Karen Bertasso was supposed to have been in the elite corral, checking an item off her bucket list.
Dan Larson was supposed to have finished his 50th Boston Marathon, and 45th straight.
Jim Forbes, his old Scotia-Glenville High School cross country teammate, was supposed to have run it, too, then meet Larson at the Park Plaza Hotel bar, an old tradition that usually also included Forbes’ brother Paul.
On March 13, the Boston Athletic Association postponed the Boston Marathon to Sept. 14, and on Thursday took the seemingly inevitable next step and canceled it entirely, offering a virtual option, like many crowded road races have done.
Reactions among some Capital Region runners with a vested interest in the Boston Marathon varied, but was tinged with one common element: philosophical resignation.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting every type of public gathering imaginable, it came as no surprise that cramming 30,000 huffing and puffing runners into the tiny town of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for a marathon that draws tens of thousands of spectators crammed into the municipal spaces of greater Boston, wasn’t going to happen, even in mid-September.
Still, as inevitable as the decision was, so was the regret.
Here’s the perspective of four runners with Boston experience:
Bertasso, a 35-year-old orthopedic Physician Assistant in Albany, would’ve been less than two months removed from having run in the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials, had Boston been held on schedule.
The Scotia native had a grueling experience in Atlanta on Feb. 29, finishing in 2:54:17, and did not have much fun the last time she ran Boston, either, slogging through the notoriously rainy 2018 race in 2:56:28.
But she was looking forward to this year’s race, securing a coveted spot in the elite corral, and all the advantages that brings, having run a 2:43:46 at Hartford in 2018 to be comfortably under the Olympic Trials standard of 2:45.
Still, Bertasso is grateful to have gotten in some good races this year before everything got canceled. She’ll start one of her 16-week training cycles soon, and if something shows up in the fall, she will be ready.
“I feel a little biased, because I did get a chance to do those things,” she said. “But I was going to run Boston, I was invited into the elite field this year, which I was super-excited about. When it first got rescheduled, it was kind of a relief, because, coming off the Trials, it allowed for a little more time for recovery.
“I thought the date might’ve been a little too early. When they said mid-September, I was hopeful, but it’s not something that is a huge shock that it had to be canceled, especially because it’s a huge race as it is, it’s an international field. Both of those components really made the likelihood of something like that a lot less.”
She can still savor her participation in the Olympic Trials, even if it didn’t go as planned.
“I had pretty good training in my legs going into Trials,” she said. “Unfortunately, I had some issues that were unrelated to training during the race. So I was hoping to bounce back and have a good race [at Boston], but I guess we won’t know.
“I finished, and I beat my seed, which was like my ‘C’ goal, so that was good. But I went out a little too hard, which was my own fault, and then I had some GI issues, too.
“I think that was the first race where I threw up as I was running,” she said, laughing.
Bertasso, who doesn’t plan to exercise the virtual option in September, has run Boston three times, and her most recent one, in 2018, has been earmarked by many as one of the worst weather days in memory.
“The year that we swam the Boston Marathon,” she said. “I threw off my jacket, because I only had one bib and I was afraid it wouldn’t pick up [on the finish scanner], and I ended up with hypothermia. I finished, but I felt like had I had another bib and kept my coat on and saw everyone else had their coat on, things might’ve been a little different.
“I love Boston as a city. I’ve always been there for Marathon weekend, whether I’m running in the 5k or just spectating. It’s just a great event, and everyone is just awesome, so it’s a fun weekend in general.”
The Amsterdam track and cross country coach wasn’t entered this year, but has run Boston seven times, most recently in 2017, and feels for those who were entered for the 2020 race.
That includes one of his former runners, Meghan Mortensen (nee Davey), who shows a 3:24:19 PR in the 2019 race and ran with Palczak, sort of, in 2017.
“So in 2017, I got to run with Meghan, and some of my runners were out there cheering for us,” Palczak said. “Although I didn’t have a good run, that probably was my favorite Boston.
“I say I ran it with her … not really. Since she graduated from high school, she’s one of the kids that I’ve stayed in touch with and run with several times. Actually, I think we ran 15, 16 miles on the morning of her wedding.
“We both qualified, so our families stayed in the same place, we went to the start together, but she was in an earlier wave than I was, so we didn’t get to run together. She started a half-hour before me and I didn’t anticipate seeing her at the end, but I was collecting my gear and I get a tap on the shoulder. So that was great.”
As a runner, but also a coach, Palczak can identify with the organizational and safety challenges the BAA faced trying to run the race in September, and why it was prudent to just cancel it.
“Although it wasn’t unexpected, it’s still sad,” he said. “It puts a real pallor on the running community, because, as you know, Boston is the big deal, the epicenter. It’s what really certifies someone as a legitimate marathoner.
“Logistics is everything. The planning to go to Boston and get a place, to figure out how you’re going to get to the start of the race, how you’re going to get back … all those things take planning, so I think it was important to let the people running know that they weren’t going to run as early as possible.”
Palczak’s favorite aspect of the race is how much people support each other at Boston.
That goes for not only strangers in the crowd, but unexpected familiar faces that might show up.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The support from the greater Boston community, from Hopkinton through the communities down to Boston has been great. The whole weekend, everything is about the marathon.
“When you go to a big marathon like that, you never know who you’re going to run into. I’ve seen Amsterdamians out on the course. One of the years, one of the girls who ran track for me, Caitlyn Bintz, ran out into the middle of the course and grabbed me, said hello and then pushed me to keep going. A real neat experience.”
For Larson, 2020 Boston was supposed to have been a crowning achievement; for his old friend Forbes, it was simply supposed to be frosting on the cake. Tasty frosting, but frosting nonetheless.
Larson has started every Boston since 1970 and has failed to finish just one, in 1975, so his 44 straight finishes puts him in exclusive company, as a member of the Quarter Century Club for Boston runners with at least 25 straight finishes.
The 66-year-old Forbes, of Valley Falls in Rensselaer County, isn’t far off the membership requirement, having missed just two since the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996. He also ran it as an unregistered “bandit” a few times in the 1970s, including one year driving up with a schoolmate from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, when they ran out of money and got off the Massachusetts Turnpike at an early exit because they didn’t have enough toll money to go all the way.
He wasn’t planning to run it this year, but had a qualifying time left over from the 2018 Chicago Marathon and didn’t want to let it go to waste. More importantly, it would have been a chance to run in Larson’s big 50th.
“I feel bad more for Danny,” Forbes said. “I felt like last year was going to be my last Boston, anyway. And this one was going to be the last one for Danny, so it was going to be the last time at the Park Plaza Hotel with him.
“I felt bad for Danny, and my daughter was all ready. She would’ve run a great race. She’s done it once before, but she’s training real hard and probably would’ve broke three hours, so she’s not too happy. She ran a half marathon in February in Hyannis and was under 1:30, I think, so she was definitely going to kick my butt.”
Like many who were supposed to run Boston, Forbes, his daughter Kathleen and Larson ran a “relay” on April 20, in separate locations, to commemorate the race.
Larson’s decision on the virtual option in September is pending a ruling related to his finish streak, but Forbes said he doesn’t expect he’ll run a virtual race.
“The virtual thing seems silly to me,” he said. “There’s no point to it. They won’t let you use it as a qualifying time [for 2021], so it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a way for them to recoup some of the money they’ve spent on shirts and medals.
“I’d rather see him get this 50 and be done so he can hang up the Yale singlet and concentrate on his Turkey Trot streak instead.”
The Yale singlet in question — and limbo — was Larson’s actual track and cross country singlet from his undergrad days, which he wore at Boston for years since 1970. He’s been using an updated model in recent years.
Since the cancellation news broke on Thursday, he said he’s received 100-plus emails from a variety of well-wishers, including old high school friends, but also fellow Quarter Century clubbers.
In the midst of the massive undertaking of canceling the race, the BAA has yet to decide whether completing the virtual option will be required for “streakers” to maintain their streak status.
Larson, a retired physician in Queensbury, wanted to run this Boston and ride off into the sunset, but — as much of an anticlimactic letdown as it would be — he’s prepared to do a virtual run in September if he must.
“People’s heads are all over the place, but I think the basic gist of it is — one that no one’s said in the emails because everyone’s worried about themselves — is this is not a big important question in today’s society right now,” Larson said. “But that being said, it is ridiculously important to some of us, and you have to put it in perspective.
“I haven’t decided yet, but I think I’m going to run one — and ‘run’ may be glorifying what I would be doing, jog, walk, run — under their six-hour time limit. So I believe I will do this so I can record my 50th finish to be on the safe side.”
Larson, whom Forbes affectionately calls a pessimist, believes conditions may not have changed enough by April of 2021 to be able to hold the Boston Marathon then.
Running a virtual marathon in September would be a difficult assignment for him, because he comes into each April with good cross country skiing fitness, but isn’t physically able to keep up training on the roads in the summertime.
“I have a feeling this is going to be tough for me,” he said. “I would say that the majority of [Quarter Century] people feel that running a virtual Boston Marathon, it just is not the same. The reason you do it is the collegiality, the spirit. It’s the tradition, it’s the Boston Marathon course and the support of the population and the support of your fellow runners.
“It would be more bitter than sweet. We’ll see. It’ll be my 50th, and I guess if they have another real one in 2021, I would probably try to do that, too. But I don’t know. It’s up to the BAA, and it’s up to my knees, and a bunch of other stuff.
“And if it’s only 49, it’s only 49 … what the hell.”