More than 600,000 white flags have filled part of the Washington Monument lawn in late September, a temporary art installation memorializing and visualizing the American death toll from COVID-19. Anyone practicing the 18th mile of the Marine Corps Marathon course run nearby, and the juxtaposition became unavoidable when the race announced its second straight cancelation.
Citing safety and security precautions, Marine Corps canceled the Oct. 31 in-person marathon, 50k and 10k on Sept. 24, 11 days after the Army Ten-Miler canceled its Oct. 10 race. After the Army cancelation, Marine Corps race director Rick Nealis said he felt good about his race’s logistics to reduce crowding by runners before, during and after the race, including a vaccination requirement, but the linchpin was the support staff’s availability. Nealis had been confident enough in the race’s outlook that he had executed nonrefundable supply contracts for the race.
“It came down to the federal workforce and the national priority of defeating COVID-19,” Nealis said. “I draw my workforce from the Marine bases in the National Capital Region, and we’ve had some uptick in case positivity recently. Looking out 30 days, the feeling was that we probably aren’t going in the right direction.”
The U.S. Marine Corps is working toward a Nov. 28 deadline for COVID vaccinations, and Nealis said earlier in September that the availability of Marines to work the race was a significant variable, but one he hoped would be mollified by vaccination efforts.
In addition, conducting the race requires hundreds of law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, and Nealis said it was a tough sell to divert them to support the race and potentially expose them to the coronavirus.
“Everybody has their own opinion or definitely of ‘safe,’ but in the end, the Marine Corps Marathon has to look at the debate over keeping 9,000 runners safe, the Marines safe and the support staff safe,” Nealis said.
The race will offer full refunds, deferrals to the 2022 race and cover any price increase or a transfer to the virtual race and a refund for the difference.
A 2013 study by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute charted the race’s economic impact at $88 million throughout the Washington, D.C. area, with $59.7 million spent in Arlington County. The 2021 race was planned to be much smaller, with roughly 9,000 runners entered among three races, compared to nearly 31,000 finishers in 2013’s marathon and 10k.
D.C.’s John Camarillo was left looking for a contingency marathon after running his first effort virtually in the 2020 Marine Corps Marathon. He completed his run in heavy rains on Oct. 25, running solo around the National Mall and Mount Vernon Trail, with fluid and vocal support from his wife.
“I was really hoping it would go off as planned,” he said. “I was really looking forward to running an actual time,” with a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Camarillo soon found the Mayflower Wind Cape Cod Marathon, also scheduled for Oct. 31, which will allow him to stay on his training schedule.
Arlington’s Emily Hart, who also ran her first marathon virtually in 2020, is deciding between running her race Oct. 16 or just running 26.2 miles tomorrow in lieu of her planned 20-mile training run.
The National Park Service plans to reopen Beach Drive to cars for nine months of the year, but is accepting comments through Thursday.
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