What is going to happen to road racing as we know it?
The COVID-19 virus is deadly. Already (as of May 17) at least 317,000 people worldwide have died from the virus. This number is still growing by thousands each day. By the end of this week most likely over 100,000 people in the US will have died from the Coronvirus (COVID-19).
Some people thinks this number has been inflated. Others think it is low. It is hard to really know the true facts. In any case thousands of people have died from this new virus. That's a fact.
Some still feel this virus is no worse than the common flu. Many of these ill informed people might be some of the ones who are continuing to spread the Cornavirus. Many of these people don't wear face masks while in public nor practice social distancing. These types of people could easily be those that end up infecting others. And kill racing too. More on this later.
Doctors are saying this virus is much more contagious than the common flu and the death rate particularly for people aged 60 plus is high. Much higher than the common flu.
This information is talked about daily in the news and there is no need to further exam that here. The focus here is road racing and what impact this crisis is going to have on the sport.
The My Best Runs (MBR) website only features and follow the best, most interesting and unique races in the world. The site is currently following 837 races from all over the world.
One thing the website does is list the leaderboard results from the races featured. The top four men and women and then age-group winners in ten year age-groups starting at age 40 are posted. Stats are complied and compared among the races. Nearly 90,000 unique people visited the site in February to look for races, follow races or read Running News Daily. The traffic had doubled in a year. That's over one million annually. The growth of the site illustrates how road racing was growing.
Everything was set for a banner year. The Boston Marathon had lined up another amazing field for their annual races that has been held every year since 1896 on Patriots Day. The London marathon had confirmed that the world's top two marathoners would battle it out on the streets of London. Maybe the first sub two hour marathon in a real race was going to happen? Both races were postponed and they hope to have races this fall. Some feel that is not going to happen.
It was in early February when people began talking about the Cornavirus. A virus started in China. But mostly people did not seem overly concerned.
The month before (January 26) the Ujena Fit Club (UFC) Training Camp in Thika Kenya was opened. The camp was not totally finished but the core group of runners were selected, a time trial was staged and a traditional goat feed blessed the opening. A couple hundred showed up for the affair.
A third floor of the club would be added in the following months to house guests interested in training with elite Kenyan runners. The official grand opening was set for the end of May with a Double Road Race 15k race planned the same weekend. Sponsored were being lined up for a world record attempt.
The top runner in the club and part owner is Joel Maina Mwangi. For the last couple of years prior he would travel to Italy in the spring and bring back enough prize money to take care of him and his family for the rest of the year.
2020 was going to be his best year yet. Joel was in top form being trained at his Ujena Fit Club Training Camp by coach Dennis. His teammates push Joel in three-a-day workouts to higher limits.
Joel left for Italy in early February right after the UFC Training Camp US partners Bob and Catherine Anderson had left after attending the opening.
Joel's first race was in Verona, Italy Feb 16. He won that race and clocked 1:00:40 for the half marathon, a personal best. His plan was to race each weekend after that and then run the Rome Half Marathon set for March 8. This point to point course is fast. Galen Rupp had won there a couple of years back breaking an hour in the process. Joel's plan was to win, break an hour for the first time and bring home the big prize purse.
This didn't happen as Italy started closing down their country to battle COVID-19. It was going out of control. Joel luckily left Italy March 7th for his home in Thika, Kenya while he could still travel. But not with the over $20k(US) he was planning on bringing back home with him.
The world was shutting down. Whole countries were locking down. The last race featured by My Best Runs to take place was the LA Marathon March 8 along with several others held that same weekend. There has not been a race held any place in the world since March 8. California ordered everyone to Shelter in Place starting March 17. Other states followed.
Every race in April and May featured on the MBR website were either canceled or postponed. Most races also in June and July have been canceled or postponed too. The Tokyo Olympics were postponed for a year. The Berlin marathon in September was canceled (but they are trying to workout a new date), Western States 100, the Camrades Marathon, the Dipsea, and so many other well established races were cancelled.
Pippa Stevens a CNBC writer posted, "As running has grown in popularity, local clubs have popped up around the country, and there are now roughly 35,000 races each year in the U.S. alone, data from industry trade group Running USA shows.
"More than 44 million people in the U.S. identify as a runner, and 17.6 million people crossed the finish line in U.S. races in 2019.
"With all races cancelled for the time being, billions of dollars are at stake. The biggest marathons – from Boston to Chicago to London to Tokyo – inject hundreds of millions of dollars into local economies. The most recent analysis of the TCS New York City Marathon, for example, found that the race’s economic impact topped $400 million."
A lot is at stake. But race directors must know that even if cities allow them to hold their races, not everyone will automatically be there on the starting line.
Dan Anderson wrote, "I am having a major motivational problem with my running! For the first time in my running career (almost 55 years) I have no races to train for. I really miss them. But I will not run in a race until a vaccine is available. Being 68 years old with several preexisting risk factors it is too dangerous! Hopefully within a year a vaccine will be available. Until then I will push myself to get out and run."
Racing is addictive and so many people around the world love it. Once things are figured out and it is safe again many will be there on the starting line.
Sam Tada who now lives in Japan wrote, "Racing helped me so many times in my life and I miss it.
"Racing gives us opportunity of challenge, growth, and communication. It makes us happy and healthy mentally and physically. I love racing and miss it.
"We are facing difficult time right now but once this health concern is gone I think we will be able to enjoy racing more since we understand how racing is important for us.
"I am looking forward to racing again and I am trying to do my best effort to stop the spread of this virus."
There are a lot of things that will need to be addressed. Maybe at least for awhile or forever all runners will need to show up wearing a Face Mask.
Then they walk into a screening booth and have their temperature checked. If they pass, they walk into another booth were they are sprayed with a solution (totally safe) that would kill any viruses they may have on their clothing, shoes or body. At this point they are still wearing their face mask. And they continue to wear their face mask until about a quarter mile out or until there is spacing between them and others. Once they finish they put back on their Face Mask until they are back in their car.
Of course everyone would have to sign a Waiver saying that if they contract COVID-19 at the race and if they die later their family could not sue the race or city. No idea how porta potties, water stops or handing out medals at the end could work out other than eliminating them.
Two problems with these ideas. Remember those people that are already not following the rules? Do you think they would show up at a race wearing a Face Mask? And we also know that signing a waiver does not restrict a family from sueing everyone if a member of their family dies from COVID-19 which they determined they got at a race. Even before this crisis a husband ran a half marathon in San Francisco and died at the finish line. He had signed a waiver but his wife sued everyone and won lots of money. The race Director got out of the business (sadly) yet he did nothing wrong.
There is not a clear answer about the future of road racing. No matter how careful race directors, cities and charities (because they are big losers too) work together it would only take a few jerks to ruin it all.
So what race is going to be the first one back? Any day now the Old Dominion 100 Miler set for June 8th will be making a decision. They write,
"The Old Dominion Run is still working all options in an attempt to have the run this year.
"We are working with numerous authorities in our area to assist in providing a good and safe race day experience for everyone involved. The governor of Virginia has gone to phase one in our area and our authorities are reviewing our plan vs the restrictions.
"Currently, part of our proposal has had to include a limit on our field to 50% for any hopes for us to proceed. We currently have 55 entrants and will not immediately be taking more from the wait list.
"Responses from the authorities will be a major part of our decision on 17 May. If the race proceeds, entries will not be more than 55. The waitlist will remain active," posted by Ray, Wynne and Race Management.
On June 20th the Shelter Island 10k (first photo) is scheduled to take place in Shelter Island New York. It is a big race and there are always fast winning times. We have contacted the race director and have not gotten a comment from them. There is no mention on their website about COVID-19. We are assuming they are trying to make it happen.
Another one of the 837 races being followed by MBR wrote, "Our race was cancelled for this year, fingered crossed we will be back in 2021, april 17th.
"Our race of 2500 might look a bit different in 2021, 10 wave starts of 250 each? Each 10, 15 to 20 minutes apart? Lots of questions, aid stations will look and function a lot different. Maybe results may go to chip times, or no awards at all? Things will be different.
"The big question now is how we will all deal with the city, county and state mandates and permits. In the past, permits were a pretty easy process, no mass gatherings limitations.
"Locally I believe we will have some small events, mostly if not all on our trail system which limits events to 200 participants. A couple are still moving forward with fall dates, hopefully they will happen. Currently we have a limit for runs set by our city, set at 250 runners with wave starts, with really no other details. In the past road events have had much bigger fields. Going forward if the social distancing stays part of the rules it will be very hard to stage a very large running event.
"Events may look like some ultrarunning events, with very little or no finish line parties, just finish, quick drink and maybe food and head home.
"Runners and organizations will adapt to the rules and events will happen," wrote Brian at Race to Robie Creek.
Hopefully the game changer is going to be that a vaccine is created and COVID-19 is wiped off the face of the earth. Just as long as everyone gets vaccinated and don't continue to think that COVID-19 is no worse than the common flu.
It sure would be nice to get back to things as they were. Or at least close to it. But many many of us will continue to wash our hands more often, wear a face masks are times and not go out if they are not feeling well.
posted Sunday May 17th
by Bob Anderson