A few months ago, we lived in a different world. Now, our 'new normal' is unfolding as we brave grocery store trips, douse ourselves in hand sanitizer, and determine how to resume activities as safely as possible, as counties open up. It's an odd time, to be sure. In looking back at our #BeUnbreakable blog series and social media campaign, it's inspiring to see how Spartans persevere—from crushing insane jumprope workouts to bagging trail marathons just because you can.
The journey continues as we, along with NASCAR and other professional sports, begin to reopen. We're thrilled to host our first post-lockdown event, a Spartan Sprint 5K Race in Jacksonville, FL, June 12-13, which adapts OCR to new health protocols, bringing Spartan Race safely to you. Because health is central to everything we stand for, we take racing during COVID-19 very seriously. "So much preparation has gone on behind the scenes so we can get back onto the course," says Brian Duncanson, Spartan Race General Manager. "We are taking every precaution we can to provide a safe OCR environment and get people back out there. We wouldn't do it if we didn't think we could pull it off."
Spartan has worked with several third-party experts to establish new best practices in sanitation, attendance, and OCR social distancing, as well as selecting—and eliminating—certain obstacles. With grit, determination, (and lots of hand sanitizer) we plan to get 'er done in Jacksonville. So, will you be joining us? Here's what you should know if you're ready to get back in the game. AROO!
Racing During COVID-19: What You NEED to Know
1. We're Not Doing This Lightly—Expect Some Changes
While we'd love to jump right back into how things were, let's be honest, it's not going to happen for a while. We're optimistic, but in the meantime, we've made some changes. Consider high-touch obstacles, like the Carries (Sandbag, Farmer's, and Bucket), as well as any water obstacles, off limits. Until the CDC publishes more on COVID-19's behavior in water, we're not taking the risk. So in the spirit of caution, those obstacles will be replaced in favor of safer (but still grueling!) challenges. We still plan to include the standard number of obstacles, so be ready—that's 20 obstacles for a sprint.
In addition, hand sanitizing stations will follow each obstacle, and racers are encouraged to stop and lather up. Instead of our classic water stations with paper cups and shared coolers, we'll have single-serving water bottles so you can unscrew the lid yourself and avoid personal contact. (Don't worry, we're as eco-friendly as you are and plan to amp up the recycling on site.)
Spectators won't be allowed, and while our races typically range from 6,000-8,000 participants, we're cutting registration down to just 3,000 bibs. Instead of starting waves of 250 people every 15 minutes as we normally do, we'll start groups of 25 people every five minutes. This will allow racers enough of a spread to crush the course at a social distance. And finally, we're asking athletes to arrive no more than 30 minutes before start time, and leave the festival area within an hour of finishing the race. "We've engineered the timing this way to keep the number of athletes in the festival area to 500 or less," says Duncanson. "This works out to more than 40 square-feet of space per person on average inside the festival to ensure we're giving everyone lots of space."
2. Not Everyone Gets In (So Get your Bib Now)
Consider the venue's entry and exit points the Golden Gates. Only racers with bibs—who pass a thermometer test, more on that in a second—get into the event or festival area, and spectators are not allowed. (Don't get us wrong, we love our spectators, but for now, these restrictions allow more people to race under our 3K cap.) "We think that this is the most stringent we will be," says Duncanson. "We wanted to start with the most precautionary phase of reopening. Some of the things we're doing probably won't even be required by the time we get to the event in mid June, but we wanted Spartan to build some muscle in terms of being able to deliver these events and adapt to changing times."
3. This Is Not the 'New Normal'
We don't expect things to stay this way. Each race going forward will be modified to meet local requirements and overtime, we will return to classic Spartan Racing. As things open up state by state, and county by county, our Spartan team is putting each race, or potential race, through a system of checks and balances. Not only do we need a permit (which requires the buy-in of local law enforcement, health commissioners, and other boots on the ground) but we also need to adapt protocols based on the needs of each individual community. For example, rules may be different in urban versus rural areas. And believe us, we're all over it. "We are ready to adapt and operate with whatever the requirements are, locally," says Duncanson. "In working with these local entities, we make sure the event is good and safe for everybody. And we'll continue to adjust our approach based on that feedback—it is a very cooperative experience."
4. All Racers Must Pass a Fever Check
Before you even get to race registration, all participants will be required to take a quick thermometer test to ensure they're fever-free. Athletes who exhibit fever like symptoms will be interviewed in the medical tent by healthcare professionals for further evaluation. "Again, this is the most conservative approach we can take, for now," says Duncanson. "If you test high, you'll get checked out, and if you're sick, they'll request you leave and seek out medical care. We believe it's smart to take this extra step right now."
Also note, we're encouraging anyone who is in a high-risk category to please, please stay home. That means if you're 65+ years old, struggle with a co-morbid condition, or if you're a medical professional who has been in contact with COVID-19 patients, you shouldn't tempt fate. "In general, our Spartan population is a healthy population, and age-group wise we're generally younger and low risk," says Duncanson. "That's the good news, and we expect this to go well."
5. We've Built Extra Cleaning Time Into the RD Schedule
Because sanitization is key to pulling this off, we added three blocks of time into the racing schedule (at 30 minutes each). During this time, our Spartan Staff will clean all high-traffic, and target areas.
6. The Race Is 100% Open
The Jacksonville Sprint will be the standard in most aspects, except for the absence of specific heats. "We did remove the Elite heats and the age groups just for this event," says Duncanson. "Because we're limiting the flow on the obstacles, we couldn't 100% guarantee a fair playing field for the super competitive athletes out there." After this event, we hope to add specialized heats back into the mix. For now, we're just happy to be heading back out there.
7. 98% Of Spartans Are Excited to Return to OCR
We know your buy-in is just as important as local permitting agencies. After all, we can't have a Spartan Race without Spartans. We polled our local crew in Florida to see how they felt about getting back into OCR, and if they were ready for a race. The results? A resounding, HELL-TO-THE-YES. Of 1,100 athletes, 98% were comfortable with a Spartan Race taking place in their community, and 78% were ready to race, like today. We'll survey Spartans in each market as we plan races for the rest of the year. "Besides being allowed by the local governments to go into an area and do our thing, it's our internal prerogative to make sure our customers feel positive about a race happening," says Duncanson.
8. Your Safety Is—Always Has Been, Always Will Be—Our #1 Priority
Your health and safety have always come first for us. That won't change. We'll stay on top of health protocols, plan with local entities, adjust accordingly, and spare no precaution to make obstacle course racing safe and fun. "In general, we're a very healthy community and with all of the protections we have in place, we believe it's a low likelihood of a risk," says Duncanson. "Wash your hands, keep your distance, and go crush it."
We will keep you updated as things evolve, and look forward to seeing you on the course soon. (And remember to score your Jacksonville bib now... at only 3,000 entries, spots are selling out fast!)