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Tokyo Marathon canceled for most runners in an effort to slow coronavirus

Runners start the Tokyo Marathon in front of the Tokyo Government Office building in Tokyo on March 3, 2019. The city is reducing the amount of participants for the upcoming 2020 Marathon as a result of the coronavirus.

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

The Tokyo Marathon Foundation announced Monday that its annual race will be canceled for non-professional runners in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the region.

The foundation said in a statement posted on its website that the recent confirmation of a case of coronavirus — formally named COVID-19 — in Tokyo prompted the decision to limit the number of runners.

“We have been preparing for the Tokyo Marathon 2020 (Sunday, March 1) while implementing preventive safety measures, however, now that case of COVID-19 has been confirmed within Tokyo, we cannot continue to launch the event within the scale we originally anticipated,” the organizer said.

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Competitive races, however, will still occur since the Tokyo marathon is an Olympic trial race for elite athletes. But many of the 38,000 runners who had registered for the March 1 race took to social media to voice their disappointment as well as frustrations with their now-scuttled travel plans.

Ryan Lederer of Chicago said that while “definitely disappointed” in the decision, he understands the organizers’ need to make public safety the top priority.

“When I saw the rumors on Sunday night, I was hopeful that they were just rumors and that there was no truth to it,” said Lederer, 34, in an email to CNBC. But “if the organizers feel they cannot provide a safe atmosphere for 38,000 runners to compete then I completely understand the decision.”

Lederer says he typically trains for months ahead of a marathon, building his weekly running distance to 40 miles from 15 miles. Because his preparation includes a stricter lifestyle and dietary discipline, Lederer says it’s hard not to see the canceled race in Tokyo as a squandered opportunity.

“This morning I’m definitely disappointed. Lots of work goes into training for a marathon so it feels like a bit of a waste,” he said. “Lots of early mornings runs, eating right, getting good quality sleep, and plenty of trips to my Physical Therapist to keep the body moving.”

Some runners, including British Olympian Aly Dixon, said on Twitter that they’d be hard-pressed to forego the money they’d spent on travel plans.

“I’ve paid a lot of money to go over and run, if my race was cancelled I’d still travel as I cant afford to waste that money and cant get refunds,” Dixon wrote in a tweet.

Others worried that the coronavirus could have a similar impact on the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, one of the globe’s largest sports gatherings. The 2020 Olympics are scheduled to begin in July, and the event is expected to draw tens of thousands of international travelers.