a label on the inside of an Altra Escalante Racer blue Boston Marathon edition shoe
Photo credit: Yoki5270 via Shutterstock

Boston Marathon Announces ‘Virtual’ Option, Opens to 70,000 Runners

The Boston Athletic Association has made a controversial decision to allow runners to run the Boston Marathon from anywhere.

This week in a statement, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) said it would offer a virtual Boston Marathon option, open to anyone. Held in addition to the in-person 125th Boston Marathon (still slated for this fall), the virtual race will be open to the first 70,000 registrants, anyone 18 and over, with no qualifier time required.

“We anticipate having a reduced field size for the in-person road race on October 11, but want to celebrate and honor the 125th running of the Boston Marathon through this virtual race,” said Tom Grilk, president of the BAA.

“For the first time in our history, most everyone will have the opportunity to earn a Unicorn finisher’s medal for every BAA race in 2021 — no matter whether they choose to walk or run.”

Walkers or runners in any city or state can enter. The only requirements? Virtual Boston Marathon runners will need to complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles “in one, continuous attempt in order to earn their Unicorn finisher’s medal,” wrote the BAA.

Race organizers aren’t giving runners any time restrictions. Virtual participants will even receive a virtual toolkit with an official bib, champion’s break tape, and start and finish line.

The decision to open the Boston Marathon to anyone comes with some controversy, with some runners complaining that it diminishes their hard work to hit a qualifying time, train for the race, and run the actual — and notoriously challenging — course through Boston. (Yes, we’re talking about that iconic Heartbreak Hill at the end.) One runner on Twitter even described the decision as a “dagger through the heart.”

But many other runners are happy with the announcement. “I thought it was a great idea,” Boston runner and journalist Jon Chesto wrote on Twitter. And in the era of COVID-19, it’s about keeping the historic, magic spirit of the Boston Marathon alive.

Now, with a community of 70,000 virtual runners, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Jim Walmsley ultrarunner HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X shoe
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Mary Murphy

Mary is the Managing Editor of GearJunkie and is based in GearJunkie's Denver, Colo. office. She has a degree in English and journalism, and has a background in both newspaper and magazine writing. Her outdoor interests span from running to sport climbing, from landscape photography to skiing to pack-paddleboarding. If she's not writing, you can most likely find her at the top of a fourteener, or in a local bakery.