New York City Marathon goes virtual during coronavirus pandemic

The virtual race can include augmented reality and the sound of crowds.

October 31, 2020, 11:09 AM

NEW YORK -- The New York City Marathon is one of the city's biggest events of the year, attracting tens of thousands of runners from more than 100 countries around the world to the Big Apple to try to complete a daunting 26.2-mile run.

Normally, the New York Road Runners' flagship race traverses five bridges as it takes participants through all five of the city's boroughs. But this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing large gatherings, everything is going to be just a little bit different.

NYRR's Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Runner Products Christine Burke says the decision was made in June to cancel the in-person run.

"Fortunately, we already had plans in the works to do a virtual marathon," she explained. "This will be our third year of staging a virtual version of the marathon. And we're fortunate that we have experience with it now. And so, we already had plans to do a virtual marathon, but with the cancelation of the in-person race at the end of June, we knew we had to make the virtual version bigger and better than it had ever been."

Chris Baker has run the New York City Marathon several times and initially wasn't sure he'd take part in the virtual festivities.

"I was very skeptical because for me, what's attractive is the actual competitive nature of seeing my friends in the corrals ... and actually competing with them. And a virtual race is kind of like the opposite of that, you're kind of just running by yourself, recording your time, and submitting it," he said.

But Baker says he decided to run this year, not for himself, but for the city.

"Running the virtual marathon for me, is a way to kind of show people, look at what's going on in New York, things are good, we're trying to get back to normal, and this is one way we can do it."

Listen to the full interview and the rest of this past week's highlights here.

The NYRR has followed through on their efforts to make the virtual race special, with the help the running app Strava.

"There is technology that we're using this year," Burke told ABC News, "including some augmented reality, where at the finish line, runners will be able to put a medal over their head in a photo."

Other tools, Burke adds, will allow runners to hear the sounds of the marathon course on race-day, including the sound of the cannon at the start in Staten Island on the Verrazanno Bridge, and crowd noises similar to a normal race.

The marathon can also bring out over 2 million spectators, lining the streets the entire length of the course. ABC's Brad Mielke, host of the Start Here podcast, normally spends Marathon Sunday high-fiving anyone that runs past.

"In the city where you think everyone is isolated and mean and angry and lonely, you've got people who are high-fiving strangers for three hours at a time," he says. "That's like, the magic of it all."

The NYRR allowed participants to submit their run time anytime within a two-week stretch, beginning on Oct. 17, and ending on the normal race day, Nov. 1.

And while the milestone anniversary celebration will have to wait, Burke says organizers hope to recognize the 50th running of the race next year, the same time as ever, the first Sunday in November.

Listen to the rest of this past week's highlights from Perspective.

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