“I worry about their ability to get through the pandemic,” Rich Harshbarger, the chief executive at Running U.S.A., an industry trade group, said of the organizations that manage races. “The question isn’t how do we respond, it’s how do we get through this?”
Runners who had signed up for this year’s race in New York will be able to choose to receive a refund or to defer their entry to the race during the next three years. They will also have the option to run the race virtually from Oct. 17 to Nov. 1. Organizers said they would announce details of the virtual event in July.
In the New York marathon, the runners and thousands of volunteers are transported to a starting line village at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, where they huddle and wait for hours to be called to the start at the foot of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The runners then cram into a series of starting corrals while they wait for a cannon sound to signal the start of the race.
Remaining six feet apart simply cannot happen.
Organizers canceled the race once before, in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hammered the region just days before the race. They decided against having only an elite field this year in part because they feared crowds would gather on the streets and because of the uncertainty of international runners being able to travel to the United States.
The London and Chicago marathons remain scheduled for the fall, but organizers have yet to commit to holding them. The Tokyo Marathon went forward in early March only with elite runners, but that is not a long-term solution; without ticket sales in the sport, organizers need money from casual participants to help pay for the elite field’s appearance fees and prize money.
In the absence of federal guidelines, endurance events are likely to happen on a state-by-state or event-by-event basis. The Marine Corps Marathon remains scheduled for late October in Washington and Arlington, Va., though organizers have canceled two shorter races for that weekend. A marathon in Fargo, N.D., scheduled for August, plans to move forward. It attracts about 1,500 participants. Spartan, which manages events with obstacles, held a race for about 1,000 people in Florida this month.
New York Road Runners carries cancellation insurance for the marathon, which will help ease what will be a significant blow. The marathon is the signature event and among the main revenue generators for the organization, which collects a little more than $100 million each year but had to cancel two other major events in the spring: the New York City and Brooklyn half marathons. According to tax filings, those races accounted for the bulk of the running organization’s $41 million in race entry fees in 2018, the last year for which figures are available.