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The future of marathons is in the hands of the casual runner

A person running in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; a shadow covers their face.
Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
A new kind of race day.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter


When my alarm went off in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 22, it was still dark. I took 30 minutes to drink my coffee and grab my gear bag. The sun didn’t start peeping out until I was well on my way on I-95 South, driving to Fountainhead Regional Park in Virginia for what had become a rare experience: a competitive race with dozens of other runners.

As I made my way to only my second organized race in 10 months, things almost felt normal. All the big races I had planned on doing this year had been canceled or postponed until next year. I had particularly been looking forward to running the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) for the fourth time in my hometown of Washington DC. There, I hoped to run a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, the oldest race in the country, and one of the most competitive to enter. I gave up training in May when it became clear that participating safely wouldn’t be possible.

I wasn’t alone. Nearly all major marathons and other road races were nixed in 2020, from Athens to Boston. Some races, like the Tokyo marathon, have been postponed to late 2021.

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