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Densely packed streets, heavily breathing participants and no possibility of social distancing isn't anyone's idea of fun 2020.

Across the world, save for in New Zealand, marathons large and small have been canceled due to the pandemic. But that doesn't mean people won't be put through their paces.

Starting this week, some 25,000 runners will participate in the "virtual" New York City marathon.

At Your Leisure
Instead of the 26.2 trek through the five boroughs of NYC, participants will chart their own courses and be tracked via the Strava app.

Strava will create an "augmented reality" experience - runners will hear "on your left is the entrance to the 59th Street Bridge" at mile 15, regardless of where they are in the world. Race times will be recorded and posted on a virtual leaderboard on the Strava website.

While there is no replacing the in-person experience, virtual races are having a moment: 

  • Non-profit New York Road Runners has had 96,000 finishers in its virtual races in 2020, almost twice the tally at the same time last year.
  • At the historic Boston Marathon, 18,000 runners participated virtually this year (nearly half of the planned participants).

The Economics
For NYC and other marathon destinations, the loss of the IRL event is yet another economic casualty of 2020. The NYC Marathon draws over 53,000 participants and generates north of $400 million of direct spending (hotels and pasta dinners).

On The Other Hand: For fitness app Strava, which bills itself as "the social network for athletes," 2020 has been a boon. The company's user base has climbed 35% since February to 68 million users.

  • Last week Bloomberg reported that Strava is planning to raise between
  • $150 million in $400 million at a >$1 billion valuation - tripling its prior valuation of $365 million.

And they're not alone. Zwift, a startup that hosts virtual-reality cycle raises, last month raised $450 million.

Our Take: There has never been a better time to get in shape than right now.

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