Managing Outdoor Race Season in Uncertain Times

The breaking of winter brings warmer weather and, in usual times, the first 5K, half/full marathon, and even 100-mile super-marathon (yes, you read that right) races of the year. After that, as lakes, rivers, and bays become warmer, come the first triathlons. Beyond the obvious chaos that the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked on the country lies a casualty perhaps less obvious to some, but vital to competitive athletes: outdoor race season.

Havoc. For me personally, my first three races — an April marathon and triathlons in May and June — have already been postponed or cancelled outright. Along with thousands of other racers, my fingers remain crossed for my mid and late summer triathlons and, most importantly, my primary race in mid-September: Ironman Maryland.

This havoc throws a major monkey wrench into race-training strategy. Some issues are easy to resolve: “Should I keep training at all? Yes, duh, it’s good to stay in shape.” Others are not so simple: “Should I stray from my training plan to start ramping up my training now, while I have extra time? Or should I stick to the script and wait to mid-July begin upping my per-day-mileage or starting two-a-days?” “When and how will I ever swim with the pools all closed?”

Calendar coordination is also thrown for a loop. What to do with my Gettysburg Marathon, intended as an early-season training race for my Ironman, now that it’s postponed to mid-October — a month after my Ironman? What about my mid-August triathlon, now that it’s reset to a week before my re-scheduled mid-June triathlon — do I really want to race two weekends in a row, especially less than a month before the Ironman? Do I sign up for that late-July half-Ironman in Ohio, or do I wait (and risk seeing it get sold out)? Fortunately, I did not have to book a flight for any race, and only had to book rooms for two races; many other racers, however, will have a trickier time juggling bookings.

Logistics are complicated, too. Stocking up on race gear, for example. “Should I buy those $150 running shoes for this season online? What about that new race bike that’s suddenly on sale? Or should I wait indefinitely to make sure they fit once stores open back up?” These are just a few of the types of questions numerous athletes are no doubt asking themselves.

If this all seems tough to keep track of, well, it is!

What to do? In this uncertain landscape, what is a racer to do? Adjust training schedules for one. If your pool is closed, bank extra miles on the bike and run, and make up the swim miles later. Not used to so much running? You may have to just pay extra attention to the signals your body is sending. For those considering a personal coach, many are shifting online and offering “as much virtual content and community as possible,” including new apps, posting daily workouts, hosting live virtual classes, and creating virtual group riding sessions so athletes with indoor bike trainers can ride together (and with/against thousands of fellow bikers around the world). Subscriptions for such virtual bicycling apps like Rouvy and Zwift (my own virtual biking world of choice) are currently booming. Virtual run and triathlon races are also proliferating (my personal choice has been the Ironman VR Virtual Race Series).

Purchasing new gear sight-unseen remains risky. In a creative effort to combat this reality, at least one popular local running shoe store, Philadelphia Runner, is offering customers the option to schedule a virtual shoe-fitting, with a discount on any purchase at the tail end. Not sure I get it, but maybe worth a try? I definitely applaud the creativity.

The travel/hospitality industries have responded to the Covid-19 crisis by loosening restrictions for cancellations or changes. Hotel reservations, often either non-refundable immediately upon booking, or after a specified period of time (writing this article actually reminded me to cancel a of my own room). Marriott and Radisson, for example, have revised their policies to allow changes to or cancellations of reservations at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date. Airlines like American (waiving standard $75 flight change fees) and Southwest (extending the expiration time for funds credited due to flight cancelations) have responded to the pandemic similarly. Read the websites carefully, and call them if anything seems unclear.

Race directors have shown similar flexibility. The global Ironman brand has been hit particularly hard, having to date been forced to postpone or cancel 18 North American races and 48 races abroad. For cancellations, racers are automatically deferred to the same race in 2021. For postponements, athletes are automatically transferred to the rescheduled date and, in the event of a conflict, allowed to defer into the same event in 2021. Ditto for my Gettysburg Marathon, and other popular regional races like the Broad Street Run and Boston Marathon, both also postponed from the spring to the fall. The much-smaller Jersey Genesis Triathlon, canceled for 2020, has simply deferred all registrants to the 2021 race. DelMoSports, a regional multi-race operation based in the South Jersey Shore, postponed its popular Escape the Cape triathlon from mid-June to late-August and, to accommodate that shift, moved its Tri the Wildwoods triathlon up by a week; it in turn provided racers three options: race on the new date, defer to 2021 or 2022, or transfer to another DelMoSports event in 2020 season (with the usual change fee waived). With the Boston Marathon being a notable exception, it appears none offer money-back options (consistent with waivers athletes are required to sign at registration).

Looking ahead. Long story short, the pandemic has impacted the entire racing community. Athletes are going to have to stay extra-flexible (hey, nothing new, right?!) in navigating all aspects of their 2020 race season.

Stay tuned for a more in depth look at why race registrants are unlikely to get their money back for a race that is canceled or postponed. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any legal questions with any races you’ve signed up for, or if you just want to share any similar tales of race-related stress and woe!

Roman T. Galas is Partner in our Pennsylvania office.