This past week runners across the world took part in the first virtual Boston Marathon experience of the race’s 124-year history. The race, originally scheduled for April 20, was moved due to the coronavirus pandemic. In May, the Boston Athletic Association announced the in-person event would be reimagined into a virtual experience from September 5 to September 14, where participants could run 26.2 miles within a six-hour time period over a span of 10 days, in order to receive a medal.
A total of 17,945 participants, from all 50 states and citizens from 97 countries, entered the virtual marathon, the B.A.A said in a press release.
While it didn’t officially start in Hopkinton or end at the Copley finish line, for many the spirit of completing the race remained the same. So we recently asked runners why they were participating in the race. Here are photos and stories from 14 runners on their first virtual Boston Marathon.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Sam Costas ran in a popcorn costume in Indiana
“I ran the virtual Boston Marathon in a popcorn costume in Valparaiso, IN because Valpo is the hometown of Orville Redenbacher! Before this virtual race, I had run 12 out of 13 marathons in costume, ranging from a pizza slice to a full length princess dress. Running Boston to me was a goal I’ve had for a long time, so I was honored to do it virtually. I kept running because of my family, who were screaming out of their cars at me during the run and also were excitedly waiting at the finish line.”
Dave McGillivray, B.A.A race director, ran his 158th marathon
“I have been the Race Director for almost 30 years. Now with 18,000 registered to do the ‘virtual’, there are now 18,000 Race Directors! I am just the Race Director of myself this year! I did the marathon on Patriots’ Day around my neighborhood but wanted to make it more ‘official’ so I did it again on September 5th, the first day runners could do it, around my neighborhood in North Andover. It was my 48th consecutive Boston Marathon and 158th overall marathon. I guess that is the most compelling reason why I did it: to keep my streak alive but also to support the concept and the effort of all the staff at the B.A.A.”
Victoria Russo ran for her sister Ashley
“My name is Victoria Russo and I am a severe special education teacher. I ran my first ever marathon on the Race for Rehab team in support of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital! I ran in honor of my sister, Ashley, and all other patients who’s strength helps them persevere through similar challenges. Ashley has an extremely rare and complex medical history. She is diagnosed with the only known case in the world of Trisomy 4p with 2 translocations. She is a non-verbal communicator who has secondary diagnoses including, but not limited to, cerebral palsy, severe intellectual delay, intestinal pseudo-obstruction, and coloboma of the right eye. Ashley was my inspiration to keep running!”
Brian Hrybyk ran his 13th consecutive Boston Marathon in Medfield for David and Boston Children’s Hospital
“My name is Brian Hrybyk and this was my 13th consecutive Boston Marathon for Boston Children’s Hopsital’s ‘Miles For Miracles’ team. I run in honor of a patient partner from the hospital, my friend David St. Denis, of my hometown Sturbridge, and have been running for him each of the last 13 years. The numerous open heart surgeries and procedures he has enduring in his life makes running in his honor an easy task. His bravery and courage continues to provide me inspiration to run and raise money for Boston Children’s Hospital each year. Even without the Boston crowds this year, I ran in my town of Medfield and David made the trip out with his dad to see me just over halfway through. Continuing the tradition of seeing him on the course each year! It’s an honor to run the race for David and Boston Children’s Hospital!”
Jeff Kaplan ran to motivate other brain injury survivors
“The 2020 Boston Marathon is not just an achievement or a marathon to me; it is a symbol of life. Life is a marathon, with many stops, many ups, many downs, but we all keep running to get to that finish line, the goal we strive to achieve. On 9/14/18 I was struck by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I run in 2020 for the millions who sustain traumatic brain injuries per year and for Team BIMDC, Beth Israel Deaconess, the hospital that saved my life. I was in a coma for two weeks, the hospital for 35 days, and Spaulding Rehab for 45 days. With the support of doctors, nurses, trainers, friends and family, I came back to life. I ran the 2019 NY marathon one year after I had to relearn to walk. I run this Marathon on the two-year anniversary of the day the Jeff I once was disappeared forever. Many people run marathons for the medal, photos, or bragging rights. My life has been a nonstop marathon of recovering from my brain injury. I run because it’s the only time where I feel normal again. A marathon takes dedication and discipline. You have to be motivated to get your feet moving and not give up. My motivation is for other brain injury survivors — the ones who can’t get the immediate medical help, support, nor have the athletic background that I did. Many brain injury survivors may be wheelchair bound and many may never walk again. I run for the millions of voices that have been silenced due to brain injury, whose life long dreams may never be reached, and for those that just want to feel what it is like to be “normal” again in their forever atypical new world.”
Thomas Arul was diagnosed with COVID-19 in June and ran for Lazarus House
“Today I was glad to finish my first marathon for Charity Lazarus House. I doubted myself many times, especially after [a] COVID diagnosis in June with mild symptoms — I stopped practicing for 2 months! Glad to have finished 26.2 miles. (Or 42.195 kilometers sounds better). Not a great timing however finished strong running all the way! Thanks to family and friends who came to support me in the finish line. Exhilarated to have raised/donated $23,000 for Lazarus House (Thanks for all the 60+ good-hearted people who donated.) One of the sad things we have in our community we don’t see day to day is poverty. There are many who cannot afford rent, heat, food, clothes, or utilities. The most painful part is the mother who struggles to feed her hungry children. Sadly in Massachusetts, 616,090 people are struggling with hunger — and of them 159,950 are children. 1 in 9 children struggles with hunger. With COVID the problems have been exacerbating inequalities in the US. Now more than ever, local charities need your help.”
Bill Hirokawa ran to honor the memory of Boston Marathon bombing victim Lingzi Lu
“I am a 66-year-old runner. I am not sure how many more marathons I have in me. I have been very blessed to have run 36 marathons in my life time. I have run marathons on all of the seven continents. Running the ‘Boston Marathon’ in my Southern California neighborhood was quite different since this was the first time in my life that I have ever run 26.2 miles by myself and wearing a mask. My wonderful wife (Loris) did provide me with liquids and fruits along the route.
What made it so very special was the fact that I was running specifically for the Lingzi Foundation. It was so special knowing that I was dedicating the Marathon run to honor the life and memory of Lingzi Lu, a college student who lost her life in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Lingzi lived life fully with joy by appreciating family and friends. Through her ambitions and dreams she is still enriching our lives and breaking down barriers through her positive spirit, unparalleled work ethic, perseverance, and humanism. This Marathon is in honor of Lingzi Lu. Building bridges between cultures and communities.”
Anna Ribas ran for MGH’s Pediatric Cancer care programs
“This year may have looked a little different, but the finish line, and support of family and friends are all beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of. 11 months of training, 40 long run Saturdays, 11 years of fundraising for MGH beside my best friend, and 2 years of running the Boston Marathon on behalf of Mass General’s Pediatric Cancer care programs.
I am driven to run the Boston Marathon on behalf of Mass General for many people close to my heart. This year, I am running in honor of an immediate family member who recently lost a hard-fought battle with cancer. I am also running in honor of Cindy Worrell for a second time, my best friend’s Mom who spent over a decade in the warm care of Mass General’s Cancer Center. This is my second year partaking in the Patient Partner program at Mass General, so I will be running in honor of her and her family who welcomed me into their own. I run for every family member and loved one who has been impacted by cancer. I run for the best doctors and team in the best city I am proud to call HOME.
I am proud to have raised over $13,000 for clinical and laboratory research in childhood cancer and supportive care programs for patients and families that I have been able to see the impact we’ve made first hand. Thank you!”
Ryan Thoreson, a three-time Boston Marathoner, finally got to pick his own running weather
“I’ve run Boston three times, and every year I’ve stressed about running through heat, freezing rain, or humidity. I ran the virtual marathon this year because I figured that in a two week period I’d finally get to pick my own weather. (I did it last weekend and discovered mid-race that the city was running industrial sprinklers over part of my route, so in the end it didn’t feel that different after all.)”
John Frederick could not let the race slip away this year
“Boston has been a part of my life for 34 years – I could not imagine letting number 35 slip away on me!!”
Timothy Lynch ran his first Boston Marathon
“It took my 5th road marathon last summer to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My goal was to run for the Ouimet Scholarship Fund. They financially supported me when I was a student at UMass. They do not have bibs like other non-profits but I wanted Ouimet to have representation. I ran my Boston Marathon on Saturday, September 5th in and around the Foxboro State Forest.”
Scott Brilliant ran 26.2 miles on a running track
Abbie Barrett ran in Aspen for the MGH Team
“Abbie Barrett finished her virtual Boston Marathon this morning! Abbie was part of the MGH Team. Her older brother was successfully treated at MGH this year! She ran in Aspen Colorado and finished in 4 hours 15 min. Family and friends so grateful for her fundraising and my sons team at MGH.”
Julia Hvoslef ran for Camp Shriver and to honor her dad
“September 12 marks my first ever marathon, and it’s Boston no less. Tomorrow also marks the fourteenth anniversary of my dad passing away; he was the person who gave me my zest and passion for life, and the reason I love adventures and the outdoors. I’m running to honor his life and all that he gave to me. I’m also running for Camp Shriver at UMass Boston – a free, inclusive summer camp for children with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities from low-income families. Camp Shriver’s mission is to use sports as a vehicle to bring children with and without disabilities together so that they have the opportunity to develop their motor and social skills, create positive peer relationships and make new friends. What’s better than that? But most notably, I’m running for myself. A year and a half ago, I tore my ACL after a nasty tumble while backcountry skiing, and now it’s time for the ultimate comeback. I’m so proud of myself for dedicating the past year of my life to rehab and recovery, training (not once, but now twice!) for a marathon, fundraising nearly $10,000 for a cause I care about, and proving to myself that if I can do this, I can do just about anything. Bring on Boston!”
Jack Wozek ran for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
“I ran my Virtual Boston Marathon on Saturday September 12th, throughout the neighborhoods and all of the great running locales of Waltham. Starting atop Waltham’s Prospect Hill on Saturday morning at 6 a.m. with a pre-dawn view of the greater Boston area, I was supported by my family, friends, and great running companions from the Waltham Trail Runners as I ran in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The Foundation has a very clear mission: it saves lives and brings hope to those affected by it. Given the stress and upheaval of a global pandemic, the issue of suicide and prevention is more top of mind and on the rise. According to the Foundation 48,344 Americans died from suicide in 2018. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and the leading cause of death among teenagers, growing disproportionately among young females. Having lost a friend to suicide 30 years ago as a teenager, I run for the Foundation to support those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who have lost a loved one to suicide. As a dad with teenagers of my own now, and a coach in the local Waltham youth running community, I believe there is more we can do to address the stigma around mental health and help those at risk to see the risk and prepare them with lifelines. I run to support their efforts to do something about this – scientific research, education, and public policy advocacy. The Foundation has a huge presence all around the Boston area trying to raise awareness and help those who are struggling, and also to help those who are the ones left behind.”
Frank Luby, who tried to make his race “as Boston as possible” in Chicago, while running for the National Braille Press
“I entered the 2020 Boston Marathon to raise money for the National Braille Press (NBP), a non-profit that publishes books in Braille so that blind people can experience the joy and value of reading the same way sighted people do.
When the race got cancelled, it became clear that the NBP is still the priority. I felt obligated to run and keep trying to get attention and money for them. So on 9/11 I ran most of the 26.2 miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline trail in Chicago. Then I finished in front of Wrigley Field, which had to stand in for Fenway Park. My girlfriend made the run “as Boston as possible” by letting me know at each water stop where I would be on the route, and even played a video of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel.
It was an honor to run the race virtually on behalf of the NBP! This was my third marathon, but in many ways the most special.”
Robyn Gay-Jennings raised nearly $13,000 for Dana Farber, running her first Boston Marathon in memory of Kayur Shah
“I completed my first Boston Marathon on Saturday, September 12 in memory of my dear friend, Kayur Shah, who passed away far too young from stage IV lung cancer. He left behind many loved ones, including his wife, Chrissy and son Lucas, age 4 at the time. Kayur was a positive force who was immediately friends with everyone he met. I decided to keep running in honor of my friend and godfather of my child, whose loss is felt by his loved ones every day. I raised nearly $13,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to further the research and treatment of cancer in his name. I ran from my home in Braintree to Hull High School with Chrissy, Lucas, my husband, Phil, son, Owen, and friends, Robin and Rita for support and inspiration. I did not make it an easy course for myself by including lots of hills, but running 26.2 miles is nothing compared to enduring the pain and uncertainty of cancer. I also had a bib specially made with Kayur’s name and photo to let everyone know what my “why” was for running the virtual Boston Marathon. I am so proud and honored to have completed this journey for Kayur with the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team.”
Pei Lin ran her second marathon with a drive to improve her performance from last year’s race
“Last year was my first Boston Marathon and I absolutely enjoyed it. The course is so unique with the big downhills in the first half and uphills in the second bringing a special challenge in terms of strategy to distribute effort. Like most of the first timers, even though I enjoyed it, I wasn’t satisfied with my performance. I was determined to come back this year to try it differently. Despite recent challenges, it went better than expected. With the extra time I had available due to working from home, I found training became a little easier. So I took the opportunity to improve myself. I originally planned to run the virtual marathon locally, never imagining I would go to the real course. Making that possible were my runner friends from the BEN running group who are so enthusiastic! They organized a big support team and planned 12 water stations along the course. It was unbelievable! So here we go! I couldn’t have imagined I would have a chance to run from the real starting line to the real finish line, worry-free about water, gels etc., they even had pickles! Our dedicated photographer and cheerleader Connie Cao (who ran the course the previous week) took so many incredible pictures to make sure we would remember this run forever. I couldn’t thank enough everyone that made the impossible come true! #togetherweshine.”
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