A Real Life Race Series During a Pandemic? Here’s How
Like race directors all across the country, this global pandemic has put us in uncharted territory. It has challenged us to create“virtual experiences” and adapt how we view what racing looks like. Unfortunately, as a result of COVID-19 many races have had to cancel or switch to a virtual option. We were fortunate to have the support and time to create a plan to make our most popular events of the year happen in a safe fashion. The show went on for the Wild Thangs Trail Series 2020, and will go on for the remainder of our RunningLane Events in 2020 with safety procedures in place.
Like many counties across the country ours was closed for the majority of the early spring. After the state started going through reopening procedures, we received the green light from Monte Sano State Park if we could provide evidence on how we could make a safe race happen. We acknowledged that we would have to adjust the expectations from what our events normally look like to take into account the severity of the pandemic and the safety and health of our runners. Keep in mind that we are under a Mask Mandate and so this had to be considered for every aspect during the event. We knew the larger issues we would have to confront would be packet pickup, crowding before and after the race and on the start line, fueling and aid, awards and providing an option to go virtual.
Packet Pick Up
First and foremost we have to thank Fleet Feet, Huntsville for allowing us to host a packet pickup at their store. If you haven’t been there during the pandemic, you’d be amazed that it is likely better sanitized than your own home. We asked participants to consider picking up their packet during the 6 hour window the day before rather than cramming a lot of people in line the day of the race. In order to alleviate any potential crowding, we also provided packet pick up the day of the race. It was imperative to also set some harsh rules on not picking up packets for anyone but yourself unless it was for a child who was a minor. Each participant had to sign to consent that they would not show up to the event if they were sick or knowingly directly exposed to the virus. We also didn’t allow race day registration to reduce any hold up in lines. We also provided each participant with a neck gaiter if they were in need of PPE for the race that was easy to wear before and after running.
Crowding Before, After & Start line
This topic was the hardest logistic of the series and will likely remain a point of focus going forwards. We love our events for their fun atmosphere, live music before and after and post race hangouts. However, given the circumstances we knew all of that would need to be drastically different. First, for each of the events we had chip timing in waves of 25 people that would go off every 5 min. We spaced out people by registration order and what event they were doing (i.e. early folks that signed up for the longer event would go first, late registering folks that signed up for the shorter event would go later). Participants were asked to stay close to their vehicles and away from the starting area until it was near their wave time. Due to the mask mandate we asked that participants wear their mask till they crossed the starting mats. Per county instruction, they could take it down once they started the race; however participants were requested to announce if they were passing folks and pass wide if possible. If not, they had a mask available to cover their face. Lastly, runners were asked to put on their mask again once they left the finishing shoot. After the race, we normally look forward to snacks and an after race hangout. But in order to reduce crowding we asked that runners would leave for home once they had cooled down to ensure decongestion of the area. We encouraged limiting spectators to assist with discouraging cluster at the start and finish area.
Fueling & Aid
Normally at all of our events, we have coolers of water, sports drinks and various snacks and fuel for runners to take at each of our aid stations. Now, being in the south in extreme heat and humidity, not having aid is not an option for any race distance. To tackle this issue we had bottles of water and Gatorade for runners. These were handed out by gloved volunteers to avoid a lot of hands on packages of water. We also had aid stations with emergency packaged snacks in case a runner was in desperate need of fuel if they didn’t have their own.
One fun thing about the Wild Thangs series is our customized awards podium. We love seeing runners excited about their age group awards and taking pictures on the podium. This year we could not put this to use, but we did still hand out medals with the help of gloved and masked volunteers. We did not do age group awards in person to help get people on their way home safely and quickly.
One of the fun additions to this year’s race was a virtual option to those who did not feel comfortable coming out to the race site. Each Friday the week after an event we mailed out shirts and medals to those who emailed us back their virtual results.
We are fortunate to have the greenlight to go ahead with the remainder of our races this year. We are so thankful for our state park system in trusting us to responsibly host events at their beautiful venues. Are you ready to race in person? Check out the rest of our schedule and event details here.
CONQUER THE CAVE 5k | Sept. 27
GRAND VIDUTA STAGE RACE | Oct. 2-4
WADE MOUNTAIN 10k, HALF & FULL MARATHON | Oct. 18
CATHEDRAL CAVERNS TRAIL RUN 15k & 5k | Nov. 7
KING OF THE MOUNTAIN 4k | Nov. 14
RIVER MONSTER 10k & HALF MARATHON | Dec. 5
We want to note we couldn’t have done this four part race series without the help of our wonderful volunteers, Monte Sano State Park and Fleet Feet, Huntsville!