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Return to Racing

Yes! We’re talking about returning to racing over the next few weeks and months. This is an exciting and interesting time. Cities and states are opening up training facilities, gyms, pools – indoor and outdoor, and allowing gatherings of more and more people. Here in Colorado, the state authorities have given the green light to endurance events. “Competitive events such as races and endurance events are allowed as long as social distancing and limitations on group size can be maintained, including implementation of staggered start times, efforts to prevent gatherings at starts and finishes, so that no more than 10 people are gathered at a time.” This moves us from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of USA Triathlon Safe Return to Multisport: in-person racing with size restrictions and strict limitations; training with moderate limitations. Phase 3 is full-on racing with moderate restrictions.

Here is an overview of what changes to expect, why they’re needed, and how to prepare for these changes. (Full-text link available in resources at the end of this article.)

Continue to monitor your health

It’s important that we all continue to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. The three most common symptoms include: fever greater than 100 degrees F; cough; shortness of breath. By checking your symptoms, you can then self-quarantine and contact your doctor to prevent the spread. We will all need to adhere to wearing masks, keeping frequently touched surfaces clean, washing our hands and maintaining that 6-foot distance from others.

Carry your own fluids and nutrition in training

Staying hydrated and fueled is always important while training. But, it’s important to train for possible new race policies that may mean fewer or no aid stations at races.

Race Week: expect change and come prepared

COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on the entire sport of triathlon. New requirements may vary from event to event and may be cumbersome and frustrating. And, take more time. It will be up to you to be informed, patient, and prepared for all possibilities. All changes are meant to create a safe and fair event. Know the rules, follow the rules.

Follow infection prevention measures: wash your hands, use a mask, maintain physical distancing, etc.

Consider travel to an event: will you fly, drive? Where will you stay? There is always a greater risk to you and others as you travel further from your home.

Registration, packet pick-up, etc.

Registration may take place online. You may be asked to arrive to packet pick up at a certain window of time. Anticipate virtual race briefings and course overviews. The race expo may be altered or eliminated. There may be no bag drop or gear check. Body marking might best be done by you, if not completely eliminated on race day. You will see more and more races giving out tattoo or self-adhesive numbers.

Be prepared for changes on the race course

Transition areas may be bigger and athlete spots more spread out – as venues allow. Avoid congregating in big groups especially at the start and finish area. Some events will have a time trial start and smaller waves. There may be a duathlon option for those who are not confident in their swim. Keep your distance on the bike and run course from other competitors as much as possible.

Spectators may be limited or not allowed at all. Post-race food will be more limited or may not be available at all. Awards ceremonies may be cancelled or altered. (But you still get to race!)

State vs local authorities

State authorities may authorize these races to take place, but local authorities may override this decision and impose other restrictions or timelines. And, states and cities across the country may see wide variability as races come back. For example, New York or New Jersey may be slower to see races return than other states that haven’t been hit as hard. I know of one running event in Wyoming that recently received permission to have up to 250 people at their race in mid-July. There are some resources at the end of the article to check the status of your home state or another state where you want to race.

If you’re just getting back into training

Make a clear assessment of your physical and mental preparedness levels. Get clear about your current status and goals. If your training has mostly or completely gone out the window, it’s time to get back to it. But, start slow and be confident that, although it will feel tough for the first week or so, you are not starting from square one. Remember the concept of residuals: the longer you’ve been doing a sport, the greater your residual level of strength, skill, and fitness will be.

The most important area to be clear about is your swim. The swim requires the highest degree of skill. And, we’ve all been out of the water for at least two months. If you’ve been swimming all your life, your swim will come back quickly. If you’re new to swimming, it will take longer to come back.

Level of personal choice in participation – where are you?

As I talk daily with my athletes around the country, I see three very clear levels of desire to get back to racing:

  1. I’m not ready to be in large groups. I don’t think I’ll do any races this summer.
  2. I think I’m ready, but I’m going to wait a while to see how things go. Maybe I’ll race later in the season.
  3. I can’t wait to race! I’m ready today!

Small, local, single sport races

Running, open water swim and bike time trial events may come back on the calendar sooner than triathlon. These are a great place to put your competitive energies, support local race organizers, and help you stay motivated to train.

As always, in these times of great change, race restart is an evolving situation. Keep checking for updates and clarity on course of action for your race in your area.

There are a lot of new rules for all of us to follow as coaches, racers,, and race directors. Continue to be patient, committed, and flexible as we all move forward.

I commend you for staying dedicated to great health, good nutrition, and regular training. It is in times of great stress that we all function best by maintaining good, healthy habits.

References & Resources

Safer at home, outdoor recreation. State of Colorado website. Guidelines to navigating COVID-19.

Full text of the Safe return to multisport on USA Triathlon website

New York Times: See how all 50 states are reopening

NPR: Which states are reopening? A state-by-state Guide