Under normal circumstances, NYCRUNS produces over two dozen running events for 1,500-15,000 people; including its flagship event, the Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon, and the Newport Half Marathon, one of the largest half marathons in New Jersey.
COVID-19 might have thrown running events for a loop but NYCRUNS staged a comeback late in the summer, putting on its first event in months, a 5K entitled the NYCRUNS Lousy T-Shirt Race. That event is a case study in careful planning and smart risk mitigation measures.
In part, said Michele Gretano, Director of Operations for NYCRUNS, the event came together because much of the planning had been done in advance.
“We had permits for races that were supposed to go on but of course, everything was kind of in limbo."
Everyone, she noted, missed racing and longed to participate in their favorite activities. But with continuing restrictions, it didn't seem possible in the foreseeable future.
"We all came to the horrible conclusion that most of our favorite things were nonessential.”
Then, suddenly, with the loosening of restrictions in New York, a window of hope opened. NYCRUNS had the opportunity to put on a race in late August. Planning began in earnest immediately.
“The race in question was going to be held on August 28; we opened registration on August 15. We literally had 13 days to launch registration and make plans.”
Working quickly, the organization was able to order T-shirts and race bibs. (The shirts read: “NYCRUNS Put on Their First Race Since the Pandemic and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.”) Those were then mailed out to participants in order to avoid the crowding scenario that might have accompanied a pre-race pickup event.
New York had restrictions against hosting events of any size that would require street closures; fortunately, this did not present a problem to NYCRUNS.
“Almost all our races are held completely inside New York City Parks,” noted Gretano. “This one was inside Prospect Park.”
One rule for NYC parks is that special events cannot be held if they restrict public access to the area; therefore, NYCRUNS’ events always allow for pedestrians and others to be in the area at the same time.
Medical cautionary procedures were in full effect. The use of volunteers was discontinued and services such as bag check and portable toilets were not offered. The field size for the race was reduced from the typical 1,000 to 300. Runners left from the start line in waves, 50 people at a time, with each wave spaced 30 minutes apart. At the start line, runners were required to keep six feet distance from one another.
There were also mask regulations.
“After speaking to our medical director, we made rules requiring racers to wear masks during this race. For the events we are currently planning, people will only need to wear them at the start and finish, and when they are near other people,” Gretano said. “They won’t have to wear them while they are running, but they can if they want to.”
Another restriction was making sure children were not involved in the race.
“We raised the age limit for the race,” noted Gretano. “Typically, someone could enter a 5K if they were age six or above, but we didn’t do that this time.”
There were, she noted, “some questions” about the new policy. “We didn’t get a lot of blowback about it. People understood once we explained it to them.”
The race went smoothly and was warmly welcomed back by the running community. Gretano said the organization was gratified by the positive reception.
“It was amazing, honestly. From the moment we announced the race, there were people who were e-mailing us to say things like “I’m so happy this is happening.”
NYCRUNS, like many groups, has had a tough year. Its largest events, the Brooklyn Marathon and Half Marathon, typically have upwards of 10,000 participants, and are the only races held outside of parks. Those events, said Gretano, were a casualty of COVID in 2020.
For the time being, NYCRUNS is keeping an eye on the regulations promulgated by New York and is hoping to offer more events – and larger events – as time goes on.
“We will hopefully to be able to expand the field gradually,” says Gretano, “and get to where we are letting waves of people run a few minutes apart. We’re working now to show we can manage the spread of people.”
The larger goal is to have a half marathon in Central Park; however, at the moment, it has another 5K scheduled for October in Randall’s Island.
And in the meantime, the staff is still basking in the happiness of having been able to offer an event that gets runners back to doing what they love.
“This was fabulous,” said Gretano. “It has brought a bit of hope back to people.”