The News-Press, May 21, 2020
by Ken Gooderham
Gyms are open, albeit at half-capacity. Can organized running and biking events outside be far behind?
Unfortunately, while local race sites are posting the possibility of an event in mid-June and beyond (with the expected qualifiers that any event may be postponed or rescheduled), the reality is that mass-gathering events are probably a long way off.
It’s not just coronavirus that’s the problem. There’s also the cliff-like drop-off in business activity and the normal patterns of fitness that come into play.
First, of course, come the coronavirus. Organized races are very definition of mass gatherings, with a horde of people assembled at the start and finish (plus, usually, another horde of people watching and cheering them on). No social distancing there, and exerting at that level while masked is another challenge.
Sure, you could use timed starts to keep competitors the appropriate distance apart… which works right up to the time they start really competing by passing others and sprinting in groups. Plus, finding a finish line that isn’t a mob of people would be both unlikely and unsatisfactory for most dedicated racers.
So, until the government guidelines allow for some degree of mass gathering, you won’t see your typical run or triathlon (although cycling events might be able to handle distancing more effectively). Even if the participants were willing to abandon distancing for the sake of competition, an event organizer with any sense would not want the liability of potentially putting people at risk for coronavirus exposure.
Which leads to the second issue: Most race organizers are small businesses as well, and they have been hammered by the ban on the events that keep them in business. Even if an event is organized by a nonprofit, “nonprofit” does not mean “no profit” – which is what most of them have seen since the coronavirus close-down.
The bigger national event organizers have laid off employees and scaled back operations in hopes of surviving the shutdown, and they’ve had no access to the federal funding Washington has been shoveling out the door. There is a push to include nonprofits in the next round of stimulus spending, but whether that will come to pass (or if the funding actually sees the light of day) is an open question.
The final obstacle is fitness – specifically, whether potential participants will be ready and able to compete once races return.
For some events, this won’t be an issue. Either fitness is not the main goal of the event (in the case of group cycling, where the camaraderie counts as much as the speed) or the degree of training is either achievable or irrelevant (such as for 5K runs, where – except for the elites – the endurance required is within reach of most runners).
But getting ready for a half-marathon or longer takes some focused training, at least if you want to compete at anything above a brisk-walk pace. While folks may have had the time for the long runs necessary to make a marathon survivable, it doesn’t mean they’re ready to tackle one right away – or that organizers would be willing to attempt to hold one until next fall when cooler weather returns.
Even more at issue are triathlons, both for the combination of skills and endurance necessary and for the very real issue that training for one-third of the event (swimming) has been difficult for those who don’t have access to their own private pool or beach (since the public ones have been off limits).
Since swimming can be the most dangerous leg of a triathlon, you really want people in the water who’ve been building some endurance – even for the shortest tri, where the quarter-mile swim can still be more than your average person is ready to tackle without practice.
Of course, this is Southwest Florida – so weather works against mass-gathering events over the summer already (with the exception of 5Ks that can start and finish before temperatures start to rise). Even if the virus were to disappear tomorrow (not happening), the heat and humidity are here to stay for the next few months.
Add it all up, and you should not expect to see a return to the usual roster of races until the fall. Bad news for competitors, good news for those who want to train for their first (or next) race or ride.
Ready to ride or run?
Keep checking the usual websites for updates, since some organizers are hold out hope for in-person events towards the end of June – or at least in time for the usual Fourth of July flood of 5Ks. Be prepared to sign up, but also be prepared to deal with postponements if the rules on gatherings don’t change.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RIDE:Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.
# # #
Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org.