We all want to get back to having in-person races as soon as possible. That “as possible” is what we are spending an inordinate amount of time considering. As race directors, there are many safety factors that we weigh when deciding if a race can go on during this COVID pandemic (which is still going on by the way – during the week from Monday, June 1, through Sunday, June 7, Oregon recorded 620 new cases of COVID-19 infection, a 75% increase from the previous week). Here are some of the things that we think about:
Assuming we are allowed (by the permitting agency and the state and local orders), the first and absolutely foremost consideration, now and before and always, is safety. Safety for the runners AND the volunteers AND the other participants. We will not put on an event that would place anyone in unnecessary harm. We have to think about all the possible scenarios. Here are some of the very-real examples we must plan for that weigh into if and how to have a race during a pandemic:
Let’s go back to the premise that we are allowed to host the event. Many of you are familiar with the ban on events in place by the Oregon Governor’s office. That started out with the ban on all events, then went to events of 25 or more, next is 50, and eventually (until the end of September) events of 100 or more. Did you know that doesn’t just mean 100 racers? That means 100 people participating and involved in the event. That counts volunteers, medics, HAM radio operators, us – all the people necessary to produce the race. And then there are spectators, and crew and pacers if involved.
Many of our races are capped by permit at 100, 150, 300, or some similarly small number. But when you consider just the number of volunteers involved, you quickly get down to being able to have a really small number of actual runners. For example, our Wy’east Wonder last year had 54 supporting the race. That’s not even counting spectators. So how do you choose, of those paid and signed up, which runners get to race and which don’t so that you can keep the number under 100?
And then there are the additional new logistics (like wave starts, increased number of shuttles to get people to the starting line, finding a volunteer willing to clean the porta potties multiple times a day, and so on) that have to be worked out. Not that these are impossible, some are actually quite easy, but they do require us to think through all aspects from well before the race starts all the way to days afterwards. If there are additional costs created by these requirements, can we afford them?
Our insurance has set new requirements for ensuring someone with any potential of being infected doesn’t attend the race, including daily reporting from every racer for seven days prior to the race, taking everyone’s temperatures when they arrive, etc. There is also the condition that we maintain a six-foot passing zone throughout the entire race. That isn’t possible on some of our courses (Hello – singletrack!) so do we change the route to be on double track and fire roads? Would runners want to miss out on certain trails just to be able to run the race? Will the Forest Service even allow that? Do we pay more for a different insurance that doesn’t have these requirements? Could we even get another insurance carrier at this point?
We have races in many different counties in Oregon and one in Washington. Counties are re-opening at different times and in different phases. Let’s say the race is occurring in a county with a very low incidence of the virus. Is it fair to that community (and the others you may pass through on your way to the event) for us to bring in people from all over the country, or even somewhat nearby counties, that have a higher rate of the virus, possibly infecting the local residents? These residents may not be runners, but maybe they are volunteers, or business owners where runners stop to get gas, buy some food, stay the night, etc.
Fueling and feeding racers becomes challenging. It’s easy enough to eliminate the post-race meal. We can reduce the offerings at an aid station and tell the runners they need to be more self-sufficient or that they have to carry everything themselves or at some races add drop bag locations. We could provide individually packaged, single-serve good (think individual bags of chips or M&Ms). But we have worked so hard for many years now on reducing the amount of garbage and actual waste that our events produce, that it goes against our environmental ethos to hand out this type of food.
This leads into the ‘type’ of race we want to produce. We are willing to make sacrifices, even things that mean a lot to our runners or to us, but we have a type of race experience that we want to provide. There’s a community that is created and supported and nurtured at our events, and we love that. For many people, the post-race vibe is what really makes our races special. Hanging out afterward, enjoying a pulled pork sandwich or veggie burger, listening to your friends and fellow racers share their stories, while drinking a beer or cider — that’s sometimes almost the best part. Are we willing to put on a race that doesn’t have that, just to have a race?
How long can we hold out to make the call? Waiting until the last possible minute is best for the odds of restrictions and limitations lifting and the race going on as planned. But that also means people have to keep training for an event that might not occur. Why not let everyone off the hook sooner? People who are traveling from afar have airfare/transportation and lodging reservations to make or cancel – some which will be refundable and others that won’t if it is past a certain time and we don’t want anyone to incur additional and unnecessary expenses (we know this first-hand as the Airbnb we reserved for the Wy’east Wonder wasn’t refundable).
We will cancel a race and notify everyone, as soon as we can, but we will wait as long as we can too. Go Beyond Racing will make a go/no go decision no later than 30 days out from race day. The Coronavirus Update article on our home page is your main go-to resource for information about each race’s current status.
We recognize that our position may be more conservative than other race organizers. We also understand that there are runners out there who feel their rights are infringed upon with the way local, state, and federal governments are restricting their activities. As a result, some of you may not agree with how we are handling things and will choose to run other races instead. Any and all of our decisions could have a negative impact on the future of Go Beyond Racing, so we are taking care with each.
Putting on races is what we do. It isn’t just our livelihood; it is our passion. We want to stand at the start line with you, and then be at the finish to welcome you back. It is completely disheartening when we have to cancel (and it hasn’t gotten any easier with each increasing cancellation this year). We will continue to work hard to put on Go Beyond Racing races when and how we feel it is safe to do so. This year and beyond.