Racing through the Coronavirus Apocalypse

I’m pretty sure that every runner reading this will have had their plans, dreams and hopes dashed one way or another. Without wanting to belittle the huge impact Covid-19 has had on everyone’s everyday life, in our running community it has had an enormous impact on races.

What do we do about it?  Personally speaking, I had my first race cancelled last weekend (21st March) and going forward I have entered Old County Fell Tops in May, 5 Passes and Thirlmere Trot in June, Ultimate Trails 55 and my big one of the year, Lakeland 100, in July.

Apparently Old County Fell Tops has been cancelled outright, but I have not yet heard from any of the others.  On checking the websites of each of them, Ultimate Trails and Ascend Events have postponed earlier races but UT55/100 and 5 Passes are still planned.  Upon making a misguided visit to Facebook, I saw a raging debate on the Lakeland group over whether the 50 and 100 mile races should be cancelled now or later.  I left my tuppence worth and crept away again…..

From the Race Director’s perspective this must be an absolute nightmare.  But from our perspective it’s very different.

If you have races coming up in the summer, the questions we are faced with are what are the chances they will go ahead; how do I plan logistically for these events and how do I train for them given the current social distancing rules?

As of today’s date (30th March 2020) the government advice is:


Stay at home

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

Do not meet others, even friends or family.

You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.


My social media of choice, Twitter and Strava, are awash with arguments over running.  Interpretations of the guidelines seem to range extremely from people driving to scenic locations and running marathons to others finding the risk of running too much and now walking from home for their exercise.

Personally, I shall stick my neck out and suggest going off and running a marathon, even if it is from your door, isn’t really what the Government had in mind when they asked us to stay at home.

Right now, I think all races are cancelled, certainly up to the end of May, so there is nothing to train for specifically in the next 2 months.

But we are allowed to go out for exercise so this doesn’t mean we can’t run. I would interpret reasonable exercise as going out for up to an hour and this is more than sufficient for keeping up a decent level of fitness for those of us wanting to be ready to roll at a moment’s notice.

My new coach would also remind me that this is an excellent opportunity to get some strength work in (groan). So really, a combination of a run and some strength work and we can’t complain that our fitness will disappear.

Some of you may complain about keeping up endurance….. I would suggest that these things are out of our control and we just have to hope that restrictions lift with enough time to get the long runs in before our races. If not…. then scratch it all and start again.

There’s no doubting this is a terrible situation, but whether or not we are able to get long runs in is, I’m afraid, at the lower end of the priorities list when it comes to the Coronavirus.

Motivation could be an issue now for many. Initially my motivation flattened out as I was suddenly left with little reason to run.  I have always enjoyed having something to aim and work for; I strive to improve and get back to a level of competitiveness I’ve not had for years and each race gives me something different to work towards.

Without a race to train for in the immediate future, where does that leave me and others like me? I shall now refer you to the kitchen and cupboards that are full of food now we are stuck at home. The fact that I am making cakes for my family is making its presence known on my hips and ta-daaa! Magically my motivation has returned!

The news, however, isn’t all bad.  Not all races have been cancelled. Those that have been postponed are now there to look forward to later in the year. Perhaps there are some of you breathing a sigh of relief the extra time this period has given you after an injury or illness set your training back.

All this re-organisation must have been a nightmare for race directors, so I asked Jeff Mitchell, of Ascend Events, a few questions and he kindly blew away the mysteries surrounding this topic. He postponed Derwentwater Dawdle in mid March from the end of April to September.

Obviously as a race organiser you watch closely as events like this develop. As it started to escalate quickly in mid March we moved to start making contingency plans and create the ability for us to postpone. When it was announced by the government that everyone should WFH when possible and there a was a sense this would last longer than a few weeks I felt had no option than to postpone Dawdle.

Health (of participants and volunteers) is far and away the biggest factor when looking at this type of situation. Literally everything else becomes effectively irrelevant and it’s just a case of minimising financial exposure and losses, while trying to look after participants as much as possible.

We opted to provide several options to our participants when we postponed Dawdle. Participants could stay registered in the moved event, defer to 2021, waive their fee towards costs, donate their fee to charity (Mountain Rescue) or 90% refund (10% covers charges). I felt these gave all participants an option that should work in some way.”

From Jeff’s perspective as a Race Director, postponement seems to be the preferred option, but there are many factors to take into account such as available dates, the amount of time in the future from the current restrictions and whether there is still enough daylight for his participants to finish in (he welcomes walkers as much as runners).

Ultimately, despite not having to offer refunds, Jeff has chosen to do so:

“…..our T&Cs effectively say no refunds….. We recognise this is a difficult time for everyone, not just race organisers & felt it was the right thing to offer regardless of the risk it exposed us to.”

I try to avoid the arguments and complaints I’ve seen on social media about cancelled races and refunds or deferrals. I do think there are now big differences; from large, corporate races run on a business plan to the small organisers doing it because they love it.

Personally, I would not expect money back if I were to injure myself and have to pull out of a race. With accommodation I have always tried to minimise cancellation costs if at all possible, for the same reasons. The Race Directors are reacting to an unprecedented event and I don’t see why they should be out of pocket.

But I also see no reason why some money, after all costs have been deducted, can’t be refunded if deferment to the following year or postponement are not possible. Of course all races have different costs, hence this large grey area and it is, I suspect, the basis of most arguments between runners and race directors.

But let me finish with some good news from Jeff:

“It’s this: I have realised that we have a lot of fab participants on our events. Many are recognising how difficult this situation is for us. Their support and generosity has been amazing – and despite this being one of the hardest experiences I’ve been through, it reminds me why I do it”.

Racing the Coronavirus Apocalypse Mountains
The mountains are waiting for us


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