Runners leave the starting line at the 28th annual Maine Marathon on Oct. 6, 2019 in Portland. Staff file photo

The Gorham Savings Bank Maine Marathon has become the latest road race to cancel because of the coronavirus pandemic, race officials announced on Tuesday.

The event, which was scheduled for Oct. 4, includes a marathon, half marathon and relay through Portland and communities to the north. Race officials will offer a virtual event instead, adding a 5-kilometer race.

Race Director Bob Dunfey said he had hoped the fall date would allow the races to be held. But recent surges in new cases of COVID-19 across the country prompted officials to cancel it. The Maine Marathon attracts runners from over 45 states and 10 countries, according to Dunfey.

“It sort of comes down to it seems to be a fair amount of risk (to run the race),” said Dunfey. “It only takes a few bad players, someone could bring the virus and transmit it despite our best efforts to make it safe. Not everyone wants to wear a mask. A lot of runners do. But basically we thought the risk and downside was far greater than the upside and benefits.

“I’m Mr. Optimistic and I was hoping I could take care of the pent-up demand for a race and do it in the fall. But it’s better to err on the side of safety than have something go wrong.”

And runners, though starved for a race to run with nearly every road race in the state canceled so far this summer, seem to understand.

Christine Hein of North Yarmouth won the Maine Marathon in 2018 and was second last year. Also an ER nurse at Maine Medical Center, she has no problem with this year’s race being canceled. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

“It’s too bad but I can’t say I’m totally surprised,” said Christine Hein, an emergency department doctor at Maine Medical Center who won the Maine Marathon in 2018 and finished second to Erica Jesseman in 2019. “I totally agree (with the decision). We don’t know what we’re going to face in the fall. Moves like this, while disappointing, are probably more impactful than you realize … Heading into the fall and winter, combining COVID-19 with the flu season, there’s a significant question what the impact will be across the country and here in Maine.”

She noted that it’s not just the runners who would be at the race, but all of their supporters as well. Rob Gomez, who won the Maine Marathon in 2013, said it’s not safe to have those crowds together right now.

“Given the current environment, the way things are going at least in the U.S., I don’t see a path forward for hundreds of people to gather together,” he said. “It’s not a safe and reasonable thing to do right now.”

Still, he waited to see what if the race would be held. “Ultimately the inevitable happened,” said Gomez.

The Maine Marathon had been held annually since 1992. Last year, 741 runners finished the full marathon, 1,829 finished the half marathon and there were 181 relay teams. Dunfey said at the time that race officials expected to donate about $140,000 to charities.

This year’s race beneficiaries included: Teens to Trails, Wayside Food Programs, Team Long Run, Port Resources, the Pihcintu Multinational Girls Chorus, Shawnee Peak Adaptive and Spurwink. Gorham Savings Bank will cover all the costs of the virtual race so that any virtual entry fee money can be donated to the race beneficiaries.

About 1,200 runners had registered for this year’s event. They will have the option to get a refund of their entry fees ($50 or $55 for the half marathon, $75 or $80 for the marathon and $120 or $140 for the marathon relay), donate the fee to one of the race’s charities, or defer the fee toward the 2021 race. Or, Dunfey said, they can use it toward the virtual event, which carries a $30 registration fee per runner, and have the same options to donate the remainder of their entry fee or get a partial refund.

The virtual event will be held from Sept. 26 through Oct. 12. Dunfey hopes local runners will complete the virtual event on the race course, which he plans to mark with signs, but participants also can complete their chosen distance anywhere.

Hein said she will likely participate in the virtual race, hoping to convince others to join her.

“I think at this point the running community is probably quite anxious to get out there in some form,” she said. “If that’s virtual races, people can get out there and have fun.”

Previously this year, races such as the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, Maine Coast Marathon and Half Marathon, the Old Port Half Marathon and the Back Cove racing series had been canceled because of the virus outbreak.

Jesseman, the defending champ, is recovering from an ankle injury and will not participate in the virtual event.

“I think this is optimal timing for me to take a break,” she said. “I’ll take a break from racing until we can all come back to race together.”


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