Much of what was shut down in New York back in March has now been reopened. Restaurants and retail stores can now welcome customers into
their establishments once again. Golf courses are open. Bowling alleys
and gyms have opened their doors. Low risk high school sports have
been given the go-ahead by the governor.
But – and it’s a very big but – running races are still not on the governor’s reopening list.
The last races on Long Island took place over the weekend of March 7th-
8th. We were ready to proceed with the Lazer, Aptheker, Rosella & Yedid Kings Park 15 Kilometer Run on Saturday, March 14th but Albany shut us down two days earlier on March 12th
Since March 12th, there have been nothing but “virtual races,” where everyone runs on their own and posts their results. These “virtual races” help out the charities that benefit from the events, but are really an unsatisfactory substitute for the real thing, and have proven to be of interest to only a small percentage of the running community.
There have been a few attempts to open things up, including a 5 Kilometer Run at the Pindar Vineyard in Peconic with about 200 participants, an event that could only take place because it was held entirely on private property and needed no permits from any municipality. It did, of course, violate the governor’s continuing ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people.
Consistent with the governor’s ban, races with very limited registration can be conducted Brendan Dagan of elitefeats has been permitted to stage an event limited to 40 registrants at Eisenhower Park on September 5th.
That’s nice as far as it goes, but it leaves the overwhelming majority
of the running community out in the cold.
The bottom line for us runners is that the governor’s continuing ban on
public gatherings of more than 50 people makes it impossible for events of
any realistic size to be conducted.
State Parks are unwilling to issue permits for any events, and Towns and other local municipalities remain legally unable to issue permits for a running race of 500 or 300 or even 100 runners until the governor gives his go-ahead. It’s time.
With proper precautions, participating in a running race is a lot safer than working out in a gym. We in the “business” of running pretty much know what needs to be done to stage a race that is safe in the Age of COVID-19. We’ve studied the protocols established for races in other parts of the country, including most recently the rules set out for running races by Governor Ned Lamont in his “ReOpen Connecticut” packet.
Here’s what I think needs to be done to make races safe:
1. Runners need to wear masks at all times other than when they are
running. This means that they go to the starting line wearing a mask,
take it off as they cross the starting line and put the mask back on immediately after crossing the finish line.
2. Volunteers and staff must wear masks at ALL times
3. Races must be conducted with staggered socially distanced starts with
no more than 50 runners in each starting wave. We would try to seed the
starting line so that the faster runners were in Wave 1, the second fastest
in Wave 2, and so on. This would ensure that the runners would
necessarily spread out as the race progressed.
4. In order to maximize social distancing, courses need to be “loop” courses rather than “out- and-back” courses.
5. No ”cups” of water along the course or at the finish line. All water
would be distributed in small bottles. Runners would also be encouraged
to bring their own hand-held water.
6. Post-race refreshments in the form of “box lunches”, with no live food
7. Award ceremonies — We could have no live awards ceremony at all,
and conduct the awards ceremony via facebook/instagram and mail the
awards to the winners. Alternatively, we could have a quick live awards
ceremony carefully monitored to assure social distancing to the maximum
8. There needs to be constant reminders over the loudspeakers both
before start and as the runners finish, reminding them as strongly as
possible about the need to wear masks and about social distancing.
Needless to say, there is nothing magic about what I have outlined above,
and the devil is in the proverbial details. I and my colleagues who stage
races are more than willing to discuss the details with the Governor’s
office and to come up with a set of rules that can be applied across the
board and will hopefully be accepted by every County, Town and Village
as the basis for reopening races.
But, once again, nothing can happen without the approval of Governor
Cuomo. It’s time…and we’re still waiting.
Mike Polansky is president of the Greater Long Island Running Club