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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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