The New York City Marathon, the world’s largest marathon and one of the city’s biggest annual spectacles, has been canceled this year as concerns about the spread of the coronavirus continue to dash hopes of holding large-scale events, organizers announced Wednesday.
The race, one of the most prestigious and lucrative events of its kind, would have celebrated its 50th anniversary in November. It is one of the highlights of fall in New York and on the endurance sports calendar, attracting more than 50,000 runners, 10,000 volunteers and roughly one million fans, who line nearly every accessible yard of the 26.2-mile course through the five boroughs.
City officials and New York Road Runners, which owns and organizes the event, decided holding the race would be too risky. Public health experts have said mass events, especially those that bring people together from across the globe, will remain a danger until a treatment or a vaccine for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, is widely available.
White House officials have issued warnings about another wave of infections this fall. And while infection rates in the New York metropolitan area are now among the lowest in the country, the virus is spreading at concerning rates in areas that have not heeded the advice of public health officials to continue to practice social distancing, avoid public gatherings and wear masks. Cases were rising in 26 states on Tuesday night.
Following those guidelines while holding a major race is simply impossible, leaving the endurance sports business economically devastated this year.
Michael Capiraso, the chief executive of New York Road Runners, said he and other organizers had held out hope that the race could happen. They decided to cancel before having to spend more money to organize it.
“There was hope but that turned to uncertainty, and given what we have seen the past months this was really the only decision,” Capiraso said.
Runners who had signed up for this year’s race will be able to choose to receive a refund or to defer their entry to the race during the next three years. They will also have the option to run the race virtually. Organizers said they would announce details of the virtual event in July.
In the New York marathon, the runners and thousands of volunteers are transported to a starting line village at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, where they huddle and wait for hours to be called to the start at the foot of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The runners then cram into a series of starting corrals while they wait for a cannon sound to signal the start of the race.
Remaining six feet apart simply cannot happen.
Organizers canceled the race once before, in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hammered the region just days before the race. They decided against having only an elite field this year in part because they feared crowds gathering on the streets and because of the uncertainty of being able to bring international runners to the United States.
With the announcement, New York became the third of the six major international marathons to be canceled in 2020.
In March, the Boston Marathon postponed its race, scheduled for April, to September, then canceled it altogether last month. The Berlin Marathon announced Wednesday that it, too, would be unable to hold its race in 2020, after saying in April that it could not be held as planned on Sept. 27. The London and Chicago marathons remain scheduled for the fall, but organizers have yet to commit to holding them. The Tokyo Marathon went forward in early March only with elite runners.
The Marine Corps Marathon remains scheduled for late October in Washington and Northern Virginia, though organizers have canceled two shorter races for that weekend.
New York Road Runners carries cancellation insurance for the race, which eases what will be a significant blow for the organization.
The marathon is the signature event and among the main revenue generators for the organization, which collects a little more than $100 million each year but had to cancel two other major events this spring — the New York City and Brooklyn half marathons. According to tax filings, those races accounted for the bulk of the running organization’s $41 million in race entry fees in 2018, the last year for which figures are available.
When the race was canceled in 2012, the organization had infuriated runners by insisting until just two days before the race that it would take place. By then, thousands of runners had traveled from across the United States, Europe and Asia only to have to return home without racing after training for months.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York had signaled in the spring that the chances for holding the marathon were poor. He described such large events as “the last piece of the puzzle” in terms of reopening the city.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s going to be a while before we’re comfortable with any large gathering,” the mayor said then.
The cancellation was a major disappointment for Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February. After the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed a year, to 2021, she had planned to run New York, the place where she proved to herself in 2017 and 2019 that she could be a world class marathoner. When the Olympics were postponed, she wanted to use New York to stay sharp ahead of the Games in 2021.
Without a race on the horizon, she said she was “training for the love of training.”
“I sort of knew this was coming,” Tuliamuk said. “After what we have been through the past four months, it’s the right call.”