We like working with Kevin Jones, director of risk management at Odyssey Medical Inc., which oversees thousands of Canadian health care professionals at outdoor events, including triathlons, concerts and running races. We spoke with Jones when the Americans started opening events like Boston and Chicago to get a comparative Canadian perspective, which was bleak. Since then, Canada is 63% vaccinated. Has anything changed with our in-person event schedule? We got Jones on the phone and asked for an update for fall.
Ben Kaplan: Things have changed since we spoke last and Ontario is moving to phase 1, opening patios and larger outdoor gatherings, and BC announced an in-person Ironman on September 26. What are you seeing in your neck of the woods?
Kevin Jones: We’re excited. We’re seeing increased in-person registrations across the country. Mountain biking and cycling events are starting to open. There’s traction with Spartan racing. Everything is being pushed until late summer and early fall.
BK: Hey, I’ll take that. That sounds optimistic.
KJ: The vaccination numbers are positive and positive case numbers are declining. I probably have a little more hope than the last time we spoke.
BK: So my dream of crossing an in-person marathon finish line in Canada before 25,000 of my closest friends is getting closer to reality?
BK: Are you concerned with the rise of the variants? Like, despite all this optimism, what wave are we in, fourth, fifth?
KJ: The Delta variant has created some uncertainty but at the same time, variants are expected. That’s what viruses do, they mutate, and the Delta is just the latest variant.
BK: I know you’re excited to be working the Ironman Canada event in Penticton, BC on September 26.
KJ: Ironman Canada pushed this event from the end of August until the end of September and from what we understand, this event is going forward in the interior of British Columbia. They have an elite field and they’re a mass participation event, but not in the context of 40,000. It might be 2,000 competitors, plus spectators.
BK: So spectators are allowed at these events?
KJ: You can’t prevent spectators. Look at this past weekend in Wasaga Beach, with hundreds of people on the beach. Even race directors have limited influence and you can discourage athletes to bring their support team but really, if someone wants to show up, there’s not much you can do.
BK: What other trends are beginning to emerge in our post-pandemic universe?
KJ: A little more confidence on refunds. We’re seeing refund policies stated in advance and also something else to consider: I’d anticipate between a 7-12% increase in race registration fees.
BK: Why’s that?
KJ: The cost of living increase alone has gone up 3%-per-year, at least, and there’s a price increase in labour and services—from waste management to medical to timing—so I think that 7 to 12% rate increase could even be conservative.
BK: I guess we haven’t paid for an in-person event in almost two years.
KJ: That’s right, so instead of a race increasing its rate by 4% a year, you might get a 20% increase at one time, but it’s because the last time you saw an in-person race was in 2019.
BK: Well, I’m happy to pay a little more. I just want to get back out there, safely of course.
KJ: I think the majority of runners will feel the same way, plus you have to count in additional expenses for COVID compliance. Will there be additional sanitation? Testing? We can’t do these things without a cost.
BK: Maybe we’ll need vaccination passports to race.
KJ: Some U.S. events and cities are using events as motivation to get people vaccinated and I like that idea. I think as we approach 80% of the country getting vaccinated, that last 20% might be the hardest 20% to get the jab.
KJ: Some are the people who chose not to get vaccinated in the first round, some might think they’re already 60% of the way there with their first shot and not be motivated to get the second.
BK: That’s crazy.
BK: So look across your map for us. What are you seeing with regards to in-person race returns?
KJ: The east coast has bubbled. You’ll see events at a provincial level like the Blue Nose Marathon in late fall only allowing people in their bubble to attend. Meanwhile, Quebec is opening to 2,500 people mass gatherings and if they’re not there yet, opening amusement parks and events, we’re getting there shortly. Ontario is still waiting. There’s still no clear indication that phase 2 or phase 3 will allow large outdoor gatherings, but phase 3 does indicate some availability for events.
BK: The Muskoka Marathon is scheduled for October 2 but we’re still waiting to hear from Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which is open for registration for a virtual event throughout October.
KJ: They’re cautious and pragmatic but that does jibe with our research: small events will open before the larger ones.
BK: What about the rest of the country?
KJ: Manitoba is hard hit and Alberta is the wild west. They ping pong: something is open today, then closed again tomorrow, but some races and motorcar races are coming back. BC, however, is being more cautious. Ironman in late September is really one of the only major events in BC I’ve seen with a date attached.
BK: So. . . we’re confident?
KJ: We are, while knowing all of this might swing back if we go into a fourth wave.
BK: When do we get back to normal?
KJ: Normal is a sliding scale.
BK: When do we get back to normal-ish?
BK: OK, thanks for your time and last question. Any advice to runners thirsty for in-person events?
KJ: Nothing is normal, not going to the grocery store, not participating in an event. Show patience to race organizers and race volunteers and understand your sense of personal responsibility. It’s best to be double-vaccinated, or at least vaccinated if that’s your limitation and do your best at physical distancing and hygiene etiquette.
BK: Last words?
KJ: Get out there and participate. Have some fun.