The race tried to go on, to fight to the end. But with a little more than three months to go, the Marine Corps Marathon reached a point where the reality of the coronavirus pandemic was too much to face on Oct. 25. It followed other large marathons in canceling, including Chicago and New York. Marine Corps will offer a virtual racing option. A day later (July 21), the Army Ten-Miler announced that it too would not hold an in-person race. It had been scheduled for Oct. 11 but had delayed registration.
“We explored various approaches to safely execute a live event and held numerous meetings with Marine Corps leadership, local government and public health officials,” said Race Director Rick Nealis. “We understand this is disappointing news for many, but we could no longer envision a way to gather together in compliance with safety guidelines. While we are unable to celebrate in-person this October, we are excited about the opportunity to bring the 45th anniversary event to the homes of runners around the world through a rewarding and engaging virtual experience.”
The bottleneck for the race came in the start and finish areas near the Pentagon and United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington County. Virginia limits gatherings to 250 participants and the starting line can see crowds of more than 20,000 runners in close quarters. In an attempt to reduce the roughly 28,000 runners who show up ever year on the last weekend of October, the race tried to shed runners, canceling the in-person 10k (good for 5,000 – 8,000 finishers annually). An attempt to stagger starts would run up against the deadline to reopen the 14th Street Bridge, forcing the race to tighten pace restrictions to 12:00 per mile, which would have cut nearly 8,000 of 18,000 who didn’t maintain that pace in 2019 and nearly 7,300 of more than 20,000 finishers in 2018.
The drew criticism from runners who questioned the race’s self-appointed moniker as “the people’s marathon.”
“Health and safety are our top priorities during this challenging time,” said Libby Garvey, Arlington County Board Chair. “The Marine Corps Marathon is a treasured event and tradition in our community that Arlingtonians look forward to each year. As we celebrate the race’s 45th anniversary this year, we will be enthusiastically and virtually cheering on each runner. We can’t wait to welcome these dedicated athletes and fans back to Arlington in person in 2021.”
A little farther away, the Baltimore Marathon (Oct. 17) and Richmond Marathon (Nov. 14) remain on schedule as of their most recent updates.
Just seven years ago, Marine Corps came within a day of canceling supply orders, and the race, in the face of the federal government shutdown that would have prevented runners from using most of the course.