entry to 2021 but am waiting to see what happens on that; it doesn’t look promising living in the Chicago area, but there’s no harm in waiting to defer at this point since it may mean a refund or free deferral to next year. Looking beyond the Fall, I have a BQ from 2019’s CIM and will likely enter the 2021 Boston with that time. I am hopeful that it will be safe to gather in larger groups by April 2021 but I don’t think we’ll have a good idea until later this year what things will look like; I pray for much more than just racing’s sake that things are under control by the end of this year. I want to go back to Boston and to feel that magic again, but I want it to be in an environment where we can have fun and not have to worry about getting sick or getting others sick.
Please feel free to reach out if you want to talk through your disappointment on Boston being canceled; I understand what you’re going through and I’m so sorry that we didn’t get our chance to chase the unicorn this year. I hope that you know that you earned every right to wear that jacket if you were registered for 2020’s race and you should wear it proudly. Runners have the uncanny ability to rise up when disappointment strikes and I have no doubt this will light the fire for the next race we run.