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COVID-19 and Your Race - Meeting the Challenge

Submitted by teschek_bill on


Over the past five weeks we've heard from many of our race directors who are dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on road racing. Our last timed race was held on March 14th and we are currently being notified of cancellations as far ahead as the beginning of September. The entire industry is in a state of hiberation until further notice. There is a lot of discussion about when racing will be able to resume, with the optimists hoping for a return in summer and the pessimists saying that until there is a vaccine, large crowded events are not going to be allowed (and if they are, few people will feel safe attending.) While our hearts are with the optimists, we can't ignore the very real possibility that racing won't return until well in to 2021. For this reason, every director of an upcoming race should be thinking about and planning what to do. Here are four options to consider at this point: cancellation, postponement, modification, and virtual racing.

Cancellation. If you decide to outright cancel your event, please let us know as soon as possible and give us the date of next year's event so we can update our online race calendar. There is a useful page of information on the Race Director's HQ website that gives advice on how to proceed with a cancellation. It was written before the advent of this pandemic, but is still useful. They have a more recent article titled "6 Things to Do When Not Putting on Races" that you might want to read. Also please check out the Granite State Race Services cancellation policy.

Postponement. Many of our spring races have rescheduled their events to the summer or fall. If you decide to do this please work with us as you choose a new date. While we will do our best to accommodate you, our fall schedule is already quite busy. Be sure to notify your runners as soon as possible about the new date. Work with your registration company on this, and the issue of what to do about refund requests.

Modification. Later this year there may come a time when a race could be held if the event can be modified in a way that maintains some degree of social distancing. One way to do this is to leave the starting line open long enough that your runners never are in a crowd of other runners. Runners can take off in individual 'waves' of a few people at a time, or even singly. You'll want to start your runners in fastest-to-slowest order, as much as possible. Because everyone will be leaving the start at different times, all scoring would have to be on net/chip time rather than gun time, so the race would be more of a time trial. You may want to make some changes to the way you register runners on site, such as not allowing race day registration at all, or spreading out the tables where registration is handled. It might not be wise to have crowded post-race festivities, so unless you have a very large area where people can gather safely, you may have to ask runners to leave after their run and mail your awards to winners. We'll stay abreast of the discussions of how to safely put on a road race as ideas emerge and are tested. Click here for more information about modifying your race.

Virtual Racing. If you want to hold a race in the near future, your best option would be a virtual event. What exactly is a virtual race? It's when participants run their own race, alone or in a small group (thus maintaining social distancing), at a time (and usually place) of their choosing. We feel that putting on a virtual race is definitely worth considering for several reasons. First of all, it allows you to still hold an event and raise money for your cause. You won't lose out completely. Other reasons include:

  • Less work before, during and after the event.
  • You can avoid worrying about how you are going to do all your pre-race planning during the current lockdowns.
  • Sharply reduced expenses, so even though you may have fewer participants than in a regular race, you will keep a larger percentage of the proceeds and don't need as much seed money.
  • You can still sell merchandise, hold raffles, and raise donations through your registration system.
  • Stays within social distancing protocols.
  • You can expand the reach of your event to include people who wouldn't be able to come to your regularly scheduled race due to distance or scheduling issues.
  • You keep your athletes and community engaged and interested in your event this year, and avoid a two-year gap between races.
  • Increased flexibility for the participants as to when they do their race.
  • Provides something positive to do in these challenging times.
  • Your responsibilities would mostly be limited to promotion, fund raising/securing sponsors, and working with your registration system.

There are two types of virtual races. The most common is to have runners choose their own course, or even run on a treadmill. Less frequently, participants all run on the same race course, but separately, and over a longer period of time. This could be over a full weekend, or even a week or longer. Let's take a look at the two options:

  • Runners choose their own course. The benefit of this option is in its simplicity. Ask your participants to all run the same distance as your normal course, but they can choose where - or how, in the case of a treadmill - they do it. No one has to travel to your race site. If your race is in New Hampshire, someone in Australia can sign up and participate. Usually all runners are asked to do their run on the same day - the day your event is regularly scheduled - or perhaps over the course of that weekend. But there is nothing preventing you from allowing runners to do their runs over the course of weeks or even months. Because runners won't all be running the same course, the exact distances will vary. That means it will have to be more of a fun run rather than a competition. Granite State Race Services will be happy to assist you, from advice, to setup, to results tabulation.
  • Runners use your course. This option is much more like holding your actual event, since everyone is doing the same route. If your usual course is unavailable or partially shut down due to local health-related restrictions, you can devise an alternate course. In order to maintain social distancing, you should give runners the option of doing their run at any point over a much longer time frame, such as a week or more. Rather than having runners record their own times using a variety of apps and devices, you may want to consider using an app called RaceJoy. This allows you to upload an interactive map of your course, send alerts in real time to runners, monitor their progress, and tabulate results. Follow this link to learn more about how you can use it at your race. This is only offered through certified RaceJoy timers such as Granite State Race Services. Use RaceJoy for your virtual event and give your runners more of a real race experience.

Here are some other useful links on virtual racing: