The Marine Corps Marathon has been switched to a virtual-only event for the second year in a row due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19 safety, marathon officials announced on Friday, despite months of planning for an in-person event.

The Marine Corps Marathon weekend, slated for Oct. 29 through Oct. 31, is in its 46th year, and additionally features both 10 km and 50 km races that would have taken place between Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Now, runners will be able to participate virtually from wherever they live.

The announcement sparked backlash from some social media users, some saying the Marine Corps was bending to political pressure.

“Stop trying to keep everybody ‘safe,’” wrote Facebook user David Colegrove in a post that generated 122 “likes” as of Monday afternoon. “So tired of it. Life is full of risks. Stay home if you are scared.”

However, Rick Nealis, the director of the Marine Corps Marathon Organization, told Marine Corps Times that the cancellation of the in-person event was simply a decision made out of an abundance of caution in line with Department of Defense guidelines.

“The main focus of [those guidelines] is to protect the force,” Nealis said Monday.

Marine units help in the set up and execution of the in-person event.

While the organization had planned rigorous health screenings in order to create a safe in-person environment following 2020′s cancellation, Nealis said the Marine Corps couldn’t guarantee that health screenings or COVID-19 precautions would keep all of the potential 11,000 runners safe.

“Without that guarantee, the prudent measure was to cancel it,” he said.

Those who registered for the race will be entitled to a full refund, and Nealis said that runners who choose to participate remotely will likely receive a partial refund as well.

Nealis said that in its 46 year history, the race had never been canceled before the pandemic upended large gatherings. Even after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the race was carried on.

“The Marine Corps marathon was really the first major event in D.C. if not the United States, that took the streets back, we brought life back in a lot of ways.” Nealis said. “This is a different enemy.”

Other major marathon events across the U.S. had been pushed from spring to fall, like the Boston Marathon, to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. The Boston Marathon is set to take place in-person Oct. 11.

The New York City Marathon is scheduled for an in-person race Nov. 7.

And while those races will draw even larger crowds and therefore increased risks, Nealis said the Marine Corps is simply held to a higher standard.

“We do have a responsibility to the American public to take care of those Marines and sailors,” he said. “We’re accountable for our actions, even though it hurts that we have to cancel.”

Nealis said the organization is hopeful for an in-person race in 2022, and he’s confident it will be the biggest and greatest yet.

Leila has covered global military and security operations from across the U.S., the Middle East, and Latin America.

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