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COVID-19 and Road Races - Current Information

Submitted by teschek_bill on


As the days and weeks of dealing with the coronavirus add up, the race industry is needing to adapt to unprecedented conditions. Everyone is searching for answers to difficult questions that often have no answer - such as "When will things get back to normal enough so that I can hold a road race?" The answer is that no one knows. The one certainty is that for the foreseeable future there will be no 'business as usual' for running events. If your event is coming up later this year, you are probably wondering what to do about it. Here are some suggestions:

Modify your event. Every business affected by the pandemic is seeking ways to modify their business model to abide by social distancing guidelines, and athletics is no exception. This will likely be necessary well into next year, so if road races are going to be held, they'll need to find ways to change how they operate. We've discussed some ideas on our website. There is also a lot of good information showing up in other places on the web. The RunSignUp registration company has published some  Looking Forward Guidelines. USA Triathlon recently launched their Safe Return to Multisport Initiative and produced detailed guidelines that "represent a valuable resource for multisport race directors facing the new challenges of producing events in a world where the coronavirus still exists." While they are written with an eye towards large triathlons, many of their guidelines are very practical for small road races.

We're currently hoping to find one of our race directors who is willing to take on the challenge of putting on a modified event this summer. It would need to be a small event, probably in a somewhat rural area, but we believe it can be done, and it will be a good chance for all of us to find out how to do this going forward. It doesn't even have to be a race that is currently scheduled for the summer. Who would like to be the trendsetter and go first? Perhaps some of you can collaborate? We're all in this together, and need to experiment to find our way through. If someone would like to try putting on a small event this summer, please get in touch and we'll talk about the possibilities.

But in general, the outlook for racing for the next several months is not promising. Even if some small races are held, there are real hurdles. Your traditional sponsors might be experiencing financial difficulties and might be unable to support you this year. Runners might be scared to show up. For many, there are really only two options - cancellation, or going virtual. Several of our races have chosen to cancel and look forward to 2021, but many others are having success with the transition to virtual. There are some definite drawbacks to cancelling. Skipping a year of a race can have a detrimental effect on runners showing up the following year. Offering a virtual race instead of cancelling outright at least gives you a touchpoint with your participants that will make it more likely that they'll sign up next year. The other issue to consider is that non-profits are really hurting for money now, so it's likely that the beneficiary of your fund-raising efforts is in tough shape this year. A virtual race can at least bring in some much-needed funding.

Virtual Considerations. We discussed virtual races in our last blog. Since that time more and more of our events have gone virtual, and it's a trend that is sweeping the country. We recently scored the virtual Moms on the Run, with posted results and user-submitted pictures. A list of our other events with currently scheduled virtual runs can be found in the top right section of our website's front page. In addition to help with posting of results and photos, we can assist you in the entire process of putting on a virtual event, from registration, to logistics, and even by assisting with the process of mailing your swag and/or teeshirts to participants after the event. Like almost every other company out there, GSRS has been searching for ways to adapt our business model to survive these trying times. You can help us by letting us help you with your virtual event. Let us put you together with one of our registration system partners, for starters.

Many of our races are presently in a wait-and-see holding pattern. If your race is in the fall, or even late summer, it's difficult to know what to do since no one knows whether things will loosen up enough by then to allow your race to happen. But you also have preparation work that needs to be done and can't wait too long to make your decision. If you're thinking that a virtual race might be a good idea, but don't want to commit to that because you feel there is still a chance to hold an actual race, don't worry. You can do both! Even before this pandemic many races offered virtual components for runners who for some reason couldn't come to the actual race. Maybe they don't live nearby. Maybe they are beginning runners who don't feel comfortable participating in person. Whlie you are waiting to find out whether you can hold your race, start now by opening up registration for a virtual version. Explain that anyone who signs up is paying for the virtual race, but if the actual race happens their registration will be good for that as well. This way you can open registration now, and you have another way to promote your race in the weeks leading up to what you hope will be your actual event. If the virtual race is open for that entire time, you can offer an ongoing leaderboard to also generate interest. There are lots of creative things that can be done.

Insurance for Virtual Events. Just because your event is going virtual doesn't mean you can skip getting race insurance. America is a very litigious society and although it may be unlikely, it certainly isn't impossible that some one might sue you if they injure themselves while running your virtual event. The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) is a good place to get road race insurance, and they also offer it for virtual races now. They have other advice about putting on virtual events on their website here and here. You'll also want to be sure to update your event waiver to cover virtual running, and the RRCA has some suggested text. The Nicholas Hill Group specializes in insurance for the endurance events industry and has a low cost general liability insurance policy aimed exclusively at virtual races.

Modify Your Event Waiver Now. Speaking of event waivers, those races that still hope to hold an actual event later this year should go onto their registration site today and modify their event waiver to include language relating to COVID-19. You want runners to understand that attending your race may very possibly expose them to the virus, and to have them acknowledge that they understand this and will adhere to social distancing guidelines put out by their communities and by your own race rules. Some good discussion of this issue here and here.

Permitting. At this time, it’s not certain what the coronavirus-era permit application process will look like.  We know that cities and towns are financially hurting, and that means they may look for ways to generate more revenue. It’s possible that permit costs could increase in the coming weeks and months. On the other hand, cities and towns may be desperate for healthy ways to bring people together again, and work hand-in-hand with races to accomplish this goal.

A permit is generally one of the keys to your race; at the same time, it’s necessary to have your plan in place before applying for a permit.

  • Right now, across the board, race directors have permits in a holding pattern. Local permit agencies will not officially receive them until social distancing guidelines are relaxed. All agencies are being cautious.
  • Check with your local officials to determine whether a permit is required to hold your race. 
  • If you have produced races in the past, keep in touch with your contacts in charge of permits as closely as possible. Work with them on changes and modifications to your race to proceed in a modified format at a planned date in the future. 
  • Keep in mind that when they re-open, permitting agencies will be flooded with requests and you will need to be patient. Create a modified race plan now for your future events (even if they aren’t until later this year or 2021) to be prepared.

If you aren’t able to get a permit, pivot to a virtual race as a way to get some cash flow to sustain your organization until 2021.

Useful Links

How to Organize a Virtual Race

RunSignUp Announces RaceJoy Anywhere for Virtual Events

Coronavirus - Race Options and Best Practices

RunSignUp's Go Virtual page

Transitioning to a Virtual Event (webinar)

Upcoming and Past RunSignUp Webinars

6 Things to Do When Not Putting on Races

The Virtues of Virtual Runs

Why Can't I Get a Refund? And Other Emails to RDs in the COVID-19 Era