The canceled 2020 Boston Marathon is now a ‘virtual’ race. Here’s what that means.

Registered participants still have a chance to get their 2020 medal and bib.

Boston, MA - 4/18/20 - The finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston St. remains unpainted as the event has been pushed back due to concerns over the COVID-19 epidemic  (Blake Nissen/ For The Boston Globe)
The finish line of the Boston Marathon remained unpainted, April 18, 2020. –Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe

The 2020 Boston Marathon has been canceled — at least in its traditional format.

Organizers announced the “difficult,” if somewhat expected, decision Thursday to cancel this year’s marathon, which had previously been postponed until Sept. 14, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said that while they had held out hope that the 30,000-participant race could be run, the still-uncontained outbreak of the highly contagious virus meant that “this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14, or any time this year.”

But that doesn’t mean that those who signed up to run the 2020 Boston Marathon can’t still walk away with a medal.

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In the absence of the usual in-person marathon, the Boston Athletic Association announced that it will hold a “virtual” race for the would-be participants.

“While we can’t bring tens of thousands of people from around the world to Massachusetts for the marathon this year, we do hope to bring the spirit of the Boston Marathon to the world,” BAA CEO Tom Grilk said during a press conference Thursday.

Grilk said that his organization will be “refunding entry fees to everyone who was a registered participant” in this year’s marathon. However, those who entered the race will also be offered the chance to remotely complete a 26.2-mile run in order to get some of the marathon’s iconic unicorn-emblazoned gear.

Participants in the virtual marathon will be required to complete a continuous marathon within a six-hour time period any time between September 7 and 14.

In other words, runners can map out their own 26.2-mile solo run. The BAA only says that it must be completed continuously, on the same day, and not broken up over several days.

And in return for proof of finishing within the six-hour time period, the BAA will send virtual marathoners their official 2020 Boston Marathon program, participant T-shirt, medal, and runner’s bib.

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The BAA says the week will also include other virtual offerings, such as panel discussions, champions interviews, and “a downloadable Boston Marathon toolkit,” including a printable finish line and winner’s breaktape for runners who want to recreate at least some aspects of the traditional race.

According to the BAA, further details about the virtual race, such as registration information and any fees for participation or shipping costs, will be communicated to all Boston Marathon entrants in the near future. The virtual race will be open to anyone who had originally entered the April 20 race, including those who chose to get a refund for the postponed race before the announcement Thursday.

The Boston Marathon is hardly the first race to pivot to a virtual event in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped mass gatherings off the board across the world. From local 5Ks to ultramarathons, race organizers have tried to offer the remote solo runs as alternatives to canceled in-person events this year.

Grilk also said Thursday that the BAA is expanding the qualifying window for the 2021 Boston Marathon to retroactively begin on Sept. 15, 2018, meaning that certified races completed between that date onwards can be used for next year’s race.

However, the BAA says that race times from this September’s virtual marathon will not be able to be used to qualify for the 2021 race.

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