By Jessica Stevens and Jack Thornton
Boston University News Service
BOSTON – Back in form and in person, Oct. 11 marks the return of the 125th Boston Marathon, back on track with a special fall edition after the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined the yearly event.
The upcoming marathon is set to take place in person with several COVID-19 protocols in place, with runners requiring either proof of a World Health Organization-certified vaccination or a negative test result – which will be administered on-site with a rapid test. Families and friends accompanying the runners have also been highly encouraged to get tested as well.
To keep track of who has been verified vaccinated or with a negative result, organizers will be implementing a bracelet system. Kendra Butters, director of communications for the Boston Athletic Association, said it is essentially like “festival bracelets” – once a runner gets their negative result or approved proof of vaccination, they will receive a bracelet. They will also be encouraging masking up until the beginning of the race.
With a field size of approximately 20,000 participants, the fall marathon size is about 40% smaller than previous years.
“The field reduction was a big piece – reducing our size by almost 40%, so we could space the field out more,” Butters said. “We also will start an hour earlier, which allows us to space out how the runners will actually be running the 26.2 miles.”
Among the runners in the reduced field is Karen Howe from Rochester, NY, who expressed her excitement to participate in the race.
“It’s really an honor to participate in it,” said Howe. “It’s a place where new friends are made, you get to visit old friends, [Boston is] a great city, and it’s an honor and a privilege to run in an event like this.”
Howe has run in the Boston Marathon 11 times, though she says her motivation for this year’s race will be different from past iterations.
“Rather than race for a specific time, I’m going to focus on taking it all in,” said Howe. “I want to see the smiles, I want to see the faces…I’m just excited to see people. I’m feeling really excited and hopeful again.”
In addition to keeping up with COVID-19 protocols, the BAA has also had to focus on the marathon being held on Indigenous Peoples Day. The marathon organizers received backlash from members of Boston’s indigenous community after it was announced the Marathon would be on Oct. 11.
In a Change.org petition to the BAA to change the marathon date, the Indigenous Peoples Day Newton Committee said in scheduling the marathon on the same day, the association had decided “Indigenous Peoples Day is a “side” holiday that can be usurped,” as well as saying the decision “hinders the opportunity to uplift Indigenous voices, celebrate, and have ceremony for everyone who participates in the Boston Marathon.”
On Aug. 27, the BAA issued a formal statement of apology to Indigenous people who objected to the association’s scheduling decision.
“[T]he Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) in no way wanted to take away from Indigenous Peoples’ Day or celebrations for the Indigenous and Native American Community,” the statement read. “We extend our sincere apologies to all Indigenous people who have felt unheard or feared the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be erased. We are sorry.”
The statement also said there would be an official land acknowledgment before the marathon to recognize the Indigenous land that is part of the race. It also announced the BAA would donate to the Indigenous Peoples Day Newton Committee, as well as recognize and celebrate both runners in the 125th marathon as well as those who participated in past races.
There is also going to be a virtual marathon with almost 30,000 participants.
“It just has to be completed in one continuous attempt, so a lot of folks will be completing the marathon distance for the first time ever, and it’s their opportunity to be in the history books of the Boston Marathon,” Butters said.
The virtual marathon gives people from all over the world the chance to participate in the famous Boston Marathon.
“We recently launched a new vision statement this year as well, which essentially says that we’re committed to creating a world where everybody can access and benefit from running, walking in a healthy lifestyle,” Butters said.
Howe feels the city of Boston has done a “standup job” at communicating with the marathon’s runners, and that the marathon’s COVID-19 restrictions have made her feel much more comfortable as a runner.
“I personally think what they rolled out is very fair,” Howe said. “We need to stay safe, and it’s a privilege to be able to run an event, so I feel good about it.”