We Pulled It Off: How 1,400 Spartans Raced During COVID-19 Without a Hitch
Published on June 1, 2020
It's game (back) on, people! Last weekend, over 1,400 Spartan Racers successfully completed our Jacksonville Sprint Course, which was laced with hand sanitizer, temperature checks, plastic shields and plenty of social distancing in this new COVID-19 era. And boy, was it good to hack it again. After pouring dozens of hours into creating a 20-page document of new health and safety best practices, we put it to the test and pulled it off without a hitch.
"It was great to see all of our pre planning, done on paper, come to life," says Spartan Race General Manager Brian Duncanson. "After 20+ pages of theorizing, it was awesome to put it into practice. You have to really show up, set up sanitizing stations, re-imagine the festival area, create new signage and markers to make things clear to racers, and see it all executed without issues. From an operational perspective, it gave us great confidence that we can double our throughput now. We were operating on an abundance of caution, which was a good thing, but now we know we can step it up for late summer events."
Related: Return to OCR: 8 Things Spartans Should Know About Racing During COVID-19
Racing During COVID: Getting Spartan Race Back on Track
Originally, for this first COVID-cautious event, Spartan Race asked athletes to limit their time on site before and after the race. And despite the racing having a slightly different (and certainly more socially distant!) feel than pre-COVID days, athletes stepped up. "We requested that people show up just 30 minutes before their race, which is the opposite of what we normally do (encouraging them to stick around), but people were really good about it," says Duncanson. "We will likely loosen that up for athletes who want to get warmed up and situated further in advance of their start time. Health screenings went really well, people knew what they were getting into, and because of all of that, everything else flowed seamlessly."
We also cut heats down, which worked out even better for racers, overall. Instead of starting 250 people every 15 minutes, we ran 25 athletes every five minutes. "We noticed it was actually a nice experience because when you hit the first obstacle in a wave of 250 people it's tough to spread out enough. But in this new method, everyone was able to keep their distance and hit obstacles at pace," says Duncanson. For the upcoming West Virginia event in August, we plan to keep heats to 50 athletes every five minutes, which helps greatly with the flow on the course. In addition, we'll double bib sales but keep the same flow, which allows only 250 people maximum (over 40 square feet of space per person) in the festival area, to enforce best social distancing practices. We're also bringing back the elite and pro heats, as well as age groups and Spartan Kids races. "Effectively, things will be back to normal by August, and we're psyched about that," says Duncanson. "We feel incredibly confident after this huge success that, being a well-supported outdoor activity, we can get things back on track for everyone."
Perhaps the best part of the weekend (aside from keeping athletes safe and healthy) was the outpouring of excitement of Spartans' return to racing—especially for mental health reasons. Quarantine did a number on us all, and while our #BeUnbreakable daily workouts sustained people during the toughest weeks, there's nothing quite like being at an event, en vivo. Cancer survivor and event coordinator Fitz Koehler shared just how inspired she was to be back on the course in this video above. And she is one of many. "People had not seen each other in quite a while, and even though they showed up in separate cars, met inside, and kept their distance, you could see the excitement on their faces as they reconnected," says Duncanson. "Gym teams came in matching uniforms, and families who had been quarantined together showed up. It was great to see athletes reform and regroup in person."
Our OCR Volunteers Crushed It—Masks, Heat and All
A mega shoutout goes to the volunteers who helped make this race possible. In super hot temps, they wore their masks and stepped up to help with the flow of the event, even despite these uncertain times. "Our staff was committed to wearing masks but it was super hot, so we're making arrangements for the next event to allow volunteers who are just standing there observing (as they make calls on injuries or determine if someone needs medical attention) to not have to wear masks if they don't want to. We'll keep them 20 feet away from racers. In these cases, we felt we were overprotected and might be able to position them further apart, so they're more comfortable."
The Epic DEKA Debut
Because our first DEKAFIT event set for March, in Denver, CO, was sadly cancelled due to COVID, we gave the DEKA Mile a shot in Jacksonville. We set up two courses, side by side, and the Spartan crew arrived five days before the event to personally invite local gyms to participate, and get them psyched about it. "They all came out and we ended up with way more people than we expected. People were really excited about it," says Duncanson. "Right now, gyms are really concerned about re-activating their dormant clients who went dark during Coronavirus, and because of this economic hit, it's our way we can support them as they build new programs and use the DEKA content to re-inspire their clientele to get back to shredding it. Using DEKA as a model, it will help gym owners get back on their feet."
Athletes of all levels participated, from super-serious CrossFit-style functional fitness folks to other active athletes in search of a good time. The event ran over the course of a mile, and 10 different DEKA Zones, which test various fitness capabilities, were interspersed throughout the course. You can check out the leaderboard now live on Deka.Fit, which we'll use as the ultimate tracker for this new event. Consider it a mini-obstacle course meets endurance supercharger that's both fun and applicable for all ages and abilities. The only bummer? A little lightning storm ended things early, but hey, if it's just bad weather we're up against, we'll take it.
Looking Ahead: Spartan Races for the Rest of 2020
Today, we're launching the rest of the Spartan Race schedule for 2020. In addition to several Hurricane Heats already planned, we'll be touring the country working with local health professionals and law enforcement entities to tailor our new COVID best practices to specific locations. This ensures that we'll be able to parachute into a place, safely put on an event for athletes (with strict social distancing measures) and keep things running smoothly. So grab your mask, get to training and join us in person at a Spartan Race near you.