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The Future Of Running Races Post-COVID19

BY: The Running Channel
25 July 2020

It’s becoming hard to remember the last time I raced. It was the Maverick x TRIBE Run Free trail race way back in February. A brilliant day among so many friends. The trails were gloriously muddy. We ran with smiles on our faces from start to finish. Huddled around in a big group at the startline as the drizzle descended, itching to go, feels like an experience that is so alien now, when there are still people in our lives we cannot hug or come into direct contact with because of COVID-19. Even the train journey there, sharing coffees and snacks as a group, is something that can’t happen right now.

There were only just over 250 of us running that day, spread across 3 different distances. Worlds apart from the big city Marathon Majors and iconic events such as The Great North Run, with their tens of thousands of participants. So when will we get to race again? Is running racing going to be the same? Where do races stand when it comes to the new ‘normal’?  

ABOVE: Back in my happy place racing the Maverick x TRIBE Run Free trail race. Photo by Jake Baggaley

Let’s tackle the ‘when’ first of all. None of us have a crystal ball, so it’s difficult to answer this one. But there are a few things to consider. Many of the big races that were planned for the autumn (New York Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Royal Parks Half Marathon), have already been postponed to next year or cancelled for 2020. At the time of writing, we are waiting on an update from The London Marathon, the last of the 2020 Marathon Majors to confirm their plans. Will it go ahead on the postponed date of the 4th of October? If it does, will it include the masses or will it be elites only? We shall soon find out, with an announcement expected on the 28th July. 

We’d seen a glimmer of hope in the racing calendar when Hamburg Marathon, a World Athletics Gold Label Road Race, announced it would still go ahead on their postponed date in September, with incredibly strict guidelines:

  • Different start and finish areas for the marathon and half marathon.
  • Runners sent out on the course in “batches” of 1,000 per starting group in roughly ten-minute intervals.
  • Disinfection stations in the event areas and along the course.
  • All participants given a face covering with a breathing filter to be worn in the event area including the start and finish areas.  During the race runners must have these with them and put them over mouth and nose after they cross the finish line. 
  • No open drinks or individual food offerings available in the finish area

However earlier this week, they too announced that they’ve taken the decision to cancel it and hold it in 2021 instead. 

What’s been incredible to see over the last few weeks is record after record being smashed by runners who are going out in search of Fastest Known Times (FKTs).

  • Lake District fell runner Kim Collison broke the 23-year-old record for running up and down the most Lake District peaks in 24 hours — covering 78 fells with 15 minutes to spare.
  • Sabrina Verjee became the first woman to complete the Wainwright Challenge – a 325-mile (525km) route across the Cumbrian fells in six days, 17 hours and 51 minutes.
  • Ultrarunner John Kelly posted a new fastest time for running the Pennine Way – the 268-mile length of Britain’s first national trail. He beat the previous record set by Mike Hartley in 1989 by 34 minutes 

And right now, ultra runner Carla Molinaro is out hitting the roads of Great Britain in search of the World Record time for the fastest woman to run from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I was lucky enough to chat to Carla before she set off – if you missed our chat, you can watch it back over on our IGTV.

About 6 weeks into the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, as I was putting together our best running podcasts video, I’d heard a really interesting episode of Trail Running Nation’s podcast where they suggested that the FKT could become the new version of racing. With these records tumbling at the rate that they are, they were perhaps onto something!

So what now? Well, this week saw the publication of the UK Athletics / Run Britain return to racing guidelines. You can read them in full here, but in short:

  • Race organisers shouldn’t let runners gather in large groups for baggage drop / start pens. 
  • There should be an allowance for social distancing at all times.
  • No goody bags – only racing materials that are essential are to be given out (timing chips and race bibs). 
  • Aid stations should be sealed bottled water that participants pick up themselves or not used at all and encourage participants to bring their own.
  • Spectators are discouraged. 
  • Advice should be sent out prior to the event encouraging participants not to show up if they feel ill.
  • Steps to be taken to make sure public transport can cope with the number of competitors expected.  

There are, of course, far more implications in the advice for the race organisers to consider and that is only a watered-down version, with a lot of it coming down to common sense. However, there’s a whole load of work that will now have to happen behind the scenes to make sure that event organisers can adhere to guidelines and until we see some races coming back and those organisers start to learn from how others are successfully doing it, it still remains to be seen what the impact will be. Will smaller race organisers benefit the most because of the restrictions on numbers? Will racing feel the same with these added restrictions? What will it be like to race if crowd support is now discouraged? We honestly don’t know the answers. But one thing is for sure, we can’t wait to see you on the startline




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