at the races Despite Omicron, In-person Racing to Return this Spring

Despite Omicron, In-person Racing to Return this Spring

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Nothing is for certain, obviously. But the Running Room plans to host in-person racing this February with their popular Hypothermic Half events across the country and it came as a jolt of joyful relief when I spoke with Kelly and Marc Arnott, long-time race directors of the Chilly Half in Burlington, Ontario, and they said their race is a go. “I reached out to my MP and MPP and we’re sitting tight to see what happens after this big wave hopefully subsides, but we are definitely hoping that our Chilly will happen—we have two full months to go! ”

Vancouver’s First Half marathon in-person is sold-out on February 13 with 2,000 runners and the Chilly Half Marathon is scheduled for March 6. Brian McLean has been the long-time race director of the Achilles St. Patrick’s Day Race, celebrating its twenty-third anniversary on March 13. McLean also says his 1K and 5K race with a capacity of 1,500 is a go. “As of the beginning of December, city officials gave us the green light and we haven’t heard anything since,” says McLean, who feels good about the likelihood of his race happening. He’s moving forward under the thesis that the event, with COVID precautions, will proceed. “It’s our biggest and only fundraiser for our Achilles athletes, those with disabilities,” says McLean, adding that minus the in-person racing component, his charity suffers. “I see people want to get back to in-person racing and the minute we opened registration, we saw a huge spike in people signing up. Runners want racing back.”

Speaking with the race directors from Calgary to Winnipeg, Regina, Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto, the consensus amongst the industry leaders is their in-person races should all proceed. “I am confident that with full vaccination requirements and (likely) COVID protocols in place, that we will be able to hold our event as planned,” says Rachel Munday, race director of the Manitoba Marathon. “Our runners, volunteers, sponsors and city officials are still expecting and planning for an in-person event. Whereas last year they definitely expected them NOT to happen. If this wave continues on the current trajectory, it should be well passed it’s peak in the coming weeks and we can look forward to events in the late spring/summer/fall.”

Marc Roy is the CEO of Sportstats who has 45 in-person events in Canada booked between now and the end of spring—and another 60 in the United States. “Our first event in the US is on January 14-15 (Rock’n’Roll Arizona) with 17,000 races already registered,” says Roy, who’s bullish on events, even in Canada, proceeding in-person as normal, especially as move into February. Roy also started Virtual Run Canada and thinks hybrid models like the one employed by Canada Running Series at their fall 10K between virtual and in-person racing will remain popular in 2022. “We strongly believe virtual events are there to stay. They keep some participants motivated, but also introduce many to the sport that might not want to do a 5K with 500 participants.”

One thought for racers returning to the sport we love, whether virtual or in-person, is knowing that the event organizers are facing supply chain issues. Appreciate that these events are happening and so, if they don’t have your sized T-shirt—be kind. In Calgary, Kirsten Fleming, says she’s bullish on her events happening. It’s the other stuff that she wonders about. “Our concerns—like all race directors and frankly most industries throughout the world—are mostly about navigating supply chain issues and rising costs, not operating safely. That we can do,” says Fleming, of the Calgary Marathon, whose team successfully put on five COVID in-person races and never saw an outbreak. “We are taking what we have learned, building on the experience to bring back some of the aspects we did without in 2021 while keeping people safe as we always do.” 

January can be a tough month in the best of times. During these unprecedented times, it’s nice to know that our race directors—the people who provide us with starting and finish lines for our goals—are all working together on making sure their events proceed. “Racing builds more than fitness,” says Running Room founder John Stanton. “It develops friendships, and empowers us by testing the limits of the human spirit.

With winter training, it can be helpful knowing that there’s a race happening in the spring. People, by nature, are goal-oriented. Anna Lewis, the Around the Bay race director hosting the 128th anniversary of her event on March 27, summed up the current scenario. “We are working towards hosting Around The Bay and will continue planning until advised otherwise,” she said. “We are preparing for several scenarios with various start line schedules and protocols. We will be ready to implement the most appropriate plan when we have more definitive guidelines. We are in touch with our city officials regularly and want to ensure we work within provincial and public health guidelines to ensure a safe event for everyone. It is our hope that the collective “we” will be in a much better place in early March so that we could move forward.

That hope, for a runner in January, might just be enough to pull us through these tough next few weeks.