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Modifying Your Race Format For Social Distancing

These days holding a road race often means instituting policies and procedures for social distancing. Over the past several months everyone in the industry has been learning from one another as to how best to put on an event and keep participants safe. As we learn of new ideas we will share them with you on this page. The RunSignUp Registration company has put together detailed Looking Forward Guidelines with lots of great ideas.  USATF-New England has a good webpage with links to additional information. Also see this article at

Time Trials/Staggered Starts. The first priority will be to modify your race so that people don't gather in large crowds. One of the most crowded points in any race is the starting line, where everyone is packed together in a small area awaiting the signal to go. To avoid this, the simplest solution is to change your race into a time trial, where runners leave individually or in small groups. The starting line will have to be left open long enough to accomplish this. You'll need to assign runners approximate starting times, and if you send them off in as close to fastest-to-slowest order as possible, it will keep them spread out along the course and minimize passing. At registration time ask your runners for their pace per mile, or estimated finish time, and assign bib numbers accordingly - lowest bib numbers to fastest runners. This makes it easy to line everyone up at the start with the fastest runners going off first. If you only have a small field of runners (under 100 or so) you can probably let them self-sort by pace and ask them to stay spread out in the start area. Because everyone will be leaving the start at different times, all scoring will have to be on net/chip time rather than gun time. In order to do this GSRS will normally bring start mats, which may mean bringing more staff and equipment. With small fields of runners who leave the line only one or two at a time, we have ways to time it manually (non-chip) if necessary. The layout of your course may need to be modified as well. If you have a common start/finish line and hundreds of people, you likely won't be able to start everyone before the finishers arrive. It isn't social distancing to have finishers arriving at the same place others are leaving. So you'd need to design a course where the start line is positioned in a way that runners never come back through. Your course distance may need to be slightly modified as well, which could result in the course distance not being certified. For some detailed statistical study on how this kind of starting process might be used at large races, see this study done by RunSignUp on Starting Line Bottleneck Analysis Post COVID-19.

Masks. Require that your participants wear face masks at all times except while actually racing. Runners lined up at the start should be wearing their masks as they wait and shouldn't remove them until after they start and they are no longer in any kind of close contact with other runners. Then they should put them right back on again as soon as they finish and catch their breath. You should have a supply of spare masks available for those who may show up without them and be prepared to hand some out to runners who lose them during their run.

Registration and Post-Race Festivities. The other place where crowding occurs is where your participants gather before and after your race. Prior to the start, people crowd into registration lines and mill about the starting area. Many races are doing away with race day registration entirely and requiring runners to sign up in advance. New Hampshire's Capital Area Race Series is requiring this for all eight of its series races this year. If time allows consider mailing bib numbers and race packets to your runners in advance of the race so they are ready to go on race day. Some races have partnered with local running shops to offer packet pickup a day or two before the race. This can help cut down on the long lines of runners waiting to pick up their packets on race morning. Larger races can issue their runners set times to show up and run so that not everyone congregates before the start. You may want to discourage spectators from coming. What about post-race festivities? Much of the fun of a road race comes in the post-race festivities, from food and drink, to music and other entertainment, and to the camaraderie of runners gathering in a social setting with other runners. Sadly, you'll have to forego most of this. It may be impossible to safely serve food or drinks, for example, so races have been offering beverages in sealed containers and individually wrapped food or snacks to grab and go. You may need to ask your runners to leave as soon as they finish their run. We will likely not be posting times on paper or on kiosks after the event, and instead relying on our usual live results on the web and individualized results emails to get that info to the runners. As for awards ceremonies, most races are doing away with them and either mailing their awards, or having runners come pick them up at another location in the days following the event.

Porta-Potties. If runners are arriving in more staggered waves, that may mean you'll need fewer porta-potties as there will be fewer people on site at any time. But the more you have, the smaller the lines and the fewer people who will use each. Be sure that the brand you rent has plenty of hand-sanitizer. Can you rent hand-washing stations? Should you hire workers or assign volunteers to do frequent quick cleanings? If there are public rest rooms, you'll certainly want a janitor on site keeping them as clean as possible and making sure the soap doesn't run out.

Water stops. First consider doing away with water stops entirely and have runners bring their own water. That's what they do when working out, or if they are doing a virtual run. This is especially true for shorter distances in cool climates. Course marshals could have supplies of bottled water with them for emergencies. If you must have water stops, have fewer of them, and use sealed bottles instead of open cups.

Shared items. Do you have items that are often shared between runners? While evidence of transmission of the virus from hard services is lacking, runners may feel more comfortable if they aren't required to touch items used by other runners. Things like pens used to fill out registration forms, tablets or computers used for registration or results, door handles used to get into your registration area or rest rooms. What can you do to sanitize these items between uses? Hand sanitizer should be readily available in multiple locations.

Communication. Above all, communicate frequently with your registrants beforehand to let them know about your social distancing guidelines. Individuals who are COVID-positive, or experiencing symptoms, or have recently been in close physical contact with a COVID-positive person, should be told not to come. Refunds or transfers should be available to encourage these people to stay home. Suggest they read this page of advice from the RRCA on running safely. Ultimately there is no way to make your event 100% safe from the virus and runners should be made aware that by participating in your event they are taking a risk. Remind them to take responsibility for their own personal safety.

Do you have some other ideas that you'd like to share? racetime [at] gsrs [dot] com (subject: Idea%20for%20modifying%20your%20race%20format%20to%20make%20it%20safer%20during%20the%20age%20of%20coronavirus) (Let us know)