From March through June, the racing scene had essentially come to a standstill. Since then, races have started to come back, but the number of in-person race options available are still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. Nearly all major city races have been cancelled or transitioned to virtual. With the vast majority of the country now in the “green phase,” the number of in-person races are starting to increase. At Wolf Creek Race Management, we have hosted two in-person events since the start of the pandemic: the Kinzua Half Marathon in late July and the Old Turnpike Half Marathon in August. At both of these events, we implemented COVID-19 mitigation plans. The measures we implemented received very positive reviews from participants. Below are the steps we have taken to hold in-person events in safe, responsible, and fun way.
“I raced the old turnpike half marathon on August 9 put on by @wolfcreektrackclub and they did an amazing job, 5 different start times, each one spread an hour apart. In person racing can absolutely be done in a safe manner” -Rachel B.
You Start When You’re Comfortable
At the Kinzua Half Marathon, we offered a “window start” where participants had the option to start any time between 8:00-8:15am. The start was chip timed so there was no penalty to starting later. To avoid congregating, we restricted access to the race staging area (start/finish area) until 5 minutes prior to 8:00am – the beginning of the start window. Race participants spread out and warmed up throughout Kinzua Bridge State Park rather than warming up primarily in the staging area like you see at a lot of major city races. The window start was very well received by event participants for two reasons: 1) It allowed for maximum social distancing. If participants wanted to, they could start the race one person at a time. 2) Event participants did not feel the pressure to start when the horn went off. The 15 minute start window allowed those who needed more time to warm up, or use the restroom, to do so. With a window start, participants get to start when they are comfortable.
At the Old Turnpike Half Marathon in August, we utilized the window start, but within 5 different wave start times: 6:30, 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30. Participants could start within a 15 minute window after each of those start times.
Investment in PPE
As part of our commitment to keep our participants safe, we greatly invested in PPE. This investment included purchasing plexiglass, masks, hand sanitizer, Covid-19 signage, and buying only pre-packaged food and drinks. For Kinzua, we mailed masks to all participants ahead of the event and masks were required while not in the act of running. Covid-19 signage was clearly displayed at both events in accordance with CDC guidance to serve as a friendly reminder to all participants.
We capped participation at the Kinzua Half Marathon at 200 registrants to safely stay in accordance with the CDC and Pennsylvania State outdoor event gathering limits during the green phase of 250 people. We wanted to ensure we remained under 250 individuals when factoring in event staff and volunteers.
Spectators are normally encouraged, but not during a pandemic
We banned spectators from the start/finish area, which was one of the most unusual steps we had to take, because we would normally welcome as many as spectators as possible in a pre-pandemic world.
Eliminating High Contact Points
Self-Serve Water Stations
To limit contact at water stations, no volunteers or event staff handed out water. Instead, small, 8oz plastic water bottles were placed at each station for participants to grab as they run by. The pre-packaged water eliminated the possibility of the water being contaminated, which could have occurred with standard plastic cups filled with water.
Only Providing Prepackaged Food
No more apples, cookies, bagels, or other food items we may typically offer at events. At the Kinzua and Old Turnpike Half Marathons, we only offered prepackaged food items to avoid contamination. We placed prepackaged fruit snacks, granola bars, gatorades, and water bottles into a Ziploc bags and had a staff member pass them out to each finisher. This kept the refreshments we provided safe for all participants. Additionally, this aided in participants efficiently leaving the staging area.
No In-Person Awards Ceremony
Goodbye traditional awards ceremony. Yet another oddity this pandemic has forced. We eliminated having an in-person awards ceremony to avoid congregating post-race and to eliminate another high contact point. Instead, we provided a virtual awards ceremony in the week following the event and mailed all awards to participants.
No Race Day Packet Pick Up
As yet another social distancing measure, we eliminated race day packet pickup at the Kinzua Half Marathon. Although very costly and time consuming, we decided to ship all race packets to participants prior to the event.
At the Old Turnpike Half Marathon, provided an option for participants to have their race packets shipped, but also held packet pick up in a unique manner. Because of the 5 different wave starts each with 15 minute start windows, we held packet pick up over a 5-hour time frame from a plexiglass protected tent managed by a masked-staff member with a hand sanitizer station at the tent. This 5 hour packet up window on race day allowed for social distancing.
No Race Day Registration
At both events, we eliminated race day registration – again, to avoid a high touch point.
We managed both Kinzua and Old Turnpike with minimal event staff to limit the number of people present at the event. As mentioned above, we eliminated water station volunteers and we also did not have an announcer at the events. Our event staff members were required to wear masks at both events when social distancing was not possible.