Restrictions due to coronavirus cut Washington mother's chance at Tokyo Marathon

DUVALL, Wash. -- Fears of the coronavirus are taking a toll on one of the biggest events in the world. The Tokyo Marathon 2020 was set to host more than 38,000 people on March 1st. Now, only a select few can participate because of concerns about the outbreak.

Heather Free has been raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in order to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Marathon. She’s also been running more than 45 miles a week to help her become physically prepared. All her hard work came to an abrupt stop when she got an email late Sunday night saying she could no longer go due to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19).

“Really sad because all that training and work that we put in to even just to get there and raising funds for charity, it’s heartbreaking,” said Free.

The Tokyo Marathon announced the run was restricted to elite athletes only due to fears of the coronavirus outbreak. Approximately 38,000 registered runners weren’t allowed to take their mark at the start line this year.

“They decided to cancel the mass participation of the marathon,” said Free as she read the notification.

Free has run in five of the world’s largest marathons, her latest was the BMW Berlin Marathon in September. Free was just two weeks away from running in her sixth, the Tokyo Marathon. It’s the last race she needed to earn the Six Star Abbott World Marathon Majors award. The organization says out of the 1,202 Six Star Finishers from the U.S., only 499 are women.

“It’s a huge goal for a lot of the marathon runners out there,” said Free.

For the last 15 weeks she’s been training just about everywhere she can for Tokyo.

“There’s times on the weekends I’m out there for hours training, running. And then during the week, I’m at the gym every day. So, it’s definitely a commitment,” said Free.

It’s a commitment her family of seven has joined in on. They were just days away from catching their flight to Japan ahead of the marathon, but those plans were halted after the unexpected notification from Tokyo Marathon organizers. This sent Free’s travel plans into a frenzy.

“Where to start—I need to call the airlines, I need to cancel or see if I can change my ticket, what is Tokyo offering for us? Right now, it’s a deferment for 2021. But no refund for registration or anything like that,” said Free.

Free will lose her $200 registration fee, but said thankfully the airline is giving the family credit for future flights and waiving all fees. Plus, the money she raised for charity to qualify her entry will carry over into next year’s marathon.

Though free is disappointed her sixth medal will have to wait, she said maybe this was the confirmation she needed after her concerns about the coronavirus started weeks ago.

“We had talks late at night, my husband and I, whether we should go as a family or I just go. Because we didn’t want to be in a situation where we’re stuck somewhere or quarantined somewhere and not being able to come back. And we have five young children,” said Free.

Free said she doesn’t want all her training and hard work to go to waste. She’s thinking about other runs to participate in, including the Publix Atlanta Marathon on March 1st.

The 2020 Summer Olympics will be in Tokyo, scheduled to start in July. Olympic organizers recently announced the games will go as scheduled despite virus fears. Organizers also said there were no contingency plans to cancel or move the games.