Myth has it if a certain creature from western Pennsylvania climbs out of his hole on Feb. 2 and sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter.
One might apply the same logic for the Boston Marathon and the road racing calendar for 2021.
The Boston Marathon Association, which had to cancel its 2020 running for the first time in its 124-year history due to the pandemic, announced on Wednesday it has been forced to postpone its normal April running date for 2021, which means racing’s “winter’’ extension might last a lot longer than six weeks.
The BAA said it will consider a possible fall date but will not make that decision until the end of 2020.
As for 2020, organizers and local officials along the route from Hopkinton to Boston determined that it would not be safe for the 30,000 runners and tens of thousands of spectators to gather for the race.
A virtual marathon was held in its place. Various media outlets reported more than 16,000 people from all 50 states and 83 countries ran the 26.2 miles in their own neighborhoods during a 10-day period in September.
The BAA’s decision for April, 2021 could provide a cue for races big and small around the country that things just aren’t right yet.
The worry seems to be that if the massive cancellations of 2020 have to be repeated, a number of mid-sized to smaller local races just won’t be able to come back at full strength again. . .or even survive.
Contacted prior to Wednesday’s announcement, Peter Lederer and Richard Kanak, two of Bucks County’s premier marathon runners, said they believed it would be difficult to stage a race of Boston’s size and magnitude until health conditions markedly improve.
Lederer completed the virtual rendition of Boston just last month to run his consecutive streak to 17. The Langhorne resident has been to enough of these events in Massachusetts to understand how crowded things get, particularly at the start and finish.
“It would seem doubtful at this time that Boston could have an in-person race with 30,000 people in April,’’ Lederer said. “I think they are better off planning for a fall race so that everyone can plan their training and travel.
“The other world marathon majors (New York, London, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo) are already planned for the fall so they would most likely have to pick one of the open dates so they don’t conflict.’’
According to Lederer, without a change in global health conditions, Boston might be destined for a repeat of 2020.
“If we aren’t in a better place with this virus by mid-summer,’’ he said, “then they would have to consider the virtual event again.’’
Such a scenario could have a trickle-down effect to races right here in Bucks County. Most of the bigger events such as the July 4-Revolutionary Run 10K/5K and the Sesame Place Classic 5K would have to consider down-sizing fields and tight protocols (masks, social distancing, wave starts, etc.)
“Smaller local races with staggered start times and chip timing seem to be the only way to hold races at the moment,’’ Lederer pointed out.
According to an article on the ESPN.com website, registration for live racing is down as much as 95 percent. Presumably, much of that has to do with health concerns.
In the world of running, it is the smaller races — from 5Ks and 10Ks, many operated by local event organizers — that are under financial stress.
In 2019, Running USA, an industry trade group, tracked more than 21,000 road races, which collected roughly $267 million in fees from more than 17.6 million registered runners.
Christine Bowen, vice president of programming partnerships and operations at Running USA, told ESPN.com that new estimates as of mid-March showed roughly 7,500 road races have been canceled so far into 2020, and thousands have been canceled since.
That’s more than 1.2 million participants who are left in limbo.
“I’m sure other big races will watch to see what Boston does, but I’m hoping that some of the smaller ones move forward with their races,’’ said Kanak, a Newtown resident.
“I think it’s encouraging that there are some in-person small races taking place and I’m hopeful that the BCRR will be able to continue with our plans to have a modified Winter Series this year. With everything that goes into putting on an iconic event like the Boston Marathon, it’s impossible to know what the likelihood of having the latest edition (possibly in the fall) might be. But I’ll remain hopeful.’’
Chasing the Unicorn Marathon, Alternative Half-Marathon, 10 a.m., Washington Crossing. Contact www.runsignup.com
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