After a five-month hiatus, Colorado road runners are starting to have a few options for in-person racing with a pair of events scheduled over the next three weeks and another coming in October.
Previously scheduled for May 9, the Greenland Trail races will be held Aug. 29-30 in Larkspur, governed by strict regulations developed with the Tri-County Health Department. Spread out over two days instead of one for a maximum of 250 runners each day in compliance with health department orders, those races will include an 8-mile, 4-mile, 50K (31-mile) and 25K (15.5-mile). Runners will start one at a time in 8-second increments for social distancing.
Soon to follow will be the Labor Day Half Marathon in Parker, which also will offer a 10K and a 5K. The Greenland and Parker races are produced by Colorado Runner Events, which staged the Cookie Chase 5K this past Sunday in City Park. That race attracted 300 runners.
On Thursday, organizers of the Colfax Marathon announced a new race to be held Oct. 10 in City Park. Called the Welcome Back Denver 5K, it will be limited to 700 runners with four hourly start groups of 175. There will be multiple starting line chutes with groups of 25 people launching in 2-minute increments.
On Sunday, the Pikes Peak Marathon (up and down the mountain from Manitou Springs) will be held, but the Pikes Peak Ascent (one way) originally scheduled for Saturday was canceled.
“The Marathon, being a smaller field and spread out over 13 miles, is more manageable,” said Ron Ilgen, president of the Pikes Peak Marathon. “We’ve gone through exhaustive work in redefining the event in order to meet government health guidelines at all levels. We are able to keep the runners at the required six feet distance at both the start and finish areas, as well as requiring that they wear facemasks while in Manitou Springs. We also ask that they pull up their facemasks when they pass on the course.”
No one is under the illusion that road racing as we knew it before the pandemic is coming back anytime soon. In addition to the health rules related to the pandemic, demand so far has been low.
“I think there’s a lot of people that are not ready to come back,” said Jessica Griffiths, race director for Colorado Runner Events. “There’s people saying they’re ready, but they’re not actually signing up. The shorter distances could possibly sell out. The 50K maybe has 50 people in it right now. People have not been training for that distance because they didn’t expect it to happen. The 25K (has) about 100 people right now.
“Demand is very down. But for the people that are wanting to come out, they’re very enthusiastic, and they seem very, very grateful that we’re even trying to put on an event. It’s been a challenge. The guidance changes a lot.”
The Cookie Chase had more than 1,400 finishers in 2019, so the 300 that turned out this week represented a huge drop.
“Not that we wanted or were allowed to have a large event, but it gives you an idea of where the demand is currently,” Griffiths said. “We had small waves start from 7 a.m. until 9:30, so those 300 people were very social distanced throughout the 3 miles.”
Griffiths said guidelines mandated by Tri-County Health for the Greenland Trail races include:
- Registration tables and portable restrooms must be cleaned and recorded on an hourly timesheet.
- Only pre-packaged food and sealed bottles of liquids are allowed at the finish line.
- Hand sanitizer is required on all tables.
- Staff and volunteers must wear masks at all times.
- Staff and volunteers are required to have temperature checks and COVID-19 screenings.
Similar rules will be in place for the Labor Day races, including the staggered start, Griffiths said, although the interval times for the start launches may be tweaked depending on how the Greenland races go.
“We paced it out,” Griffiths said. “If you have an elite runner who’s running about 6-minute miles, and one person starts every 8 seconds, they’re going to cover 120 feet before the next participant starts. Even the walkers, in 8 seconds, will cover 30-35 feet before the next person starts. It will be very strung-out. We wouldn’t have people running in big groups. I think for the people that are coming, they are just excited to have something to train for and something to do that’s in person, even if it’s not going to be the same.”
Colfax Marathon officials Andrea Dowdy and Creigh Kelley spent much of the summer working through ideas on how a return to racing would look, not just for their races but for the industry at large. They came up with a set of guidelines in concert with state and city public health officials that have been reviewed by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The resulting document has been offered to other races — in Colorado and around the country — as a template.
Denver officials allowed the Cookie Chase to happen last weekend under those guidelines. Now the hope is that other races will be able to follow the template, although Kelley says it’s impractical to stage races longer than 5Ks until COVID-19 restrictions are eased or lifted.
“We knew we needed to create recommended guidelines so that race directors or event organizers, including charities — all these charities that are losing a lot of money — would have a document they could read and understand that would allow them to begin to think about putting on an event so they don’t have to wait another year,” Kelley said, adding that 10-15 race directors around the country will be using the template to bring their races back. “Our whole mission was to give our industry a way they can get their arms around the possibility of putting on an event again, safely.”
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