How a 100-mile ultra in Ohio set for July is still going ahead

For the last two months, reporting on running events has been of the cancellation variety. But, the times are changing. And, for many, the news can’t come soon enough. Especially of interest is the logistics of how races might be run with new safety protocols in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Canal Corridor is a 100-mile endurance race along the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the area of Cleveland, Akron, and Canton, Ohio. It is scheduled for July 11, 2020, and it is going ahead. 

We checked in with race organizers to see how they are pulling it off. Race director Emily Collins said the most challenging part of the planning process is the uncertainty. 

“It makes it more difficult for the permitting agencies as well as race directors, our supplies coordinators, and volunteer coordinators, but I've been lucky to be on the board of directors of a producers-only farmers' market that had to plan quickly and try things out to get local food to local people,” she says. “That experience gave me both the confidence and the know-how to think through the logistics and business planning side of holding the race.”

The race put out a detailed plan of their procedures at the end of April after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said the stay at home orders for the state would expire on April 30. Although he has stated that large public gatherings will be the last to have restrictions lifted, 100-mile ultramarathons don’t really fall into this category. Collins also thinks the course is an important factor. 

“Canal Corridor 100 is run on a crushed limestone path that is very wide at most points,” she explains. “So, we could easily put in place passing and distancing rules that may be more difficult for single track trail ultras. But it's also clear to me that we're just starting to learn the basics of how to reduce risk. So, I expect race directors to adapt creatively and with an eye toward fostering community and strength in the face of immense change. If you start with a willingness to try putting on the race, then you suddenly become much more able to develop procedures and best practices to reduce the risk of virus transmission.”

The health and safety protocols cover every aspect of the race experience from putting a cap on entries and picking up race packets, to aid stations, restrooms, and social distancing on the course. For instance, to pass a runner or member of the public on the path, runners must use the full width of the path. No slipstream running is allowed, and any runners in violation could be ejected. There will be enforced social distancing at aid stations where volunteers with proper personal protective equipment will dispense hydration and boxed lunches. There will be no drop bags allowed on course.  

She said, since making the announcement people have responded favourably to the plans. 

“People seemed to think it was well thought out and fair,” Collins says. “We've heard from a number of people that they would like to register but do not feel comfortable traveling via plane to the race. So, I'm anticipating that we get a lot of interest regionally.”

Race entry for the 2020 edition is capped at 180. For Canadian runners, it might not be possible to head south of the border at that time, as it is currently still closed, but it could provide some much-needed real-time information for race directors on both sides of the border.

Collins said she has heard that some have a greater concern with flying in a plane to attend the race, so it is likely to draw more from the local area. The final numbers, she says, will likely be determined by the comfort level of participants to the new rules.

“If the rules and procedures we developed give runners and crews a sense of safety, then I expect the event will sell out,” she says. “If people are uncertain, then we'll likely hit around 100 people, which is on par with previous years. It's a small race, but this year is different in almost every way. So, we'll see.”



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