Jonathan Burton's Life Savings: How a World Marathon Day would bring us miles closer to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic

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Just days after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, apparel giant Adidas, one of the marathon’s official sponsors, raised money for victims and their families by selling limited-edition T-shirts with the message: “Boston Stands As One.”

Americans rallied in support one week after the horror, participating in #BostonStrong runs nationwide.

The time is coming for people around the world to remember a great tragedy, mourn our dead, honor our heroes, raise money for the afflicted and stand as one. The staggering coronavirus pandemic is not over by any stretch, but COVID-19 likely will be under control by late summer. Our financial well-being, however, will still be seriously threatened. It is not too early to begin planning for ways we can show our resilience, strength, hope and grace.

Post-coronavirus, the world will experience a series of firsts as people again gather en masse and our grief eases into relief. Let’s make this reawakening count. The first outdoor music festivals, for example, should benefit charities assisting those hit hardest by the coronavirus. Same with the first public events of any kind. Let donations flow wherever the invisible walls separating us fall, so we finally might remember how similar we are.

Which brings us back to Boston. The Boston Marathon is one of six Abbott World Marathon Majors held every year, along with New York City, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo. These urban courses attract the planet’s most elite runners and tens of thousands of participants, and even larger crowds cheering the runners on.

This year, the organizers of those six renowned marathons should work together to hold a single World Marathon Day, with each race held in its respective city in a synchronized demonstration of post-coronavirus solidarity.


I don’t organize marathons and haven’t spoken with any marathon officials or corporate sponsors about my proposal, nor am I seeking any financial gain or business opportunity. I’m a runner with a few marathons under my shoes, including New York City, and I know from experience how marathons bring people together.

Monday, Oct. 26, would be an appropriate date, virus-permitting. Numerically it is 10.26.20, which acknowledges the 26.2 miles of a marathon course. Saturday, Sept. 26, also works (09.26.20). This one-time global effort could be promoted with the hashtag #WorldStrong26.2.

Ideally, cities worldwide will reschedule their own postponed or upcoming marathons to World Marathon Day in alliance with the six majors, while other communities hold shorter races and fun runs. (Five of the major marathons are either held in, or have been postponed to, the September-November period, so the logistics of shifting the date would not be onerous. Tokyo held its 2020 marathon on March 1 for elite runners only, and would host another.)

As I envision it, all race participants would be required to race for charity, and top finishers of races with prize money would agree to donate their winnings as well. Of course, runners could participate in only one race on this day, but elite runners typically enter only two marathons a year, at most, in the spring and fall. The coronavirus has done away with marathons through May at least, so consolidating these races into one day shouldn’t be an issue for the top competitors, particularly those who have already committed to a race.

Also, corporate sponsors of these marathons should agree to match the amount raised by race entry fees dollar for dollar and donate that money to charity.

In addition to raising hundreds of millions of dollars or more for charities including hospitals, food banks, housing agencies, mental-health services and educational programs, a World Marathon Day would generate meaningful economic benefits for cities and communities recovering from the coronavirus shutdown.

Marathons are good for business. The major marathons attract runners from all over the world, who spend on hotels, restaurants, bars, stores, tourist attractions and other entertainment. The New York City Marathon, for example, pumped $415 million into the local economy, plus another $22 million in sales and occupancy taxes, a 2015 study showed. Even the much smaller Austin, Texas, Marathon in 2019 brought almost $50 million to the city.

Collective effort

Now inflate those figures to reflect the powerful impact of runners and non-runners alike, collectively celebrating life itself at one special and unique moment. What a difference a World Marathon Day can make.

Ask anyone who’s ever run one: A marathon is much more than a footrace. It is an affirmation of consistent training, singular focus, unwavering determination and true grit — human qualities and values that now carry us through the coronavirus crisis and whatever financial hardship we may face as a result.

On a sunny Monday morning in April 2014, champion marathoner Meb Keflezighi — the names of the three runners who died in the bombing and the police officer killed by the suspects inked on the corners of his race bib — became the first American since 1983 to win the Boston Marathon, a promise he’d made to the people of Boston a year earlier just hours after the terrible attack. His emotional Patriots’ Day victory resonated in Boston and beyond and helped a city heal.

“What really mattered was that my win symbolized what we all did that day,” Keflezighi recalled in “26 Marathons: What I Learned about Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career,” his 2019 memoir. “Everybody was looking to do something positive, not for themselves, but for the city of Boston, the people of Boston and the running community. We all wanted to show that we’re resilient.”

On World Marathon Day 2020, let’s show that we’re resilient. Let’s show how people can run with each other, and for each other.

Run for the doctors and nurses and medical professionals.

Run for the first responders and law enforcement and military service members.

Run for the scientists and pharmacists and therapists.

Run for the farmers and grocers and restaurant staff.

Run for the truck drivers and delivery drivers and postal workers.

Run for the volunteers.

Run for people you know.

Run for people you don’t.

Run for all who can’t.

Run for all who died.

Run for all who live.

Read: How much exercise is OK during the coronavirus pandemic? What’s too risky?

More: British man runs backyard marathon during coronavirus quarantine

Jonathan Burton is a MarketWatch editor and columnist.

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