May 28 (UPI) -- The Boston Marathon was canceled on Thursday for the first time in its history because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The race, which ran uninterrupted for 124 years, had already been postponed from April 20 to Sept. 14. The event will be replaced by a virtual event in which participants must run 26.2 miles (42.2 km) on their own within six hours and verify that total to receive their finisher's medal.
"There's no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said during a press conference Thursday.
"While our goal and our hope was to make progress in containing the virus and recovering our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on Sept. 14 or any time this year."
According to the event's official website, all registered participants for the race will receive a full refund of their entry fee. The competitors also were invited to complete this year's virtual race, which can be run any time between Sept. 7-14.
Those who provide proof of finishing the virtual event in under six hours will receive a program, shirt, medal and runner's bib.
"Our top priority continues to be safeguarding the health of the community, as well as our staff, participants, volunteers, spectators, and supporters," Boston Athletic Association CEO Tom Grilk said in a statement. "While we cannot bring the world to Boston in September, we plan to bring Boston to the world for an historic 124th Boston Marathon."
The Boston Marathon, which began in 1897, is the longest-running annual marathon in the world. About 30,000 people compete in the race each year, with as many as 1 million spectators lined up along the path. Walsh said the marathon brings in more than $200 million to the city's economy each year and raises about $36 million for charities.
Qualifying times for this year's event will be eligible for next year's Boston Marathon, which is scheduled for April 19.