Spring would typically be the start of a busy and exciting outdoor race season. However, Spring 2021 was unusually slow. In fact, more than 5000 road races and over 700 cycling events were postponed or completely canceled for 2021. The unfortunate trend that started with the global pandemic in 2020 has continued into 2021, leaving many to wonder if endurance races will ever return and if so, whether they will ever be the same.
Coordinators for some of the most popular road races and endurance events are not entirely optimistic. The current COVID restrictions coupled with crippling financial losses have made the return of these events uncertain at best. Despite the somewhat dismal outlook, many fitness enthusiasts are confident that these events will eventually return.
Let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon for public endurance events in a post-pandemic world.
At the start of the pandemic in early 2020, hardly anyone imagined that more than a year later, not much would have changed in terms of curfews, social distancing, and the host of precautions we have become accustomed to taking. Marathons, 10K, and 5K races were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and avid runners are anxious to know when there will be some return to normalcy.
Though there is some apprehension, many industry insiders believe that road races will indeed return, at least in some capacity. In an article about athletic training during the pandemic, Ben Rosario of North Arizona Elite was hopeful that the fall race season would see an increase of events and signups. While many others echo his sentiment, racers are leery about signing up for an event that may ultimately be canceled. Even large 2020 marathons like Boston and New York City were set to go and had thousands of sign-ups, only to be canceled just weeks before they were scheduled.
The Boston Marathon is scheduled to resume in 2021 with a few modifications. The 2021 event will host both in-person and virtual participants. The in-person event will only field about 20,000 runners, which is about two-thirds of its pre-pandemic numbers. Plenty of precautions will be taken to keep everyone as safe as possible for the live event.
Other marathons throughout the country, however, will not return in 2021. Races like the Oakland Marathon, the Brooklyn Marathon, and the Pittsburgh Marathon will be held virtually only.
Fitness enthusiasts and thrill-seekers often gravitate toward events that are a mix of fun and athletic endurance. In 2020, Tough Mudder event coordinators made the difficult decision to cancel events for the year, disappointing thousands of potential participants.
In 2021, after a year of getting used to the changing climate of group endurance events and events in general, Tough Mudder events are once again being scheduled all over the country amid more widespread access to vaccines and clearer social distancing guidelines.
The overall goal is to help participants get back into the swing of things while keeping everyone safe. Event planners are quick to note that they understand that these events must still be planned with an abundance of caution. However, they are confident that appropriate precautions can help athletes regain some sense of normalcy.
5K and 10K Races
Much like the return of marathons in 2021, the fate of smaller road races like 5Ks and 10Ks varies throughout the country. Regional responses to the pandemic are unique to their particular circumstances, so this likely has some impact on if or when these shorter races are permitted to go on.
For events like the Color Run, hundreds of events are scheduled throughout 2021, though COVID restrictions have impacted the signup process. Many road races have capped participant numbers and have also incorporated virtual events into their model to encourage participating and keep revenue as stable as possible.
The Future of Endurance Events Post-Pandemic
The return of road races is a personal decision based on participants’ comfort level, health, and other factors. Virtual events have yet to gain traction as they do not have the same impact and generate the same sense of community as in-person events.
It is also a financial decision for those in the endurance event industry. Large events with corporate sponsorship may be better equipped to weather the pandemic than small, community-based events. Capping registrations has presented its own set of challenges since fewer participants mean less revenue from registration fees. Some events have not been able to successfully navigate this new normal and it is unclear if they will ever return. All we can do is wait and see.