Everything You Need To Know about the Virtual Boston Marathon

This year, the Boston Athletic Association goes high-tech to make the virtual race feel as much like the real thing as possible. 

Photo by Simone Migliori

The cancellation of the Boston Marathon this year—for the first time in 124 years—is one of the many great cultural casualties of COVID-19. There are dozens of reasons to mourn the loss of the most exciting day in the city, but thanks to the ingenuity of the Boston Athletic Association, runners can still compete in a postponed version of this year’s race, albeit virtually.

On August 27, B.A.A launched the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience mobile app and web platform, designed to mimic the in-person race experience. While it can’t replace the real thing, dozens of in-app features can help recreate the joy, pride and celebration of Patriot’s Day in Boston.

Who It’s for

The virtual race is open to anyone who was originally registered for the April 20, 2020 race date.

How To Take Part

From September 5 to September 14, anyone registered for the virtual race can set out on the day of their choosing to run 26.2 miles in their neighborhood—whether they’re in Massachusetts or Malawi. There is no time limit to run the virtual race, but it must take place all in one go, on one day, to qualify.

Because road races are still prohibited in Massachusetts, the B.A.A discourages anyone from trying to run the actual Boston Marathon race route. Busy roadways like Boylston Street will not be blocked off for race participants. Sit down at home with a tool like MapMyRun or MapOmeter to find a safe route to run that’s close to home.

If you’re determined to log your best time—and you’re a superhuman—you can run multiple marathons between September 5 and 14. But beware: Only your most recent race time will show up on virtual leaderboards, so don’t slack on your second attempt!

What the App Can Do

The virtual experience app offers real-time GPS tracking to show your approximate location on the actual Boston Marathon race route, depending on how far along you are mileage-wise. Family and friends can also follow your progress with the spectator tracking feature.

The app also features audio cues that will play at relevant mile markers along the way. Start with a recording of the “Star Spangled Banner” by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, then take off running when you hear the official marathon start sound in your ears. At distinct mile markers along your route, you’ll hear accompanying audio cues, like the screams of Wellesley College students at the halfway mark and the roar of the crowd on Boylston Street as you approach your finish line. The audio collection also includes inspirational words from former Boston Marathon champions.

Once you’ve finished your race, you can view your spot on the virtual leaderboard with other runners from around the world.

Prep for the Big Day

Besides all the race-day features, the app and web platform also include some DIY projects to replicate the Boston Marathon atmosphere at home. Print out your April 20 race bib, cheer cards for your friends and family to hold, as well as mile markers and “Entering Town…” signs to place along your race route. You can also follow detailed, in-app instructions to build your own at-home finish line, complete with a printable winner’s breaktape to run through after you’ve crushed the race.

For anyone nervous about tech malfunctions on the big day, use the in-app “Shake Out Run” a day or two in advance to familiarize yourself with all the features. The B.A.A also has step-by-step instructions in the app and multilingual tech support on-call to answer your questions.

Post-Race Perks

After you’ve crushed 26.2 miles of hard work, unpinned your bib, and peeled off your sneakers, it’s time to celebrate. Among other congratulatory items, registered runners will receive a participant t-shirt, a Sam Adams 124th Boston Marathon bottle opener and a unicorn finisher medal.

Before you shower, loop that hunk of metal around your neck and smile like you’re dripping sweat in Copley Square. You can use the in-app photo booth to snap a finisher picture for social media—just don’t forget to outfit your selfie with custom Boston Marathon stickers.

For the Fans

Even if you’re not racing this year, you can still get a taste of the race-week excitement. A free, virtual version of the annual Boston Marathon Expo will run from September 4-15, featuring educational interviews with your favorite running legends, coaches, and other industry wellness professionals. Take advantage of real-time video and text chats with fitness brands and shop products from race exhibitors on the site.