Map of the COVID-19 outbreak as of 2 March 2020 by wikimedia user Pharexia, licensed under CC-BYSA 4.0

Racing in the Time of COVID-19

If you started planning your racing season sometime towards the last quarter of 2019, you might already have signed up for a bunch of early races in 2020 — which have then ended up cancelled or postponed due to risk of transmitting SARS-COV-2 (the official name of what we’ve been calling the “novel coronavirus”; the illness is called COVID-19).

I thought I was going to be one of the lucky ones whose race pushes through on the original date, but just as I was updating my post about the TCS Clark Animo International Marathon postponing to May 10, an email rolled into my inbox announcing that Super League Bali was postponed to June 13-14.

After the novel coronavirus started popping up over the past week in Europe and the Middle East, a bunch of high profile races also were cancelled/postponed: the Paris half-marathon, the final stages of the Tour of UAE, as well as WTS Abu Dhabi which was supposed to be a season-opener for many elite triathletes racing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.


And even the Olympics actually pushing through is a question mark at this point. The IOC and Tokyo organizers have given themselves until May to make that announcement, so fingers crossed Japan and the rest of the world have finally gotten a handle on COVID-19 by then.

When Ironman and Sunrise Events first announced that their races in Davao would be postponed to May, there were many athletes up in arms about the whole thing, but as this new reality and seriousness around the spread of SARS-COV2 has settled in, reactions to announcements like these have become more muted and measured.

Race organization relies on a mix of volunteers, employees, and local government support. As in the case of the cancelled Ironman Korea Gurye last year, holding a race under typhoon conditions would put volunteers at risk and take government support forces (emergency medical services, law enforcement, etc.) away from where they would need to be deployed for the general populace’s safety.

I said this then, and I’ll say this again: at this point, we as participants have to look at cancellations and postponements as force majeure. In fine print whenever you register, organizers reserve the right to modify or cancel a race due to forces outside their control. A possible global pandemic definitely qualifies.

However, there are still some races pushing through. You know why? Because (bar any wholesale travel bans) cancelling a race or a trip is still mostly left to discretion and weighing of pros and cons. No one forces you to sign up for a race; going anywhere is always a choice. Usually the races that push through are ones with smaller fields under 1,000 participants and without significant numbers coming from overseas. In these cases, you have to use your best judgment.

While I’ve already realigned my flights and hotel booking for Super League Bali’s new date, I’ve also resigned myself to any potential full-on cancellation — in which case unless there’s a travel advisory for traveling to Bali, I’m still getting on those flights and will probably just surf and bum on the beach instead.

These are strange and novel times, and conventional wisdom on what to do when a race is cancelled just doesn’t seem to hold. Racing locally seems to be the best, least risky decision financially — especially if all you need to do to get down to the race is drive an hour or two. It also seems more practical to sign up for short races also rather than long ones that need huge commitment to train for (because at least if cancelled you haven’t wasted a huge effort toward getting ready). At the same time, I want to hope that the state of things is short-term and temporary.

So for now, we watch, pray, wash our hands, and try to keep healthy.

How are you structuring your training and racing season around the reality of COVID-19?

(Header image by Wikimedia user Pharexia, licensed under CC-BY SA 4.0)

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About Noelle De Guzman

Noelle De Guzman is a freelance writer and recreational athlete with over 12 years of experience in wellness and endurance sport. She believes sport and an active healthy lifestyle changes lives.

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