Boston got it right.
Not just once or twice but three times.
First, the world’s most famous marathon wisely postponed its annual event in mid-April because of the pandemic and moved it back to September.
Then, because it became clear that conditions wouldn’t improve all that much in just a few short months, the Boston Athletic Association decided to scrap the 2020 live version altogether.
Finally, mindful of the race’s honored tradition of being the only 26.2-mile test requiring a qualifying time to get into – aside from the U.S. Olympic Trials – Boston offered not only a “virtual’’ race substitute (Sept. 7-14) but also will let runners use their 2020 qualifying times for 2021.
Fraser Marlow, a training partner of mine, is one of those who believes Boston has been prudent throughout the process.
Marlow had trained hard to qualify for Boston for the first time so the initial derailment was obviously disappointing.
But think of it this way: The 2021 Boston Marathon promises to be historic in its own right because of all the hoopla around its comeback.
“I think the BAA is doing the best they can with a pretty bad situation,’’ Marlow said. “They are making the right calls, although not everybody might be satisfied with the outcome.
“I will follow the BAA’s guidance carefully. I hope to do both the virtual option in the fall and then will apply for 2021 because, well, nothing beats the real experience of traveling to Boston to run the course.’’
Dan Schaal of Yardley has run Boston a number of times in the past and while he didn’t qualify this year, has some good insights into why things turned out the way they did.
“I think from my discussions with 2020 qualified runners, we all agree that this is the best option for public safety,’’ Schaal said. “Obviously they are frustrated that months of training went down the drain, but this is for the greater good.
“And even though I didn’t qualify for 2020 (and won’t for 2021 due to COVID-19) I plan on being a pacer for some of my friends on virtual race day.’’
Richard Kanak of Newtown continues to have a strong presence with the Bucks County Roadrunners so he has a good sense of the prevalent thinking in the running community.
Kanak qualified for Boston this year but didn’t register. Now, with his qualifying time still in place, there might be a change of plans and he could be headed for Beantown next years.
Given the uncertainty of the pandemic situation, Kanak believes Boston is acting in the best interest of everyone involved.
“As a board member for the Bucks County Roadrunners, we have had to and are still making decisions on gatherings and events that are or were affected by the pandemic,’’ Kanak said.
“None of these decisions are easy to make because we are runners who like to compete and engage with fellow runners socially. Not to mention that many of our events raise money for charities that really need the help. With that said the foremost consideration has to be the safety of the runners, volunteers, spectators and staff. For that reason I don’t think there would be many who disagree with how Boston is handling the situation.’’
Theoretically, Marlow barely made it in by 19 seconds off his 2018 Philadelphia Marathon time and there’s no guarantee of entry in Boston because of the fluctuating number of qualifiers, although he will be changing age groups, so there’s a bit more latitude in an older bracket.
Kanak acknowledged some first-timers could be frustrated.
“One group who may be upset (rightfully so) are the first-time qualifiers,’’ he said, “They can use the same qualifying time that got them in this year to apply for 2021 but there is no guarantee they get in again.’’
Gene Dykes is one of only two 70-year-olds in world running history to break the three-hour mark (the late Ed Whitlock being the other) in the marathon.
He easily qualified for 2020 and says he plans to use that entry for 2021. Plus, he’s going to do the virtual race but wishes there was something more to compete for besides a T-shirt and a finisher medal.
“It would be nice if the virtual marathon had some competition involved,’’ Dykes said. “How hard would it be to announce unofficial age group winners? Except for keeping streaks of consecutive Bostons alive, I really don’t see getting a shirt and a finisher item all that compelling.’’
Whatever the case, runners can take some solace from watching Boston try hard to do the right thing in a time when resolutions aren’t all that easy.