As this is being written in late April, there are no road races being held anywhere. But eventually, as stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, road race events will start to return. At present there is no timeline for when this might happen. Race directors will want to decide whether or not holding an event is the best choice for the safety of their participants. They'll also need to make sure that their medical and police support will be available. Will the usual vendors be able to supply what is needed? The first races to be held will likely only take place as small events in rural communities, and may have to have their formats modified for safety. Everyone in the industry will be learning from one another on 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. Also keep an eye out on what comes out of the Outbreak Prevention Taskforce for mass events being formed by World Athletics and the International Institute for Race Medicine (IIRM).
Time Trials. 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. It will be interesting to see the methods that different races use to accomplish this. Will they ask runners to supply their pace at registration so that they can be properly sorted? Bib numbers can be assigned with the lowest numbers having the fastest pace, so that it will be easy to make sure that runners leave in order. Or perhaps runners will be left to self-sort and you can have set times for each pace to leave the starting line. 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, of course, GSRS will need to bring start mats, which may mean bringing more staff and equipment. 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. 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.
Crowded Event Areas. 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. Will you need to do away with this entirely? Could you issue your runners set times to show up and run so that not everyone congregates in this area before the start? Should you reduce and limit the size of your field, or discourage spectators from attending? What about post-race festivities? It might be impossible to safely serve food or drinks, but some form of individually-wrapped food or snacks might work. Perhaps have prepared lunch or snack boxes available for all finishers. Do you have a large enough area to gather so that runners can maintain social distancing? If not you may need to forgo festivities and ask your runners to leave as soon as they finish their run. How will such scenarios be effectively enforced? The degree to which you can accomplish this may determine whether or not you can receive a permit to hold an event this year.
Race Day Registration. To avoid crowded registration tables you may want to consider doing away with race day registration entirely, and only allow online registration prior to race day. Mail bib numbers and race packets to as many pre-registrants as possible. If you do have race day reg, consider supplying your volunteers with masks and gloves if appropriate.
Porta-Potties. Can porta-potties be used safely? If runners are arriving in more staggered waves, that doesn't mean you'll need fewer porta-potties. 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 having 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? Pens used to fill out registration forms? Ipads 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? Assuming supplies are available, hand sanitizer should be readily available in multiple locations.
Masks. If appropriate, ask your participants to wear face masks before and after their runs, and possibly even during their runs when passing other runners. The race should have a supply of spare masks available for those who may show up without them. How difficult is it to run in a mask, and is it necessary? Some articles on the subject in the NY Times and Runner's World.
Have a virtual option. Undoubtedly there will be runners who will initially be very nervous about returning to road racing. If you include the option for them to run your race virtually it will be a way for these people to participate.
Offer full refunds? With all the uncertainty around whether races will even be held, runners aren't registering for upcoming events, even those scheduled months away. If you were to offer full refunds in the event the race is cancelled, runners might feel more confident about signing up. Work with your registration provider on how these refunds will be processed if necessary.
Health Screenings? At the time your race is being held is it possible to have on-site health screenings to determine if your participants have the virus? Would it be possible, or even wise, to require some kind of pre-event certification that your runners are virus-free?
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 even living with a COVID-positive person, should be told not to come. Refunds or transfers should be available to encourage these people to stay home. Have all of your registrants read this page of advice from the RRCA on running safetly. 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? Let us know