Running in the Post Covid world

I have just returned from a weekend marshalling at events in the Glen Lyon Ultra. This was the first Scottish Athletics licensed event since lockdown.

It was racing, not quite as we have grown to know it, but remarkably familiar to those people who were around when ultras were just starting out in Scotland and they had a very friendly community feel about them.

The good news is that it is possible to put on a race while abiding by the Scottish Government’s Covid protocols. There are some technical things that the race organisation has to put in place to do with signage, social distancing, cleanliness etc but again these are not too onerous and the good news from the Glen Lyon experience is that they are scalable and will allow racing to continue. Both Scottish Athletics and ITRA have provided helpful guidance for race organisers, and while it takes a little getting used to the new protocols, they are not impossile to work with.

Glen Lyon was very deliberately a small event with a group of very experienced marshalls and Race Director Bill Heirs of Rocket Events had done a super job of putting together the plan to allow this race to ahead, specifically as a test event for future races.

As with all processes they wil now be looked at, refined and already ideas are brewing about how they can be applied for future events.

The biggest lesson from a race organisation point of view is that this was not a box ticking exercise. Every member of the race team was fully briefed, wore appropriate PPE throughout and infection control and risk management were evident throughout the event.

It would have been very easy to take the approach the we were out in the middle of nowhere, so it would be ok, we could just run and it would all work out. This was not the case. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, there was full PPE, controlled access to areas, enforced social distancing and an awful lot of hand gel!

The good news is that all runners played their part.

So assuming that the Race Directors do their bit with barrier tape and hand gel, what does it mean for runners?

In pracrical terms it means:

  1. wearing a face covering every time you enter an area with other people. That means at registration, while milling about before the start and EVERY time you run in to a checkpoint.
  2. being scrupulously clean when using the portaloos – following the protocol of sanitise hands before entering, spraying and wiping surfaces when finished, sanitise hnds when finished
  3. following the one way systems and there wil be lots of one way systems
  4. being organised and following the rules patiently and at the correct time
  5. Observing social distancing through protocols such as wave starts, no drafting, no hugs or handshakes and no tea and cakes afterwards.
  6. Get used to being outside, because it will all be done in the open air

The runners at Glen Lyon had no problem following these protocols and showed what could be achieved and thanks to their good efforts we will hopefully be able to run larger events later in the year.

While there are changes to the way events work the biggest change for runners is that if events are to proceed, runners will need to behave as members of a community of trust rather than as consumers of events who have paid money and therefore demand a level of “service”. Each runner will need to take personal responsibility for following protocols. Each runner will need to be willing to return their medical form in advance of the race, turn up at the appointed time for registration, get their temperature taken to ensure they dont have a fever, obey the rules about no drafting and pulling a buff over their noses when entering checkpoints and generally being aware that their own safety is dependent on every other runner following the rules.

Some of the the bad behaviours which have emerged over the years of people turning up late, not returning documentation, bringing too many people to races, and leaving toilets in a shocking state will no longer be tolerated because it won’t be possible to tolerate them and still run a safe event.

Just a wee illustration – there was a rule of no supporters at the weekend. This might sound a bit draconian, but every single person who used our portaloos at the weekend had returned a medical form, been checked and provided contact details for track and trace. Had there been random friends, aunties, grannies, partners or children there supporting, they would no doubt have used the loos at some point. Not only had they not been briefed on the protocols, they hadn’t had their temperature checked and the race organisation didn’t know they were there and so had no contact details for them in event of a Covid cluster.

It is also worth noting, and even allowing for the small numbers, the toilets were the cleanest race toilets I have ever seen, because every single runner took responsibility for keeping them clean instead of assuming the race organisation would somehow deal with it.

So in summary, it worked. Runners got to race, we learned some lessons on how to improve, but it can be done. Runners will need to learn to be more patient, a bit kinder and to regard every other runner as both a friend and a potential risk.

With a bit of common sense and patience we can get back to racing, but only, and I repeat the word ONLY (in capitals for emphasis) if runners are prepared to behave as members of that community of trust.

If you want to race you will need to obey the rules with good humour and if you don’t want to obey the rules, don’t bother entering because you won’t enjoy it and will be a risk to yourself and to everyone else at the event.

My final point, and it is a personal one is that as a marshal I had contact with lots of different people, but at no point did I feel unsafe and it was great to seem them enjoying racing again.

And a final, final point. Well done Bill Heirs for having the balls and knowhow to put this on and to his band of helpers for being brave enough to make it all happen.

2 thoughts on “Running in the Post Covid world

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