Huntington Lake 10K: Racing during a pandemic

first things first: i feel beyond blessed to have been able to race this past weekend. so many of us have been waiting for a “real” race since the start of covid in march. it’s not lost on me how many of us are still waiting…with the fate of races / large gatherings unknown for the foreseeable future. i am so grateful to the race organizers (sierra cascades) for running such a well-organized and safe event during these unique times!

the huntington lake 10k was my first real race in 142 days. say what?! yep, it’s really been that long. my last race (san joaquin river trail 10k in march 2020) was the most exhilarating athletic experience in recent memory, and by far the most memorable race in my journey as a new runner. i had at least one race per month scheduled through may 2020. but then, covid struck and everything was cancelled or moved to a virtual option. we know the story there!

so when i saw the huntington lake tri/10k had been approved by our local health department, i jumped at the opportunity to register. we decided to make the day trip to huntington lake (90 minute drive for us) and planned a fun-filled family day at the lake.

i knew racing during covid would be different. staggered start times, no spectators, no awards ceremony, finisher medals would be mailed to us, no post-event hang outs, face masks before and after the race, etc. as someone who thrives on the energy of a race – the raw emotion, nerves and energy of a start line, the excitement of crossing a finish line with spectators cheering – i adjusted my expectations. i was so excited to be out there, it didn’t matter!

the huntington lake 10k exceeded my expectations. the race organizers put together an exceptional event and really helped participants feel safe during these challenging times. participants also did a great job following instructions (way to go, fellow racers!). i think we all had the same feeling: let’s do this right so that we can race again soon! on that note, here are my opinions of racing during covid:

  • social distancing is absolutely possible. staggered start times, cones and barriers, no spectators, etc. helped in this effort.

  • trust your participants – they can follow instructions! i was so impressed with how well the race participants followed instructions. we wore face masks before/after the event, listened to distancing requirements, etc.

  • empower your volunteers. and have lots of them. the volunteers at the huntington race were exceptional! friendly, observant, and so helpful. great work guys.

  • adequately mark your course. this course was a mix of road and trail, with some not-so-intuitive turns. the course was really well marked, a must since we didn’t have the usual flow of people to follow (due to staggered starts).

  • have snacks ready in to-go boxes. this was such a nice touch. post-race snacks are a fun ritual and the pre-packed boxes were really well done! and this allowed us to disperse quickly and avoid gathering after the events.

  • communicate special instructions before, during and after the event. race organizers did an exceptional job communicating special instructions/covid safety measures before the race via email updates. during the event, pre-recorded reminders were played over the speaker system (simple reminders like “wear your face covering before and after the event, stand on a cone at the start line…”). this was incredibly helpful.

all in all, races during covid can happen! of course this was a smaller race (from my estimates, looked to be around 250 athletes competing in the tri, duathlon, and 10k/5k runs). but the measures the race organizers took made all the difference. thank you to sierra cascades for putting together a very well-executed event. i hope this will be the first of many (well, probably not many) races in a covid-19 era!