the changing face of racing

The changing face of racing due to COVID-19 will have an effect on road and trail runners around the world. As we start to see phased reopenings, the status of races is on our minds. What does the future hold for runners? Let’s take a look.

changing face of racing

Smaller races have started operating in our area. Some are road and some are trail, but they have one thing in common: they don’t look quite the same as races prior to the pandemic.

Virtual Race Options

The easiest and most evident example of the changing face of racing is the switch to virtual races. Events that are unable to secure permitting due to restrictions in their area are simply removing the in-person aspect altogether. Runners still receive their bib, shirt, medal, and other relevant swag, but they typically run on their own time and on their honor.


Some events do offer a tracking platform, where you can upload GPS data, but it’s not quite the same as crossing a finish line.

Limited Registrations

For those races able to proceed with live events, within reason, limiting registrations seems to be a way to keep crowds to a minimum. Several large, upcoming events (runDisney races, for example), sold out in beyond record time, and rumor has it that they drastically cut back on the number of runners permitted to register. It’s frustrating for those who want to take part and get shut out, but race are also trying to survive the current storm and are ready to get back to it.

Staggered Start Times

We all know how crowded a race start line can be, and how tight that first mile is. The changing face of racing means that some events are offering staggered start times, to help keep some space between athletes. Several local races now ask you to select a start time at registration, sending groups of anywhere from ten to thirty runners off in 15 minute increments. This helps maintain social distance and alleviate course crowding, allowing everyone to run as safely as possible.

changing face of racing

Reduced Distances

In order to accommodate those staggered start times, race distances have been dropping to just 3.1 miles. For those events that boasted a multi-distance option, the 5K remains the real-time event, while the longer distances switch to virtual. It’s a solid solution to the race time limits, even if it does keep the distance runners hungry for more.

Modified Pace Requirements

Marine Corps Marathon just announced runners must maintain a 12-minute mile, a staggering decrease from the previous 14-minute mile pace. Race organizers believe this will assist with social distancing and help keep staff, volunteers, and runners safe. Obviously, safety is the top priority, but this change may lead to the exclusion of runners who might not be able to maintain that pace. We will have to see if other races follow suit.

changing face of running

Removal of Athlete Support

The fewer people involved in a race event, the better. While volunteers have always been an integral part of our race community, the changing face of racing means we will see fewer of them. Races are now asking runners to provide their own fuel and hydration, rather than staff and stock aid stations. I’m not sure what this will mean for medical volunteers and medal distribution, but in the meantime, make sure you carry the sustenance you need for your event.

changing face of racing

Mask Requirements

While I haven’t seen a race mandate face masks, yet, there are plenty of states who do require masks while engaging in physical activity. This has not be our reality in Northeast Florida (yet), but I don’t see it as completely off the table for races going forward. Is it ideal? Absolutely not, and I give props to everyone who has been getting through their training while wearing a face covering. However, if it helps bring about the return to racing, I can adapt.

april runfessions

Have you seen a return to racing in your area?

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in the race industry?

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24 Responses to the changing face of racing

  1. Catrina says:

    Thank you, Jenn, this is a good and very up-to-date overview!

    Here in Switzerland, races are limited to 1’000 runners and these need to be clearly split into groups of 300. No interaction between the groups. And all need to register for contact tracing. It’s so tricky to implement that many race organizers are holding back with their decision to go ahead with a race.
    Which is fine by me for now. 😉
    Catrina recently posted…Embracing Rest DaysMy Profile

  2. Shathiso says:

    What a brilliant overview. I haven’t heard about any races starting here but my husband will be doing a bike race in a couple of weeks and they have limited the numbers and have staggered start times. So I guess when our races start they will have a similar approach. Running in a mask is so tough. It’s mandatory here but I really struggle with that so I choose more isolated routes and only put it on when I see people coming towards me. Don’t think I’d be able to get away with that in a race though!

  3. Wendy says:

    All are logical solutions but racing with a mask? That would be very difficult! It will be very interesting to see how all this plays out going forward.

  4. It will be really interesting to see what plays out with races. While I am anxious to get back to races, I fear too many rules and restrictions will take the joy out of it. I cannot imagine running with a face mask for 10 or 13 miles

  5. All sad but true.
    I am not sure I even want to pay to race with all these restrictions.

    But I want to race…dilemma.
    Darlene S Cardillo recently posted…Summer Bucket List (during the Pandemic)My Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      It’s a tough call. You have a lot of local races by you so they may be able to start up without too many changes. We’ll just have to continue to wait and see.

  6. It’s sad to see the hit that racing has taken, though it’s almost certainly the right call. I have to say that a race is the only place where I would not want to wear a mask. Small 5k’s and virtual races it is until “normal” returns.
    Beckett @ Birchwood Pie recently posted…Weekly Eats: Family CookingMy Profile

  7. I did get an email from Vacation Races (always wanted to try one!) and they’re doing staggered start — over like 12 hours or something? I forget. Unfortunately we’d have to fly to get there — it’s in a couple of months! — so yeah, not happening.

    I hadn’t heard about MCM. I wonder if it will end up being like Boston? As soon as they added a qualifying time, suddenly everyone wanted to run it. Kind of sad for the slower runners, but what are you going to do?

    I would love to add a state this year, but I just don’t see it happening. 🙁 So far there are not many local races other than virtual ones, but I admit I haven’t really been following any anyway.

    • runswithpugs says:

      I don’t know how this will change MCM after this year. One would hope if things go back to normal, that pace requirement would open back up.

      I don’t see adding a state this year, either.

  8. So many changes. I know they are necessary but it is all so hard. And now more and more races are getting cancelled. That is crazy about the time drop for MCM, that will limit who can participate a lot.

  9. Debbie says:

    And now they’ve canceled New York Marathon. I’m pretty sure that most of the really big races will end up being canceled for the rest of this year, possibly into 2021. I hope some small races and shorter distances will be able to keep going. Staggered starts for small groups of people can end up taking a long, long time!

  10. This was a timely post as NYC was cancelled today! I am not really surprised as is such a big event. I do think that smaller races will be able to make accommodations. It sure will be interesting to run races with these changes!

    • runswithpugs says:

      These bigger races are definitely not going to be able to pull it off, although MCM still seems to be a go, even with restrictions. So who knows? I guess we will all find out together.

  11. Rachel says:

    Yeah racing has definitely changed. I have one “big” race I signed up for, Wineglass in Corning, NY, and I’m really just waiting for the email to say it’s cancelled. I’m okay with that at this point. I’m still really conflicted on even socializing with anyone so I’m not sure how I would even feel about traveling with and staying with others for the weekend in October. Ugh, 2020 can just GO!!!

    • runswithpugs says:

      Oh, Wineglass! That’s a bucket list for me.

      I am with you on socializing. Sometimes I feel fine about it. Today, I don’t want to leave the protection of my bed. The roller coaster of emotions is out of control.

  12. It is such a strange time, but I do believe it will pass. We just got to hold on and be patient and do our part to beat this COVID-19 demon. My 20K that got rescheduled from May 30th to Sept. 5th had to alter the route. A normal 20K point -to- point, now it’s a 10K looped course, with staggered start times. No busing the herds of runner out to the start line, and probably half the volunteers needed to man the aid stations (if there will even be aid stations).

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