Guest Editorial: Why We Don’t Need Virtual Trail Running Events….Right Now

This guest editorial was written by Pacific Coast Trail Runs Race Director Greg Lanctot. The views expressed are Lanctot’s and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the American Trail Running Association. Lanctot resides in California and is President Emeritus of Quicksilver Running Club, a retired NASM-PES-CES-CPT Trainer, retired Youth & Special Needs Fitness Expert and ATRA advisory board member. Photos: PCTR Facebook page.

My message to race directors about virtual races:
Is it worth it to you to make a few bucks right now at the expense of another’s life? Is it worth it to throw away your future in producing trail and ultra running events? Do you want to shoulder the responsibility for someone contracting COVID-19 because you produced a virtual running event?

Before you ask how you could possibly be responsible, think of this: you are promoting an event where people may or may not be going to the same trails at the same time. You want to take that risk to put two or more people in the same environment at the same time? That is, one of your entrants and a general park goer.

Sure, everyone is happy and getting their exercise, but there are other ways to benefit your trail racing community and community as a whole. You can be doing one of the following to better your business in the long term:

  1. Update your website.
  2. Focus on things you wanted to do but have yet to implement.
  3. Start playing with map-making applications and design a new course.
  4. Learn how to use the Adobe Suite of multimedia products.
  5. Be creative in other ways.
  6. Promote others in your local community such as a personal trainer or restaurant that has lost income like you.

This editorial is meant to get you thinking more positively. If you don’t already know, being patient through the pending recessionary times will be good for your business in the long term. Recently, say the past few years, there has been more fallout in the race and running industry because there are too many events and too many shoes. Someone or some group has been losing long before we even got to this pandemic stage and they won’t be on the other side of this fallout. Since you have made it this far, you need to know that you just need to be patient while our industry shakes itself out. The bad seeds in race directing will not be able to regrow their events.

Those who stay focused on doing the right thing for society will benefit. Here’s some information you need to know. It’s a fact that the running industry saw some of the greatest gains post recessionary times after the following eras:

  • 1973-1975: OPEC Oil Crisis
  • 1989-1991: Inflation and National Debt Crisis
  • 2000-2001: Dot-Com Bubble Crisis
  • 2007-2008: Financial Institution & Subprime Mortgage Crisis
  • 2020 – ?

Below, you find all the reasons and more why not to have an outdoor virtual run.

Today (March 31), was monumental in that we heard 100,000 or more people may die nationally before this is over and this has occurred while also receiving an at-home sentence of additional 30 days of shelter-in-place. For those of you who don’t live in the 37 “shelter-in-place” states, I recommend you follow suit to do your part so we don’t get to that 6-figure number. We are trail runners and must set an example for others. #stayhome

I’m not a doctor nor an elected official, I am a race director and trail runner like you. I am set with the fact that I will lose thousands of dollars this year. I too do not want to lose one trail runner’s life. I am already anonymously referred to as the race director for the race company that stopped using bowls with open food and switched to snack packs for the past 3 ½ years which has led to wasted food, excess plastic, and more.

I have most recently also been anonymously called out by other race directors for putting on very unique virtual trail running events to make a buck. I will not make excuses for trying to be safe and survive. While I thought having a virtual event was a great thing: supporting local run specialty stores, donating money to a local youth group, creating friendly “shelter-in-place” competitions, and yes, putting a few bucks in the PCTR bank account. Win-Win? Nope, Win-Lose. Sure, I raised awareness about how we need to be supporting our local retail running stores and found a way to get around the shelter-in-place. But, I failed to realize that I was not being part of the solution. I also didn’t foresee that the most popular place on the planet was going to be our local trail systems. Good thing is that we have new customers that just hit the trails for the first time. I now realize that the only safe virtual race is to be indoors. Let’s face it, not one of us has been perfectly safe or adhered to the proper social distancing since this pandemic has existed. Do the right thing and follow the lead of the hardest hit states.

My message to everyone: Do you want to be part of the aforementioned problem? Or, do you want to be part of the national and global solution?

Please make the sacrifice now. I am sure you know — or are related to someone — who is on the front lines: first responders, medical professionals, grocery clerks, delivery persons, bank tellers, and many more who are risking personal contact. Should we be celebrating our achievements and glory while they are risking their lives for you?

Think about every negative step and sideways move you make, can and will have an impact on those around you. All, while it’s so important for you to go hit the trails, or extend beyond your 5-mile home radius to get more exercise. You can do this in your neighborhood, your front yard, your courtyard, or down the street where there is an empty parking lot (for those of you who live in apartments or limited living areas).

Here are some non-traditional ways to get exercise in order to keep your “running base”:

  • Sprints.
  • Focus on muscular endurance exercises.
  • In-place cardiovascular exercises (jumping rope/jacks & more).
  • Calisthenics.
  • Plyometrics.
  • Run in your neighborhood, not someone else’s.
  • Get an online coach to get more creative.

Now let’s talk about trails:
Trail Runners, hikers, and cyclists are at the forefront of outdoor exercise. And, if you are paying attention to social media, “some” of the runners and cyclists are going about their exercise selfishly: aggressively passing on single track trails running or cycling single-file with their buddies.

Stop right there and think about that statement for a moment. Why are single-track trails even open? Whether you are going the same or opposite direction, you will be within 6 feet of another person. And what about those mountain bikers riding 25 feet apart in single-file formation going the same way. You know that is less than six feet and that the rider in back is getting all the sniffles, snot, and ehhh-hemms from the lead rider. What about running with your head down and not seeing an oncoming hiker or runner. There are many more.

Here are some other topics to think about:

  1. Are you that confident that someone you don’t even know is also going to the same trailhead is not infected? Or, better yet, how do you know that you don’t have it? Yes, I have read the same thing you have about outdoors being safer, wind being a deterrent, and that UV light can kill the virus when you are outside. Are you willing to take the chance?
  2. You can’t control other people’s behavior on the trails. We have all seen numerous examples of trail users behaving badly. (i) Family is hiking together but can’t control the teenager looking down at her/his phone the entire time and doesn’t see an oncoming runner or hiker. (ii) 7 college students who have been forced home and decided to get together for a reunion and go for a hike. (iii) And, what about the 5-7 year old child who is just wandering about the trail picking up rocks, sticks, and not adhering to any family direction? We are bound to come into close contact.
  3. Did you drive to the trails? You should not be driving anywhere but to the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor or something essential like visiting (at a social distance), a family member who needs your love and support. Perhaps you drove so many miles that you needed to stop at a gas station, or someplace else who wasn’t part of your usual daily pandemic program. You just may have contracted or infected someone else. Don’t change your program now.
  4. What happens if you get hurt while on the trail and you need a first responder to rescue you? Now, you have put others at risk: those that came to save you and those who didn’t get saved because you needed to go out to the trails. Those first responders could have been safer staying put or somewhere else helping another.
  5. Do you have to go to the bathroom while you are on the trail? Bathrooms are closed at parks. Did you think about that if you have the virus and go poop or pee that an animal can now eat or contract the virus and end of spreading this a whole other way. You will find that maybe this whole thing was caused because of a “wet market” animal to human situation. Either way, if I am wrong, do you need to be taking that chance.
  6. Are you wearing gloves or a mask (Buff) while on the trail? Did you need to open a cow gate to get to the next part of the trail. Or, did you just jump over a fence because you really need to run? I am sure there are other examples.

At a minimum, I hope I have you thinking differently about what you are doing to contribute to the safety and well being of our society. Bottom line here is to stay home, stay close to home, and don’t deviate from your boring daily schedule. Make a sacrifice for not only yourself, but for the good of your family, local city and county front line persons, and your trail running community. Running and racing will return to normalcy in the near future. Be patient and be part of the #quaranteam.

May you and yours all remain safe and healthy.

Editor’s Note: Are you a race director interested in learning more about organizing virtual events? Check out the Road Runner’s Club of American (RRCA) Recommended Limitations for Virtual Events.

Finally, be safe as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. Please continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Also consider reading iRunFar’s COVID-19: A Trail Running and Ultrarunning Community Guide.

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