Race day began Monday morning in much the same way the Boston Marathon would start on any other Patriots’ Day.
National anthem at 8:55 a.m.
Race start at 9.
Welcome to the “Virtual Roller Marathon,” an event organized by six-time major marathon winner Daniel Romanchuk and his mom, Kim. The virtual event, coordinated via the Zoom videoconferencing service, was held in honor of the 124th Boston Marathon that was scheduled to be held Monday but was postponed to September because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The virtual marathon, which followed the course of the Boston Marathon, attracted male and female wheelchair racers from all over the world in real time. Among those participating were 23-time major marathon champion Tatyana McFadden, four-time Paralympian Aaron Pike, 2016 Paralympian Kelsey LeFevour, three-time Boston Marathon champion Marcel Hug of Switzerland and Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, a 10-time Boston champion.
Romanchuk won his first Boston Marathon men's wheelchair title in 2019, when he also won in London, Chicago and New York City. His Chicago win clinched his spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team for Tokyo.
“It was a very unique but wonderful morning,” he said. “To just kind of be able to see everyone come together and push like this, it’s amazing.”
Others in the virtual event included a number of youth wheelchair racers from Spokane, Washington, and other youth around the world.
Daniel said more than 60 racers represented the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Japan, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, France, Ecuador and New Zealand, among other countries.
“How cool is it that a 15-year-old in New Zealand is pushing at 2 o’clock in the morning, his time, he can push with Marcel and Ernst Van Dyk and Daniel and Tatyana?” Kim Romanchuk said.
The event featured all of the racers on stationary roller equipment at home, moving their way through the course at race speeds and on a time based on Hug’s world-best time of 1:18:04 at the 2017 Boston Marathon.
“It wasn’t a competitive thing. This was, bring everybody together,” Kim Romanchuk said. “We wanted everybody to be doing it together.”
Helping to talk them through the different stages of the race was Jack Fleming, who is the chief operating officer of the Boston Athletic Association, which operates the Boston Marathon.
“He was able to tell them what landmarks they’d be seeing and what the course looked like,” Kim Romanchuk said.
Others on the virtual marathon were the wheelchair directors from the Boston Marathon, London Marathon and NYC Marathon. Boston’s wheelchair race director is six-time Paralympic medalist Marla Runyan, the only American to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Pictures of the mile markers, from the first mile to the 21st, were posted for the racers to see. And for many, this was their very first view of the Boston Marathon.
“Another great thing about this,” Daniel said, “it wasn’t specific to those who had signed up for Boston. Anyone could join. I think it was a great opportunity for people to get to know each other.”
Kim and her son began to talk a couple weeks ago of organizing some sort of a virtual event. They contacted top wheelchair racers. Daniel, who works online with youth racers on their workouts, took to his Facebook page to drum up interest. More than a thousand Facebook likes later, they had an event that would be run in real time and Kim found a way to catch up on technology.
“I did kind of a crash course in how to host a Zoom meeting because I had never done that before,” Kim said, laughing.
During the running of the race, Kim monitored three Zoom screens filled with participating racers.
For Daniel, the online race was much like the real race he would have been competing in. He lives in Maryland on east coast time, so 8:55 was 8:55. The youth racers in Spokane started at 5:55 a.m. For racers in New Zealand, 8:55 ET was 12:55 a.m. Tuesday.
“It was a great morning really. It really did feel like a marathon morning,” Daniel said. “You’re getting up, making breakfast, just going through that routine of a race morning.”
The event began when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played and signed. It was an emotional moment on what was an emotional day for many.
“I just started to cry,” Kim said.
“Part of this is also,” she said, “saying thank you to Boston. We’re thinking about you today. I know the racers feel that way, that the race does such a good job and is so wonderfully supportive of the wheelchair racing division. Just a small way of saying, ‘We’re there with you.’”
The London Marathon, which traditionally follows the Boston Marathon on the racing calendar, also was postponed, from April 26 to Oct. 4. In coordination with that, England is launching the 2.6 Challenge on April 26 in hopes of raising funds for charities. Participants would run or walk 2.6 miles or 2.6 kilometers, or run or walk for 26 minutes.
Daniel Romanchuk is hoping to participate.
As the world attempts to get back toward normalcy, the new date for the Boston Marathon – Sept.14 – is already on his calendar.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic and Paralympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.