The Effect of Coronavirus on Road Races

It is important to note that this blog is my own personal feelings. I approach what is happening in our running community as a runner.  These comments below are my own thoughts and concerns as we look towards an unknown future.  Things are changing hourly right now, but I, like many of you, are trying to find reason, search for answers and mitigate emotions as we are reeling with the effects of “social distancing.”

In my 30 years of running, a good run has cured many things. It has helped me overcome sad days, work through complex problems and emotions, sweated out toxins, cleared out stuffy noses and just generally made me feel better. Running allows me to breathe in clean air, get outside and marvel at nature’s beauty, to appreciate how lucky I am to have full lungs and strong legs that still move.  A run clears your head – literally and figuratively. Even when I am sick, while the run may not be as easy, I ALWAYS feel better afterward – even if it is only momentary. I am a true believer that a run is the best medicine, will cure more than any drug. Fresh air + exercise is a known preventative to many of life’s ills.

So when I think of how the Coronavirus has affected us these days – I can’t help but think – more people should be running! All the recommendations and guidelines state that a good heart and healthy lifestyle are the best preventative to contracting the virus. Stay hydrated, get exercise, stay outdoors (ok – that one is a stretch, but there are less people outside than inside!) – all common runner habits. From the DOH website on recommendations – “Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods. “ Every runner everywhere is already doing all of this.

But we as local event producers have been watching and worrying and talking. We have read guidance from CDC about mass participation events, followed the media as other events have canceled, and prayed that this would be contained soon.  Honestly, we are reeling just like you. So many unknowns and it seems like each day it is on a larger scale.

As runners, marathoners, race directors and charitable contributors – we know what a race brings to the participants and communities. We know how long you have been training, there are travel plans, what the race means to you, the money you have raised and the local business that relies on your race morning coffee. There are so many ripples to a race.

At first, when we started to see the first permits revoked, I was like “How dare they cancel road races!  We should be able to decide for ourselves if we want to go!  We are healthy.”  And then high school sports were restricted, my college kids were sent home (that one is a bonus, I will admit), NCAA, NBA, March Madness, THE BOSTON MARATHON – now nearly everything is canceled.  And now I am of the mindset – please, let these current harsh measures save lives and save life as we know it in a quicker fashion.

I have had races canceled on me so I know what it is like.  I know that is can feel akin to a death or a loss. You have invested so much time and emotion, you have sacrificed social events and time with your family.  You have run in less than ideal situations, gotten your ass out of bed at ungodly hours.  Lost toenails and bought expensive sneakers, made travel plans and arranged for your kids’ care.  And not to be able to see the end result of all that work and sacrifice, well – that just sucks.

I ran Boston in 2012 – the “year of the heat.” It was meant to be 80 in Boston that year. After training in a New England winter, running in 80 degrees in Boston had many potential health risks. BAA had debated canceling, had sent out scores of emails about an abundance of caution. The effects of such heat at a marathon in April in Boston had many bad potential health effects. There was much discussion about canceling the race because of the potential for heat-related deaths and sickness.  It was a scary time. But Boston preserved, and we as participants were able to decide if we should participate.  I had invested so much that there was no way I wasn’t going to be there.  I  lost my BQ at that race as I just don’t run well in heat, and therefore wasn’t there in 2013.  Boston was bombed that year, and I wondered if there was a greater factor involved. We hosted Providence 3 weeks later and we were so afraid.  We were so worried that road races were a target.  But runners are resilient and strong. That year in PVD was AMAZING – the joy and accomplishment of knowing nothing was going to stop us.  Road races continue, running thrives. We relish in the “badassedry” of running in the face of adversity, in our strength to overcome mind over body.

With Boston postponing for the first time in its 124 year history, scores of other races canceled or postponed, many others waiting to see what happens in the next two weeks to 30 days (including our Newport race), road racing is in upheaval, I do feel like it is short-lived.  I believe that the camaraderie and the benefits of a road race will overcome this hurdle.  It is an incredibly difficult time and there are more questions than answers.  We can only go day to day, just like running – one step at a time.   We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, nevermind 5 weeks from now.  We are now planning for two alternatives – the race can go on and things we will need to do and change to host it – and – the race can’t happen and what we can do to support our runners and the running community at large.  But I know what it will feel like when we are able to host a race and I can’t wait to see that party!

I may be ridiculously naive and overly optimistic, but no – we do not wish to cancel. And we will do everything required to keep it safe. It will only be canceled if the decision is taken away from us.  If things get worse instead of better.  In the end, we are at the mercy of the communities and the society we run in.  Ultimately, the benefit has to outweigh the risk.

We as a community will still continue to run, if only to try and make sense of all that is happening – to feel better mentally, to stay healthy.  So if things are getting a bit heavy,  I think it is appropriate in light of all that is happening to quote Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump:

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