Nearly six months to the day after an ominous pandemic poured cold water all over live racing, local directors plan their comeback this weekend by diving into the deep end of the pool.
There will be no toe-dipping. Just a close-your-eyes-and-hold-your-breath jump, with hopefully only a harmless little splash.
If all goes well, not a single soul among the hundreds of runners will have to worry about their health as long as proper social distancing and other protocols are followed.
At least four races highlight the schedule: Sunday features the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon and Alternative Half-Marathon in Washington Crossing, the 9/11 Garden of Reflection 5K in Yardley and the Baci 5K in Chalfont.
The Chasing the Unicorn and Alternative Half races are by far the most ambitious projects of the bunch and race director Pat McCloskey knows this is a monumental undertaking.
If these events, both of which feature a registration limit of 250 runners (in accordance with state guidelines), are successful, they could pave the way for easier presentation of future races down the road.
“It’s a new frontier,’’ McCloskey commented recently. “We’re boldly going where no one has gone before. Luckily we have adopted a bit of a Star Trek-based theme for the races.’’
McCloskey, a consultant/volunteer for a number of major races in the northeast, operates a full schedule of races during the year by way of his runBucks.com website.
He’s been in contact with state and local officials throughout the process to make sure all participants stay healthy.
“Our planning is the next normal in the ever-evolving mitigation and return to protocols,’’ McCloskey said. “We are looking forward to a return to running as different as it may have to be.’’
The whole idea centers around the same policies you find when entering a grocery store, a school or a post office: Stay six feet apart, wear a mask (optional while running the race itself) and respect the welfare of others.
“Some of the best minds in the endurance event production industry have been throwing around ideas since this all began in March,’’ McCloskey said. “We’re lucky that our smaller size lets us be among the first to go back to racing.’’
Nearly all races in the Delaware Valley are requesting runners who take part in the races leave family members and friends at home to reduce the likelihood of crowds forming, which is a no-no in these current times.
Just ask the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers or Flyers.
Many races are doing staggered starts with chip timing to avoid runners getting too close to one another.
The Chasing the Unicorn Marathon, which is a certified qualifier for the Boston Marathon, will have individual starts, one at a time, about 40 feet (approximately three seconds) apart.
In addition, there will be hands-free water refilling stations (participants need to carry their own hydration).
If modesty is your thing, be aware port-a-johns will have doors in the open position.
Last but not least, no race day awards ceremony.
Will this be enough to make most health-conscious runners feel comfortable?
“There’s a certain apprehension for sure,’’ McCloskey said.
Why? Because if participants do not abide by the new safety protocols, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reserves the right to shut down the race, which is run along the Delaware River Canal towpath.
Even with all that in mind, most runners sound like they will comply because they’re just itching to race again.
“So far the feedback has been: ‘Thanks for getting this going, we’ll do whatever it takes!’ ’’ McCloskey said. “To know that everyone is watching for what we do to see if it’s workable is kind of cool.
“The endurance event industry needs some help right now. There’s some sense of healing in that and that’s rewarding.’’
It’s probably a good idea to check a race’s website before entering so that you don’t get caught off-guard on race day.
Last but not least, stay safe!
Chasing the Unicorn Marathon, Alternative Half-Marathon, 7:30 a.m., Washington Crossing. Contact www.runBucks.com
9/11 Garden of Reflection 5K, 9 a.m., Yardley. Contact www.gor5k.com
Baci 5K, 9 a.m., Chalfont (Peace Valley Park). Contact www.runsignup.com