Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Marathons & Mandates: A New Era of the Sport

I'm going to tackle a controversial topic: marathons and their vaccine requirements. 

Last November, the Boston Marathon announced that all runners for the 2022 race must be fully vaccinated. Other marathons, like New York City, have made similar announcements. 

2021 Races: Vaccines not Required
For the large 2021 marathons, the vaccine was not a requirement. Participants must have either shown vaccination proof OR tested negative for Covid-19. A May 2021 article in the New York Times stated:

"The marathon announcements share something with seemingly every other major race that is set to return — there is no requirement for all runners to have a vaccination. Instead, runners have been asked to produce either proof of a completed vaccination series or a negative Covid test close to race day, even though health officials acknowledge that the safest environment would be a fully vaccinated field. . . Erin McLaughlin, a labor and employment lawyer specializing in health care, said running organizations might not want to require vaccinations because the nature of their operations might qualify their races as a place of 'public accommodation.' That would prohibit them from discriminating against people who may be medically unable to get a vaccine, and establishing eligibility for those exceptions could prove onerous and open the door for litigation."

Obviously much has changed since this article came out in May 2021. Vaccine mandates have since been established for many everyday activities including going to work. 

My Vaccine Decision
I am vaccinated and boosted. I am not sharing this to convince others to do the same and in fact, one of my pet peeves is those Facebook profile picture frames that say "I'm vaccinated". Well, good for you!

I am not a vaccine expert. I am not a health expert. I am not an expert in other people's lives. So I am in no position to persuade others to get vaccinated. Furthermore, since I am vaccinated, I shouldn't have to worry about catching the virus from others. 

That said, these Covid vaccines are not "vaccines" as we know them. I have always understood a vaccine to provide full immunity from a disease whereas these shots do not provide full immunity. Vaccinated individuals can still get the virus and spread it. 

I chose to get the vaccine because I do not want to get Covid-19. I realize I could still get the virus. But the vaccine should make any infection less severe. I realize there is no guarantee, but I believe that the side effects from the vaccine are not as severe as the illness could be. I could take my chances with the shot, or take my chances with Covid. I chose to get the shot.

It's important to keep in mind that every individual is unique. Some people have no reaction to the shot. Some people get very ill. Some have allergic reactions. The same goes for Covid. Some people will have mild symptoms resembling a common cold. Others will have life-threatening symptoms. So while we can look at data and statistics to see general patterns, every individual is still unique in terms of how their body reacts to vaccines and viruses. Because we are all unique, I don't think I am in any position to tell other people what medical choices to make.

To sum up, I believe that the vaccine was the right choice for me. It may not be for other people, and I respect that.

2022 Marathon Mandates
As I said earlier, these mandates are highly controversial. When Boston announced its mandate, there was an eruption of backlash on social media with many runners saying they would not apply. Thus, the number of applicants for the 2022 race was much lower than in previous years. Is the vaccine mandate the only reason for this? No, there are are many reasons why runners might not be interested in the 2022 race. But based on the number of people who signed a petition against the mandate, it's apparent that this mandate contributed to the decreased number of applicants. 

I have several thoughts on the mandates. First, it is not a human right to be able to run a marathon. The B. A. A. manages this event and they can put whatever rules in place that they want. This is not the first time they have been accused of being unfair; they are continually under attack for their qualifying standards and policies being unfair. So we need to remove the notion of "fairness" from the equation. It's their race. They can do whatever they want. It might not be fair, but that's how it is.

That said, the New York Times article above indicated that these mandates could be viewed as discrimination against those individuals who cannot get vaccinated. While the B. A. A. has created an exception for these cases, it has not been published what medical exemptions are acceptable.

It's not unheard of to require vaccines to participate sports. I had to have certain immunizations to be part of my high school dance team.

The New York Times article that I quoted above stated: "health officials acknowledge that the safest environment would be a fully vaccinated field." I am not a health official so I am in no position to disagree. BUT, as a logical thinker I do not see how a negative Covid test would not also provide the safest environment.

  • The 2021 race with test option was not a super-spreader. 
  • Vaccinated individuals can still transmit Covid
  • Without a test there is no way to know if runners have the virus, regardless of vaccination status
I have heard examples of vaccinated runners who had Covid while running Boston. But since they were not tested beforehand, they were not aware of this. Once again, I am not a health official or a health expert, but it seems that the safest environment is not a fully vaccinated field, but a field that has tested negative for Covid-19.

Personally, I would rather share a seat on the bus with someone who I know is not currently ill versus someone who has a vaccine but could be ill. 

One thing that surpasses all of this is the fact that you cannot Covid-proof an event like a marathon. Volunteers and spectators line the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people come out to cheer for the runners on Marathon Monday. The crowds are thick and many people are standing closer together and for a longer period of time than the runners. So if the objective is to have a Covid-free event, it's not going to be possible with the number of spectators who gather around the race course. 

But there are other valid objectives. Optics, for one. Making the runners feel safe. On social media, many runners have thanked the B. A. A. for their decision and said the mandate makes them feel safer. Another objective could be satisfying the requirements of the small towns that the marathon runs through. While this decision is coming from the B. A. A., we don't know if it was truly their decision or if it was required by town officials in order to gain permits. Or it could simply be for liability purposes. 

All marathon runners take risks when we line up at the start line. This is why most marathons require a waiver that acknowledges these risks. I believe it is the responsibility of the runner to be aware of the risks, and if he/she is uncomfortable with those risks, then it's probably best not to race. If I was afraid of getting Covid from a race then I wouldn't run it; I wouldn't expect the organizers to enforce a mandate just so I could be comfortable. 

In closing, I don't agree with the mandates because I think that athlete testing is a safer approach, and we've seen evidence of its safety from the 2021 races (Boston, Chicago and New York). The mandates seem to be in place for optics and compliance with local towns. As someone who is vaccinated and boosted, I believe that vaccines are generally effective. However, they might not be the right choice for everyone.

The Future of Marathons and Mandates
Are these mandates here to stay for future years? If Covid is somehow eradicated within the next year, will vaccines still be required? Have we set a precedent for vaccination requirements regardless of what the threat level is? Will the supreme court rule on the constitutionality of mandates? It's hard to know the answers to these questions. 

For now, these mandates are a fact of life. Some people love them, some people hate them. The running community is definitely divided on this issue and I'm sure some people will un-follow me for my views here. Or they may tell me that I am not a health professional and therefore have no right to share my perspective. I hope that one day we can all come together again and be united by the sport we love.


  1. Well I can comment on this and I wish more of humanity would opt for the vaccinations as we would not be in as much a pickle again with a resurgence with COVID 19 Omicron variant. The fact that we have another variant is that not sufficient enough of world population vaccinated and that just gives the virus more opportunity for mutationshence Omicron.

    Both of us are not all that divergent in opinion despite my opening statement. The race directors have the right to invoke the vaccination requirement if they deem it the best means to hold the event. Yes...many of the spectators and such could have and be spreading the virus, but the probability of that getting passed on to active runners on the course is negligible, especially if the volunteers man the aid statiions on the course are vaccinated and confimred negative tested prior to race day.

    I would concur there is a small proportion of population may not be able to take the vaccine due to reactionary responses that impose health risks. They can simply appeal and apply to BAA or other race director for an exception that could entail a negative Covid test result prior to race day. I won't buy opt out of vaccinations for religious beliefs. If your faith is more important, then don't run the race.

    I would agree with you would be best that the entire field be tested prior to the race. But you have to have a minimum timeframe the test done relative to travel and arrival in Boston. Perhaps part of the registration and acceptance includes the cost of when packet pickup, swabbed and tested?

    Yes breakthrough infections of those prior vaccinated do occur with the Omicron variant, but those that get it, majority have mild symptoms, some asymptomatic. And if you asymptomatic....likely not a major spreader of the virus or very limited narrow timeframe of a day or so others could get infected.

    Your going to see a lot more of these requirements on major race events. I have no problem with it, especially with the major marathon races that individuals from around the world come. Probably smaller and more local or regional race events from marathon to 5k don't need to be so critical as events like Boston, New York, Chicago or elsewhere other countries.

    But happy to hear that Zebra got the initial vaccinations and boosted. That's being smart!

  2. Anyone who unfollows you for a non-controversial view is absurd. This was not a controversial post at all. You shared all your thoughts, didn't attack those that aren't getting the shot (whom are under attack like myself and hence not inspired to run at all because of it), and expressed what you chose to do.

    Without giving a medical option you shared your own logistical ideas which are what common sense tells me. But hey, if they don't want me or my money. That's quite alright with me, I can do something else with it. I have run all three majors in the USA and if I never do any of of them ever again, so be it. Would I like to? Of course but it's not necessary to fill a missing aspect of my life!!

    I think given Omicron, a negative COVID test is a better idea and the fact that tons of people are getting Omicron who were vaccinated (including the entire management team at my warehouse, hence zero bosses around the past week and a half), one would think a negative COVID test would be a wise idea. I do find it funny that the people I know unvaccinated are still working yet about 20-25% of people are out of work right now bc of a positive COVID test or exposure to someone with a positive COVID test. It's bad!! Yet I'm still working!! I guess it just means more bonus time and bonus money for me!! Works for me!! Till Biden eliminated me from my job and Let's go Brandon, what's that gonna do to the supply chain??

    I think it's time we move on... Omicron is a nothing burger... I know it will take maybe 12 months for people to stop freaking out about this but I hope we will move on as a society and respect others different viewpoints bc unless you're out there sick and not following with protocols, there's no reason to stop what you're doing if you're not harming anyone else.

    I know one will say you can't know, it's why we mask (if it even works at all for Omicron) where appropriate! Thanks for this Elizabeth... Happy to hear you feel you'll be ok and are doing things you feel you need to do so you can do what you want to do. You know I'm a big fan!!

  3. I'm fast forwarding on your post to ask you one question--where did you learn that the Covid vaccine doesn't provide immunity? And if you believe that, why do you think it protects you from Covid 19? With all due respect, it's clear to me that you do not understand immunity and it troubles me that you stated this. There is so much misinformation about Covid and it really doesn't help to keep spreading it. Yes, vaccinated people can catch the virus and spread it, but that is because this virus has mutated. The original vaccine does provide immunity against the virus it was developed for. The concept is similar to the flu vaccine, a virus that also mutates. A vaccine is only as good as the virus it is developed for. I love what you've done with running, but I'd prefer if you stick to running topics on your blog instead of science.

    1. I learned that the Covid vaccine does not [always] provide immunity by seeing vaccinated friends get the virus. I think the vaccine protects me from Covid 19 because it will make the infection less severe. Perhaps we are defining immunity differently? I always thought that word meant that if you had immunity you were immune, but I could be wrong. I know definitions evolve and change over time.

    2. I should also clarify that this blog isn't about science, but rather my opinions on the mandates that certain marathons have put into place. That is a running topic.

    3. Definitely a running topic. And yes, immunity does mean you are immune but maybe not 100%. If anything, immunity will protect you from severe illness. That is the goal; it will also help prevent the spread of illness.

  4. Great post. I agree with just about everything you said, and you laid out your opinions- which are based on the facts as you know them, and none of us knows everything- in a logical manner. I also wonder what will happen when Covid becomes more like the common cold- my guess is that they'll drop the vaccination manadates.
    I like the fact that you took on a controversial subject- makes life more interesting!

  5. Nice post, and completely sensible take. The definition of vaccine was changed upon the release of these vaccines due to the waning immunity as time goes on both to the original virus and the variants. I live in New Zealand and basically every part of life is vaccine mandated now, and a medical exemption is almost impossible to get. I had a moderately bad reaction to the vaccine that caused pain and fatigue for a month. I know it could be far worse but to remain "vaccinated" I have to get a booster when my vaccine passport expires. People with far more severe reactions than me have tried and failed to get an exemption from either the second shot or the booster. So in a few months I have to decide whether to risk another month of pain, or accept that I can no longer dine out, run races or keep my job. I really hope Omicron as a mild variant that provides far better immunity than the vaccines will end this lunacy. I doubt that will happen before I have to make a call though.

    1. Unbelievable! It sounds like the vaccine reaction for you is likely worse than the illness itself. I'm hoping and praying that NZ and similar countries move away from these discriminatory policies.