When will we be able to participate in road races again? That’s the big question on runners’ minds as we head into what we hope are the final months of the coronavirus pandemic. Hopeful signs are emerging. After more than a year of event cancellations around the country and in Texas due to the ongoing pandemic, the first signs of live racing are returning. Next week, on March 6, the Woodlands Marathon will hold their annual race, complete with prize money and an expo.
Beginning in 1979 with only 225 runners, the Woodlands Marathon has grown to be one of Texas’ premier races, boasting a combine (5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon) 6,000 runners. The race website has a reassuring safety message, along with a PDF outlining the details: “The Woodlands Marathon Management has established COVID-19 Return to Run Health & Safety Race Day Guidelines. Our Return to Run protocols will continue to evolve as circumstances change and improve over time. These protocols will help us ensure runners have safe and healthy experiences while improving their quality of life. Runners will be disqualified for not following RTR protocols and asked to leave race site. Their safety protocols are as follows:
- Runners are preassigned start group times.
- Runners will start in wave starts (of 80 runners) 2 min apart.
- Runners must wear mask while in starting area.
- Runners can remove mask after leaving starting chute and drop at discharge zone.
- Water Stations will be self-serve – cups will not be handed to runners.
- Runners are advised to bring personal hydration to minimize contact.
- Runners must put on mask after crossing finish line.
- Spectators are not allowed.
- Finish chute will split to maintain social distancing. Maintain social distancing.
Here in Austin, the Austin Half Marathon is set for April 25. After a meeting with Austin Public Health on February 1st, race organizer HighFive Events has scheduled to hold the Ascension Seton Austin Half Marathon, KXAN SimpleHealth 5K, and Manzano Mile in-person, even though the Cap10K, which was scheduled for April 11th, has switched to a virtual event.
HighFive Events has outlined two possible scenarios on their website (based on the Austin-Travis Risk Based Guidelines) depending on whether we are in COVID-19 Stage 1-2 or Stage 3-4. Both scenarios feature numerous safety protocols, with the Stage 3-4 obviously being more restrictive.
Overall, the safety protocols are as follows:
- Pre-Event screening of all staff, vendors, participants, and volunteers.
- Reduced touchpoints to minimize physical interactions.
- Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the event including packet pickup, higher traffic areas, and in and around portable toilets.
- Increased safety and hygiene practices for staff and volunteers including the use of masks, gloves, and regular hand sanitization.
- Event signage will promote safe social distancing practices including maintaining 6 feet of distance between others.
- Athletes will be required to wear a face-covering in designated mask zones at the event.
- Dedicated lanes and waiting spots will be provided to aid in physical distancing in areas where athletes congregate such as packet pickup, start line, and restrooms.
- Signage will be in place at events to reinforce our COVID-19 protocols.
- Athletes will be encouraged via pre-race communication to ask questions prior to event day in order to decrease staff and volunteer interactions at the event.
- Athletes will be encouraged to follow physical distancing throughout the race, especially when passing others, including the public.
“We’re seeing some races beginning to return,” said Raul Najera, who operates RunFar Timing. Najera is timing both the Woodlands Marathon and the Austin Half Marathon.
Health experts across the country continue to stress that we must not let our guard down yet, and that though “we may be done with the virus, the virus is not done with us.” They urge us to continue mask-wearing, social distancing and refraining from large indoor gatherings. However, the overall message is that, while the spring and summer remain uncertain, it does look like we are headed in the right direction.
Let’s hope so, as we all miss our favorite activities, including road races!
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