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The same novel coronavirus pandemic that forced the annual Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon into virtual mode this year might actually cause an upward spike in entrants for the 2021 event.

During the spring quarantine period, as the weather turned warmer and gyms had not yet opened, people started spending their time outdoors. Many discovered — or rediscovered — distance running. The effect might be noticeable next year, when organizers hope to return to a live event.

“I think we’re going to see an influx of new runners,” race director Barbara Bennage said. “As some of our partners have said, ‘running isn’t closed.’ I think we will see an uptick of runners. It’s cyclical; it goes up and down. It was on a down trend, but we’re seeing the numbers start to pick up again.”

[ Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon Michelob ULTRA runner of the week: Diane Hyde ]

There’s already early interest in next year’s race, tentatively scheduled for the third weekend in October.

Runners take a selfie on the starting line during the 42nd Annual Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon in Detroit on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (Photo: Melanie Maxwell, Detroit Free Press)

When this year’s race format was changed in July, runners were given the option of deferring their entry fee to 2021, and several thousand of them did. Runners could also have requested a partial refund, or participate in the virtual event, which allowed entrants to choose a time, date and race route that was convenient for them. They were responsible for reporting their finish times.

When the virus first had a serious presence in the state in March, just over 11,000 runners had signed up for the marathon and its related races.

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“We continued to keep registration open until July, when we made the decision (to go virtual),” Bennage said. “But we ended up with just over 3,700 finishers in all the distances. We were pleased with that. I’ve seen a lot of social media footage of them crossing the finish line.”

She also noted that some people deferred their entry but came back to re-enter this fall’s event and run virtually.

“They had been training, and they didn’t want that training to go for nothing,” Bennage said. “They were saying they missed the in-person race, the chance to run over the (Ambassador) bridge and in the (Detroit-Windsor) tunnel, but they were glad we offered an opportunity to run in their backyard.”

One of the responsibilities race organizers have is “keeping the buzz alive, even though it turned virtual,” Victor Reynolds, a Detroit marathon ambassador, said.

“I was actually pretty surprised leading into race weekend,” he said. “On every social media I belong to, there were posts about the virtual marathon. It was so exciting – it still felt