The 2020 race season has looked a lot different than we anticipated, due to cancellations and the rescheduling of most events throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
We caught up with Andy Horn, Services Senior Manager at USA Triathlon, to get his take on the race season we've experienced thus far and what we can look forward to for the future of triathlon.
With bigger races being canceled, how have you been able to navigate this new season of smaller regional races?
The majority of USA Triathlon-sanctioned races that have been able to happen in-person this season have been on the smaller scale (500 participants or less), but even races of that size have been deemed too large in many areas of the country with the mass gathering restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. This has challenged race directors to look at how they can host an event with 50-100 participants and whether or not it’s worth the effort and cost to put on a race that small.
USA Triathlon has put together a number of Safe Return to Multisport materials that are intended to support race directors in operating a safe and responsible race with COVID-19 protocols in place, while showing municipalities that it is possible to safely host an endurance/multisport event. These guidelines can be found at usatriathlon.org/safe-return.
Are regional races happening in every state at this point? What are the statistics of this?
Not in every state. Restrictions on gatherings vary more so by municipality than by state at this time, as individual counties and municipalities are issuing their own orders. Some are more open to allowing events than others based on a variety of factors, including the current level of community spread of COVID-19 in that area.
With COVID-19 cases increasing in some parts of the area, some states and municipalities that were open to allowing events several weeks ago have now begun pulling permits and reducing the mass gathering limits, leading race directors to have to cancel their events after all.
Do you foresee additional small events getting canceled?
At this point we are still seeing the vast majority of events being canceled or rescheduled — roughly 75-80% of all sanctioned events so far. Unfortunately, we do not expect this trend to reverse until we have a major advancement (i.e., a vaccine) or additional learnings from the medical community that would allow mass gatherings to safely take place across the country.
What do you see for 2021 or at least the beginning of 2021? How are you planning for that?
For 2021, the race directors who are still able to host events are putting together safety plans and trying to move forward under the assumption that we will be able to race next year. They are in regular communication with the health and safety officials in their local municipalities and states to see what the sentiment is toward allowing these events, and they are working to anticipate any additional planning requirements a city may need in order to issue a permit.
How can athletes plan ahead?
Athletes should continue to train as best they can and be ready for the potential of an event being approved on very short notice. We have seen some races get the OK from a municipality to host a race only two weeks ahead of time.
USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative also includes a Return to Racing training program to enable athletes to safely rebuild their fitness in preparation for a multisport event when they may have had an extended lack of access to gyms, pool facilities and training groups.
In addition, we have produced a Return to Racing Recommendations for Athletes document that outlines what changes athletes should expect when racing returns to the calendar, why these changes are necessary and how to prepare for them. Finally, we have outlined a Return to Racing Race-Day Checklist for athletes to be sure they are prepared for racing in the COVID-19 era, including a self-check for symptoms and a list of items to have on hand (face mask, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, fluid and nutrition replacements in the absence of traditional aid stations, etc.). These materials can all be accessed and downloaded at usatriathlon.org/safe-return.
What kind of statistics are you currently following in your planning for races in the coming months and next year?
We are continually monitoring the mass gathering restrictions within each state and keeping an eye on COVID-19 case data, so that we can track where the hot spots are and what the recent trend of cases has been throughout the U.S. We also have been staying up-to-date on in-person events that have taken place in some areas of the country with COVID-19 safety measures in place, and talked with the organizations and race directors of those events to glean best practices and post-event analysis from the few that have actual experience with operating an event in the current climate.
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