The Immediate Future of Racing post Covid-19

The loneliness of the long distance runner.

Life has been turned upside down. We currently struggle to know what day it is, what month we are in and we have so many questions about what the future holds.

One thing is for sure, at the moment, we have no answers, just many, many questions.

At some point, one day, restrictions will ease…

But, importantly, the day after will be no different. The virus will still be around. We will all still be susceptible to catching the virus, unless a vaccine is found.

Update Apr 29th – ‘Germany’s rate of COVID-19 infections grows after lockdown eased.’

‘Germany faces the prospect of having to restore stricter lockdown measures as its number and rate of coronavirus infections grew again.’

Article available Here

However, it seems to be a general consensus by the experts that a vaccine will not be available till 2021.

We are living in a time of so much insecurity – lives are being lost globally, people are losing work, children are at home and the world is an element of lockdown.

So, talking about racing and running seems a little insignificant and pointless in the context of the above, but I, and I know many of you are asking the question, when will racing return?

Firstly, the race calendar to August has been pretty much wiped out globally. Many races and RD’s accepted the situation, cancelled events and said, ‘we will see you in 2021!’ But, for every race that cancelled, another postponed to a date later in the year in the hope that restrictions would be eased and that the virus would be on the back foot. I get it, nobody wants to cancel an event.

But the postponement scenario has already created an issue with a plethora of races all now scheduled for September, October, November and December. Quite simply, the back end of the season will have more races than runners and we will see participants having to make a choice of which race they toe the line on.

But…

For me, this is the big but, I in all honesty do not see racing returning to ‘normal’ in 2020.

I hate to be pessimistic, but the global situation is so dire that the cessation from lockdown to normal is going to be months, not days or weeks.

Prof Chris Whitty said it was “wholly unrealistic” to expect life would suddenly return to normal soon. He said “in the long run” the ideal way out would be via a “highly effective vaccine” or drugs to treat the disease. But he warned that the chance of having those within the next calendar year was “incredibly small”. – Via BBC News

 

Read

Race cancellation and Covid-19 HERE

Covid-19 – A Guide HERE

Currently, many trails are closed.

THE SHORT-TERM FUTURE OF COVID-19 AND RACING

Firstly, we are going to be in a yoyo period with second and third phase infection as lockdowns are eased. This will create additional peaks and troughs. This in turn, may require governments to reapply and ease restrictions so as to prevent overload on health systems.

It will be a period of controlled herd immunity until a vaccine comes. Needless to say, the old, frail, sick and anyone in care homes will need to be protected.

Suppression measures will slowly be released, firstly with schools returning (this is already happening in Norway and soon Germany,) then retail outlets will open with measures to control how many people can be in a store and controls on social distancing. Restaurants may open with controlled measures such as the client must be seated, only hot food can be consumed, and tables must be spaced accordingly as per government and health specifications.

When one takes into consideration the above, this accounts for May, June and July and of course, in each country, the situation will be monitored. As more people move freely, the virus will spread. If the spread is too great, restrictions may be reimposed to slow the spread down and so on. So, it’s easy to see that planning August, September and beyond is not something one can do with any certainty or guarantee.

Just today, Val d’Aran by UTMB®, has been cancelled and will take place in 2021. Xavier Pocino, director, explained:

“Our priority is the health and safety of the participants as well as the population of the Val d’Aran. Given the current context, it is therefore preferable to postpone the race in order to guarantee the health and logistics of the event. We also wish to respect the dates of other races programmed for after the summer, to avoid a date clash and to allow our athletes to participate in those races, should they go ahead”.

Currently airlines are on a very restricted service, hotels are closed, restaurants are closed, and, in many places, lockdown really does not allow any travel at all. Some are allowed to exercise, from home, for 1-hour.

A picture is building that the transition from lockdown to free movement is more than likely a year away?

If travel is restricted, hotels are closed and restaurants remain unopened, quite simply, racing will be cancelled.

The short-term future of racing will be virtual, and already globally, we are seeing virtual incentives appearing. From simple scenarios of running for a daily specific time, such as 45-minutes. But also, multi-day challenges or even specific distance challenges such as 1000-miles are appearing. Take up has been impressive which only goes to show the desire for competition.

As restrictions ease, races and RD’s will need to be constantly communicating with authorities to ascertain what is and what is not possible. For example, Sweden started with a herd immunity approach in January, avoided lockdown, emphasized social distancing, protected the old and allowed group gatherings of up to 50 people. Whereas, in the UK, for example, in March it was locked down with only essential travel (shopping) and exercise (from home) with other family members allowed.

Nature is the boss.

WHAT MAY RACING LOOK LIKE INITIALLY?

It goes without saying here that maybe ALL races will be cancelled or postponed until the Covid-19 situation is under control or over.

However, there may be a transition phase. Just as children return to school, workers return to offices, runners returning to races may need to adapt.

We all seek isolation and love personal adventure, maybe in the months to come, this will take over from racing?

PRE-RACE

  • Initially, global travel will be reduced and no doubt under control or restrictions. So, maybe races will only allow regional athletes. For example, only French residents can run in French races.
  • Medical certificates may be required that go beyond the standard ECG/ health check with a requirement to include testing for Covid-19.
  • Race briefings, bib provision and all admin will be done electronically so as to reduce pre-race social interaction.
  • Covid-19 appears to have a 14-day ‘active’ period, therefore, 14-days from the race start it will be a requirement to have a medical check or even in extreme cases, runners may be required to go into 14-day isolation/ quarantine before a race start. Any symptoms, no race!
  • No pre-race gatherings.

It can be easy, sort of, to social distance on the trails.

THE RACE

  • Races may have reduced numbers and they will incorporate an element of social distancing to reduce risk. For example, staggered starts of say 10-runners starting at 10-minute intervals. Seeding could be worked out by asking runners to run a 5km time trial and then provide the time to the RD? Racing would obviously be based on chip time and therefore, the race could be more like a time trial.
  • Aid stations may be removed and therefore self-sufficiency/ autonomy will be required both from a food and water perspective. This by default would mean races could only be a certain distance in length. One other alternative could be un-manned aid stations and runners would need to provide sealed drop bags which they could access at specific points. If it was a 100-mile race, for example, 4 aid/ drop stations at 20/40/60 and 80-miles. Again, aid/ drop stations would have social distancing in place.
  • The need for a personal tracking device such as a Spot or Garmin InReach may be required to guarantee security for each participant.
  • Mandatory equipment would need to cover more eventualities. Maybe *face masks and *gloves would be a requirement? *Medical opinion varies on the effectiveness and use.
  • Race routes and courses may well be unmarked and therefore the need for a navigation or a navigation device using a provided GPX track could be a requirement.
  • Volunteer help may be reduced with ongoing implications.
  • Medical support/ safety could be compromised.
  • Extreme or dangerous courses would not be allowed to reduce the potential ongoing need for medical help due to accidents.
  • Finish areas would be isolated with minimal interaction.
  • A ‘finish and go’ scenario once the race is completed.

Parties and any post-race razzamatazz may be on hold for a while.

POST RACE

  • Post-race gatherings would be cancelled.
  • Awards and prizes would be done digitally, and any physical prices would be posted out.

CONCLUSION

The above are ideas and thought processes that have been bouncing around my head while in lockdown.

I actually wonder, faced with the above, how many would still want to race? Maybe all races will be cancelled until they can be run ‘as normal!’

Of course, I do think much of the above may well be fantasy or fiction, but I can see how some of the above could happen. Especially in regard to electronic communication, pre/post gatherings, social distancing and a reduction or change to how aid stations work.

Good friend, respected race director and runner, John Storkamp of Rock Steady Running (in the USA) kindly provided me with some of his thoughts:

“But I also believe that almost none of us want to get back at any cost, especially if it compromises safety.  Our own personal safety or the safety of the communities where our events are held. Once we can return, I for one also fear a diminished race experience with reminders of the virus at every turn, at least initially; i.e. no ritual of packet pickup, no festive pre-race gatherings, no mass starts where we all come together in the collective nervousness and prayer before the start, skeleton crew aid-stations filled with nervous workers exposed to every runner, no post race celebration with the telling of tales of the dragons we slayed out on the course that day.  Races have always provided us with an alternate reality, an escape for a day or two, from the stresses of daily life.  Any post-Covid races, again at least initially, will invite all of the fear of our current daily existence into what has always been one of our safest and most sacred spaces.”

Certainly, with the races I work on and communicate with, they are learning lessons now but are planning for 2021 races to be run as one would expect.

Solo running, time-trial events and FKT’s may prove popular.

*****

I asked on Twitter for some thoughts, here are the responses:

Sarah Canney – Local participants only? Pre and post race outside with masks?

Andrew Smith – I’m thinking there will be pretty much no racing this year and am just going for some personal challenges.  Hopeful next year might look different, but even then there will likely be changes – how much depends on what fundamental changes we will need to make day to day.

Mark Atkinson – Expect a fair few staggered start or time trial approaches with reduced numbers. Possibly smaller but more frequent aid points so if one is too busy you head to the next. I’m going to miss running shoulder to shoulder with a stranger through the night sharing life stories.

Dr Stacey Holloway – Maybe more FKT attempts than races and round attempts? We host a winter race in Jan, but even thinking we won’t be in 2021 and looking for maybe for Nov 2021 event and a Jan 2022 event and having its as some sort of series… not sure just ideas!

Melinda Coen – I’m expecting higher entry fees to help RDs survive  and also lower numbers, wave starts, less buffet aid at ultras and more “packaged foods”.

Via Talk Ultra Facebook page:

Yes, individual starts, unfortunately less a to b-races due to don’t want to gather people on buses. – Henrik

Proof of vaccinations required – Brian

I wonder whether some event organisers will run two or three events on the same day to stagger start times and space people out more. For example, could have a trail run, duathlon, triathlon and aquathlon. Bit of a logistical nightmare in some ways! – Ann

Reduced numbers. Staggered starts, volunteers in face masks and gloves, no more sponge bucket( that one makes me sad).
More crew or drop bags allowed to lessen need for a CP table/buffet. – Shane

Assisting injured runners may be a problem, especially on a trail. – Martin

Races will be cancelled either voluntarily by the organizers or from lack of participation.Some will go away because of financial problems. When trails are open people will do more FKT attempts and solo runs. – Ali

Self supported – no shared food at aid stations – Tim

Less corporate, More self-sufficient, longer distances between aid stations, more map reading or gps guidance less trail marking..all to the good then! – Kevin

 

What are your thoughts? Comment below.

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Initial comments re Covid-19, herd immunity and the implications were influenced by an audio interview from, ‘The Post’ with Johan Giesecke – Here

6 thoughts on “The Immediate Future of Racing post Covid-19

  1. Thanks for this piece very thought provoking. I agree that the likelihood of any racing in 2020 is very low, particularly the big mass participation road events, but I think even in 2021, some things may not go back to the way they were – I wonder, for example, if we’ve seen the last of the trade fair style expos, and the 3-4 deep crowds at the big city marathons. I hope not, but I fear so.

    • In the short-term yes, expos, crowds and so on will need to be curtailed. But, they will return, maybe with some changes and modification, but they will return.

  2. Pingback: Trail Running Daily News | Thuesday? Apr 23th? | Ultrarunnerpodcast.com

    • Important that my thoughts are for the transition from lockdown to normality. But I do think some changes that happen will remain, for example, less ‘shared’ food/ drink at aid stations – they are a petri dish for passing on bugs. We are in an interesting time.

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