BOSTON – Missing: Boston’s raucous crowds and smiles for miles. Still there, sort of: Wellesley College’s iconic “scream tunnel” and the thunderous cheers along the finish line on Boylston Street.
The 124th running of the Boston Marathon finally gets underway next month, but virtually — meaning real runners will do the hard work, and an interactive mobile app will help augment their not-quite-authentic experience.
Rather than lining up in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and making the long trek to Boston, athletes will run this year's marathon solo because of the coronavirus pandemic. A weeklong TV special and the new mobile app will showcase their stories as they go the distance on their own.
Amazon and WBZ-TV are teaming up on a “Boston Marathon Live” broadcast that will be aired nightly starting Monday, Sept. 7, through Sunday, Sept. 13.
Co-produced by the Boston Athletic Association, which puts on the marathon every year, the show will air at 8 p.m. EDT and again at midnight on television and be streamed on CBSBoston.com.
The marathon normally is run on a Monday in April, on Massachusetts' unique Patriots Day holiday, but was postponed to mid-September because of the pandemic. Then, at the end of May, it was canceled altogether — the first time in its 124-year history that the storied race in its traditional format was scrapped.
Instead, registered runners are being encouraged to complete the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) distance by themselves — wherever they are in the world — and share accounts of their preparation, motivation and execution.
Athletes also will be able to use a mobile app the BAA is rolling out to upload their routes and finish times. The app includes audio cues that will sync with an individual runner's progress and play at key mile markers, such as the roar of the crowd as runners approach the irrepressible women of Wellesley, a marathon tradition, and the finish on Boylston in downtown Boston.
It's all designed to help participants get at least a feel for the real thing, even if they're running in Bangor or Bangkok instead of Boston, the planet's most prestigious marathon and a bucket list dream for serious runners.
BAA CEO Tom Grilk said the show will “truly allow for us to bring Boston to the world.” More than 17,000 runners worldwide are registered for the virtual version. A field of 30,000 runners participated in last year’s in-person race.
“This isn't quite how I imagined, but it still feels exciting,” said Zach Lister, a marathoner who's using his run to raise money for Boston's Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
One advantage to the virtual marathon: Runners can pick a day where the weather suits them, rather than get stuck racing in withering heat or pouring rain.
But covering the classic marathon distance solo — without the usual cheering crowds or fellow athletes to draw on for strength and support — won't be easy. RC Malden, a suburban Boston running club, alluded to that Friday in a tweet: “Running a marathon is hard. Running a marathon ALONE is almost impossible.”
“Boston Marathon Live” will be hosted by WBZ-TV anchor Lisa Hughes. Each show will feature interviews with marathon personalities, including champions, and profiles on people participating in the virtual edition.
“The B.A.A. is delighted to partner with Amazon and WBZ-TV to offer a week of programming that will celebrate our participants, spotlight race history and serve as a unifying element throughout the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience," Grilk said in a statement.
During the show, the BAA will be raising money for coronavirus response efforts.
A virtual Boston Marathon Expo also will be held, featuring sessions with running legends, coaches, dietitians and wellness professionals. Runners will have a chance to engage in real-time video or text chats with exhibitors, said Conventures Inc., which produces the expo.