We have about one month until the return of our race season. We kick off the season on April 24th with the inaugural Pomham Rocks 5/10k in Riverside. It has been one year since we had to totally alter our business and nearly shut down. In the meantime, we have been on a rollercoaster. Like you, there have been so many months of ups and downs. From the initial decision of the Newport race last year in which we agonized over and nearly broke our heart, to each successive cancel – you would think it would get easier each time but it didn’t. Each race we fought for, and each race that didn’t happen, it hurt just as much as the previous. But then we were able to host Ocean State in October and that was SO EXCITING, but so nerve wracking for us to ensure we had an EXTRA safe race, to show that we could do this – not just for us, but for all the runners and race directors that were still fighting to bring back races. We thought we were back! But with this step forward, we hit another hurdle – the increase of cases in January caused the State to rescind our permit for the Hangover Classic – ugh! Through January and February, the vaccine updates were such great news for our Spring races, but the roll out of the vaccines was so SLOW! Press Conference after press conference that either didn’t roll back social gathering limits or didn’t address road races specifically. We were exalted at the press conference on 3/4 where they eliminated social gathering limits on outdoor fitness organizations. We soon learned that for some reason that didn’t apply to races….. what? Then the penultimate let down with the Newport City Council asking us to move our April date. We go back in front of the Newport Council on March 24th with our new date of May 22nd, and just yesterday the Governor announced that 1000+ events can happen in Rhode Island after May 1st. Great news, but we still need permit approval on the new date. So it has been an emotional ride!
To explain further, we had our race permits for this event since last July, the permit was contingent upon COVID protocols in place at the time of the event. However, races had been happening in RI since last August, our COVID plan was approved by the State DBR and RIDOH, we had completed what was asked for in terms of the execution of the event. When we were recalled in front of the City Councils in March, we thought it was just a review of our protocols. It did not turn out as we had hoped. But like the former high school track athlete than I am, we are going to keep jumping over the hurdles until we get to the finish line. (As an aside, I was a terrible hurdler. I have so many scars from missteps. But I never DNF’d and I don’t intend to now!)
We have been lobbying every state agency we could to advocate that road races were very different from other outdoor events that we were grouped into – ie weddings, concerts, etc. We were more akin to skiing or golf, with social distancing at the start but then sent off over the miles and miles of a half or full marathon. We now had plenty of evidence that road races were safe and we had the protocols in place to ensure how to maintain that safety. They are INCREDIBLY low risk. We can’t say no risk, as nothing is really without risk. Road races, and running on the road, have inherent risks. Inherently, our jobs as race directors is to provide as safe an event as possible – every year, not just during a pandemic. We focus on traffic safety, medical emergencies, runner experience – from Vaseline at aid stations, electrolytes and water on course, contracting with life saving medical professionals, to bomb sniffing dogs at certain events – safety is the main component of a professional event. Adding in COVID protocols is another part of our safety plan.
Back in October, when cases were starting to rise, we didn’t have as much knowledge as we did now. We did question whether it was morally right to host an event. We knew that being outside was pretty safe, but we didn’t know how safe. Now there have been hundreds if not thousands of races that have happened post COVID nationally, and we have not seen any cases of virus transmission as a result of a race. We have seen races with over 3000 participants already happening last month. (Check out this blog for just how “back” they are – nearly every State has held a race already. And this is just a fractional representation of what is actually happening.) Now with a good percentage of our population already vaccinated, with hospitalizations and deaths on a rapid decline, we know that races are more safe than a majority of the other parts of our every day lives.
There is a lot of press being given to the mental benefit of sports on kids and youth throughout the pandemic. Those youth athletes have grown up and have not lost that need for the mental health of sports. We as adults, many of us as past youth/HS/Collegiate athletes still need that competition, that goal, the social connection. We have heard many runners over the years tell us what training for and completing a race have meant to them as far as their mental and physical health. But with quarantine and lock downs, those mental health needs have just escalated. We received one email in particular about a gentleman that had been suffering from a mental health breakdown and depression due to the isolation and restrictions in this past year. He told us how this race has allowed him to get past this and start feeling mentally healthy again. To have that goal, the reason to exercise each day, the joy and self-esteem that accompanies the feeling of satisfaction towards working towards that literal finish line – well, that brought tears to our eyes.
So while we are not at that finish arch yet, and much like the last 100 meters of a marathon that just seems to stretch interminably in front of you, we will get there – with every last little bit of heart and muscle we can muster. After all, we are runners – just like you. We know how to battle the elements and finish the race. You inspire us and we hope that we can deliver an experience that you deserve.
Thanks for your patience and understanding this last year. We can’t wait to see you at a starting line this year!