Update: In news that many people saw as inevitable, organizers of the Boston Marathon announced on March 13 (two days after this opinion article was published) that they are postponing the race until Sept. 14 in recognition of the danger posed by the new coronavirus. And the London Marathon followed on March 13 with its own postponement, to Oct. 4. We can run another day — in six (or seven) months.

It’s my job to think about the novel coronavirus. As a journalist at STAT, I’ve been steeped in outbreak coverage for several weeks now. Covid-19 first seeped, then flooded, into public health, politics, business, education, and athletics — in other words, life.

And now into my life. I live and run in Boston. That means I can say “I’m running Boston” without adding the word “marathon” when I tell people I’m training for the race, scheduled for April 20.

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I don’t want the coronavirus to derail my plans, even though it feels petty to think that way about a novel, sometimes fatal disease we can’t prevent or cure — even though it also derails the plans of 31,000 other athletes, disappoints the millions who line the course, and jeopardizes the $211 million in revenues it means for the greater Boston area.

It’s a privilege to pin on a bib to run the Boston Marathon, something I’ve been remarkably fortunate to do for 10 years in a row. After qualifying and registering for this marathon last year, I was invited to compete in a masters’ (read: over 40) championship as part of the London Marathon, which may or may not happen on April 26.

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I’ve logged 500 miles since Dec. 26, but won’t be shocked if I don’t get to run either race.

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Paris and Barcelona postponed their spring marathons until October. Tokyo limited its March race to about 300 elite runners. Tel Aviv said only runners who had been in the country a week before its Feb. 28 race could toe the starting line, but looked the other way for some who just showed up.

In my heart of hearts, I just want to run the 26.2-mile course with all the other runners, soak in the cheers from enthusiastic crowds, and thank countless selfless volunteers. Whether I chat nervously with a fellow runner in a corral in Hopkinton, the starting point for the Boston Marathon, or banter in a pen in Greenwich, the starting point for London’s, I hope to draw energy from kindred spirits who share a purpose and months of work doing the hard thing we love.

And yet.

Just as runners in the Boston Marathon in 2013 weren’t the ones injured or killed by the bombs, runners in Boston or London may not be the ones harmed by the coronavirus. It’s the crowds along the way, the vendors at the pre-race expo, the servers in restaurants, the staffers in hotels, the workers in subways, or the drivers in their Ubers who may be exposed to whatever danger runners and the people around them bring to the city. And the same holds true for the volunteers, who choose to give their time just for the love of running.

Boston and London have decisions to make about the greater good of their cities. My guess — as a journalist, a runner, a native of Boston — is they will consider such facts as they can muster in the next few weeks, rise to the occasion, and choose to put no one in danger.

We can run another day.

Elizabeth Cooney is the editor of STAT Plus, STAT’s subscriber-only service for pharma, biotech, business, and policy coverage.

  • If it is postponed I totally support that decision, however gutting it will be for me (as a teacher I won’t be able to make a date in September as I won’t be allowed the time off). However, unless there is a ban on flights to Boston from London we will be a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket as the insurance company will not pay out. I suspect there will be a huge temptation for people to travel to Boston anyway – which doesn’t mitigate the risk for anyone.

  • I can’t even fathom the odasity of anyone running especially if this Pandemic is as serious as it is being reported! Declare Martial Law if necessary for all of those not complying.

    • Martial law?? Are you insane? That would lead to all out war and riots and the deaths of millions.

  • Not true about not being able to run the route unsupported. Plenty of sidewalks and areas to run on the route. I just ran the first 20 miles Saturday.

  • You’re a health and science writer. Is there any reason to believe the situation will be better in the fall? The opposite occurred in 1918-1919. Wouldn’t delay just add chaos to everyone’s planning, assuming it’s even possible to delay something this big?

    • Hi, Ph.D. candidate in health and human performance here. It is unlikely that we will have a vaccine by the fall. We may possibly have a therapy/treatment in Remdesivir. It’s far too early to tell what the fall will look like. We could “flatten” the curve if governments would take appropriate actions…most are not. It is likely not possible to postpone this event as it is on such a large scale. Additionally, the Boston Marathon is synonymous with Patriots Day in April and I don’t see them holding it in October of 2020 and again 6 months later in April. They’ll probably do either what Tokyo did this year and run elites only ~OR~ they’ll do what they did in 1918 and run some sort of modified version of the race.

  • Hi everyone….does anyone know, or is there a link to any group of people who might decide to do the marathon anyway?

    • If it is cancelled runners need to respect the decision and stay home. The decision will be made with appropriate consideration of the evidence by qualified experts. Additionally, runners who “do the marathon anyway”. Will find it difficult since the roads won’t be shut down, many of which have literally no shoulder on which to run, and there will be no aid stations. Respect the decision. Respect the health of the communities through which the race takes place.

    • I ran the first 20 miles of the Boston Marathon route Saturday. There are shoulders, sidewalks, etc. to run on. I had to stop for lights at a few cross streets and cross back and forth a few times to pick up sidewalks, but I had no problems. There are no issue that I saw if you want to run it by yourself or with a few people. You have to carry your own water and aid.

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