See also: OCR '20 – It's Complicated

Spartan opens registration for its Jacksonville event on June 13th, about 30 days after Florida reopened its beaches and relaxed restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. ALL of us have a stake in how this event is executed, as the sport of OCR needs its biggest stakeholder and event producer to stay in business – especially now that they own the rights to Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash as well.

  • Will athletes show up?
  • Can Spartan's “Unbreakable Code” guidelines keep athletes safe during the event?
  • What effect will this event have on the sport of OCR? Does this translate into success for other races to return as well?

Will Athletes Show Up?

Last February, the Spartan Jacksonville Sprint and Super hosted nearly 6000 participants over the weekend of the 23rd & 24th, and according to social posts, Spartan is expecting upward of 4000 participants on June 13th. The big question is whether people will feel comfortable traveling to an event; participating in a check-in process, navigating “crowds” of athletes and spectators, waiting in a modified start corral, touching the same obstacles as other participants, crawling through the same areas, passing close to others huffing and puffing, artfully avoiding high-fives, hugs, and handshakes?

Brett's Take: While many intrepid athletes will toe the start line, I, for one, think it will be extremely difficult to avoid proximity and contact – especially when competing in an exhilarating event like Spartan. As soon as the adrenaline kicks in it can become increasingly difficult to make split-second decisions on how to maintain distance or pass while providing a cushion of space, and as athletes fatigue, they will be much less careful as to where they put their hands on obstacles and then wipe sweat or dirt from their eyes. Finally, once the euphoria of completing a hard obstacle or finishing the entire race flows through an athletes' dopamine receptors, they absolutely will want to high-five, fist-bump, or hug other competitors. As the guy standing at the finish line of NorAm in '18, I know what it was like to get my arm nearly torn off by overexuberant finishers!

I estimate we'll see about 1500 – 1800 participants on Saturday for the Sprint.

Can Spartan's Unbreakable Code guidelines keep athletes safe during the event?

From Spartan Full code available here:

For over two months, you’ve been unbreakable. You’ve dedicated yourself to staying race ready. We’re so excited to announce that your dedication and resilience will not be in vain.

Our team has worked alongside local government officials and leading medical experts to develop a set of guidelines that allow us to safely reopen live races. After two months of pressure testing, it’s here: The Unbreakable Code.

Highlight: Event Adjustments

There will be adjustments to the following broad event components as necessary, on a race by race basis:

  1. There is no on-site registration for this event. It is open for pre-registration only.
  2. The temporary removal of all water-based obstacles including Dunk Wall. Removal of the Sandbag Carry obstacle, and crawl obstacles will be modified to facilitate greater spacing between racers.
  3. Cold wash and changing tents will be unavailable..
  4. “No spectators” will be permitted, unless a participating minor is being accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  5. No awards ceremony will be held after the race to prevent gathering and ensure social distancing measures are adhered to.
  6. Shade tents will not be provided to facilitate social distancing.
  7. Food and beverage offerings will be pre-packaged, and these zones will not have seating, along with distancing guides placed for people waiting in line.

Brett's Take: There's absolutely zero chance any written guidelines will be effective unless people take them seriously, there is enforcement, and some sort of “penalty” if they break them. A social contract is only as good as those who honor it and respect others, and while OCR athletes are some of the best people I know, there will be hundreds of athletes that go against these guidelines as there is no repercussions when they choose to ignore them. If this were as simple as a cheater not doing their penalty burpees that's on them, but when they could possibly expose/infect another person and unintentionally sicken or kill them or their family because of careless actions? In that case, it's not a victimless crime. If just one COVID-19 carrier flaunts the rules, this will not necessarily be a “one bad apple ruins a bushel” analogy, this is more like “one pin missing in a truckload of grenades” type of scenario.

As a business owner, athlete, and race director in this space I *absolutely* want to see races return – my livelihood and passion relies on endurance events being held – but I am extremely wary of the current social climate and the huge divide between those who want to keep themselves and their families safe and those who are completely ambivalent to the potentially devastating outcome if their actions contribute to another outbreak. Let's be clear: There are large pockets of the population that either believes that COVID-19 is a “hoax” or greatly overhyped by the media or one political group, whatever. Judging by the overcrowding of some bars in Wisconsin the day they eased restrictions and reopened, there will be plenty of athletes that choose to completely disregard any safety measures.

What effect will this event have on the sport of OCR? Does this translate into success for other races to return as well?

Spartan's not the only race re-opening soon, Indian Mud Run and Mud Titan are just two of the other events chomping at the bit to get re-started, and all other events including the OCR World Championships will be paying close attention to what happens in the early days of reopening and the success or failures of these events. The successful return to racing is imperative – and sooner rather than later – to keep endurance businesses and event companies afloat, and we're all eager to see the outcome of these pioneers in re-opening.

Brett's Take: The sport needs to take some steps toward holding events, that much is absolutely obvious to us all. A large event like Spartan has a much more difficult time holding an event due to their huge overhead – one Spartan event can cost over $100,000 to produce, and with marketing, some of their events creep up past the quarter-million-dollar mark – and they need at least 2500 athletes just to break even. Smaller local events can turn a profit much more easily, only needing 350 – 500 participants to get their events into the black. With the smaller crowds, distancing is much easier from the parking lot to the finish line, as is controlling the start line using very specific start lines. Smaller events would be best-served to use time trial type starts with one athlete going off every 30 seconds to increase spacing and limit backlogs.

The Bottom Line

Let's re-state the obvious: If you're reading this there's no question that you want to see OCR events make a strong comeback, myself included. The debate is clearly whether right now is the right time is relatively moot as we just don't know whether athletes will attend, how they interact, and whether they will remain safe and healthy afterward. The only way these questions can be answered is for events to make the choice to open up and offer athletes the choice as to whether they want to attend.

No matter what you choose, please be smart, stay safe, and follow the guidelines.

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