The buzz phrase that COVID-19 is a reset of sorts for live sporting events is perhaps very much true. When the pandemic started early on in the year, practically all running races planned in the first quarter were initially postponed. Then, some organisers decided to cancel this year’s edition and focus on 2021 while others pivoted to a purely basic virtual race form.
As months go by, these races begin to evolve too. From merely putting on what was once a live format into a digital platform, some of these races have become true hybrids that would live on even in a post-pandemic world. For example, some of the more sought after global races make themselves accessible to a wider audience through smart use of the internet technology. Thus, not only do they maintain engagement with their loyal fans, they are now able to capture new followers who otherwise would not have considered being a part of those races.
Let us now look at some of the recent and upcoming globally popular races that are now accessible locally. Each one has creative elements showcased that would not have been implemented in a pre-pandemic world.
The Speed Project DIY
The Speed Project (TSP) is a 550km unsanctioned relay from Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Started in 2014 when six runners decided to try how fast they could cover that distance, this race has grown to a cult status among running clubs worldwide.
The organisers decided that COVID-19 should not be a hindrance to continuing their race. They evolved it into a decentralised concept called TSPDIY, with the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) as the freeplay for how teams and solo runners can choose to spend their 31 hours and 15 minutes, which is the current record time.
All races started at 4am Pacific Daylight Time on 5 September 2020. Hundreds of teams from 40 countries took part, and the winning team was Adidas Running Hamburg that clocked 537km.
In Singapore, The High Panters running group were invited to take part in this challenge. They covered 320km to finish at 47th place. They had tied in this TSPDIY with the Majulah Virtual Run to raise funds for month’s worth of meal packs for distribution to communities affected by COVID-19. Their target of 869km for the Majulah Run was easily achieved when the running community contributed 6,201km for the good cause.
Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra
This is one unique format of a race. Traditionally held in Tennessee, USA, it is a by-invitation only race, with qualifying races around the world. Runners need to cover 4.167 miles (6,706m) every hour, with the concept being for the runner to complete 100 miles in 24 hours. The race only finishes when only one last person is still going.
In today’s COVID-19 conditions, organiser Lazarus Lake, famed for his Barkley Marathon, invited 19 countries with 15 runners each to hold their own “backyard races”. The races started simultaneously on 17 October (Tennessee Time), with Singapore being one of the invited countries.
Eventual winner was Belgian Karel Sabbe covering 75 laps - that is, in 75 hours - with a distance of 502.95km. In Singapore, ultra marathon strongman Abimanyu Shunmugam completed 227.8km to top the list locally.
BMW Berlin Marathon
This year’s virtual edition required runners to participate on the weekend of 26 to 27 September. Runners were required to turn on their marathon application while running for 2:01:39 hrs, the time it took for Eliud Kipchoge to break the marathon record. During that running period, the app played music, cheers and announcements. The concept was for everyone to soak in the atmosphere of being together in Berlin while they may be miles apart.
Virgin Money London Marathon
This virtual edition took place on 4 October. Being a paid event, runners were required to run the full marathon distance, and they had the option of displaying a physical bib that was delivered to them!
Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon
While the local marathon has been engaging runners with weekly virtual challenges, the highlight would be the upcoming grand finale incorporating Augmented Reality (AR), which would mimic the 10km and half marathon course and compete with other runners on real-time. You would need to have access to treadmills to experience it; if you don’t, you can register to one at one of the 12 appointed ActiveSG gyms.
It is thus interesting to observe how running events are evolving, accelerated mainly due to COVID-19 conditions. The changes made by the race formats above are here to stay. In a post-pandemic world, these events would operate in a new normal, perhaps better normal than the ones we have been accustomed to all these years.