Triathlon in the Year of COVID-19
We will remember 2020 in triathlon, as in every corner of life, as the year of COVID-19. By now, we should have enjoyed family reunions, community parades, and the Tokyo Olympics. Furthermore, I should have completed three sprint triathlons in three states.
Instead, over the past weekend I competed in my first triathlon of the season, the Arkansas triathlon in my Triathlon Across the USA quest. It was also the first triathlon of the season for most, if not all, of those with me at this event.
The race had much of the same feel as other sprint triathlons. However, many adjustments had been made by the race organizer, All Sports Productions, through discussions with USA Triathlon, the Arkansas Department of Health, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who manage the area containing the triathlon course.
In the rest of this post, I will share some of the changes forced upon this and other live, in-person triathlons and other multisport events by COVID-19.
Small Differences in Packet Pickup; Some Even Welcome
Not surprising, we were required to wear a mask during packet pickup, at least when unable to maintain spacing of 6 feet or more.
We were also required to submit a completed USA Triathlon health declaration. This declaration (see the picture below) indicated any COVID-19 symptoms we were currently experiencing. It also documented contact we had had with those who had symptons.
Leave bikes in the transition area overnight
To minimize contact between triathletes on race morning, organizers provided the option of leaving our bikes racked in transition over night. Of course, the area was secured and monitored the entire time.
For me, leaving the bike in the transition area was welcomed. It meant I did not have to get up before daylight and be at the race site when the transition area opened in order to get a preferred spot on the bike rack.
Race Morning – Before the Start
This was the first triathlon I attended without my wife, Joy. In their pre-race email, race organizers wrote:
- Spectators are encouraged to stay home to assist in meeting guidelines for safe events.
- Any spectators in attendance will be required to wear masks and will have limited event access.
Joy was more than willing to ‘take one for the team’. She was able to sleep in, getting some much wanted rest. Furthermore, she did not have to wear a mask, an onerous requirement for her given the temperature and humidity. She did, however, tour the gorgeous race venue during and after packet pickup, mostly from within our air conditioned van.
Self body marking
In most triathlons, even those for which the stick-on race numbers (tattoos) are used, volunteers will mark our age on one of our calves using a felt tip marker. To minimize human contact, each athlete was instructed on the location of each body mark.
While the race organizer provided race number tattoos, I goofed up when applying one of them. As a result, I marked my race number on my right shoulder and left hand. I also marked my age on my right calf, even though I later found the age tattoo.
Masks, of course
Racers were handed a white disposable mask upon entering the transition area. Like most racers, I wore this mask until just before beginning the swim leg. When within a few yards of the water, I removed the mask and tossed it into a garbage can.
Swim, Bike, Run Against COVID
There were few significant changes to the most important part of the event – the race.
Time trial start
In past years, the DeGray Lake Triathlon involved a mass, in-water start. To reduce contact between racers, organizers decided to use a ‘time trial’ start.
With a time trial start, often used when the triathlon involves a pool swim, a racer begins every few seconds, typically from 5 to 30 seconds. Today, a swimmer began about every 5 seconds.
The time trial start leads to less interaction between racers not only during the swim but throughout the race. At one point, I heard the race director announce that, from what he observed, they may use a time trial start for all future races, even after the current crisis caused by the virus has passed.
The run included two aid stations at which volunteers (one per station) served water or sports drink. On this day, there were fewer people handing out drinks. Those who did had gloved hands.
After Crossing the Finish Line
After finishing the course, there were a few more differences from previous races. However, most were not significant.
Replacing some volunteers
In previous triathlons, a volunteer will remove the timing chip from the racers ankle once they have crossed the finish line. Today, we removed the timing chip ourselves and handed it to a gloved volunteer.
Also, instead of a volunteer placing the finisher medal around our neck, we collected our medal from a table.
Good food and drink even with COVID-19
Post race food, a hot dog and fruit, was provided in to-go style containers. Beverages were presented by gloved hands.
Wear a mask. Really?
Even after the race and food, we were encouraged to wear a face mask and follow social distancing protocols. The latter was possible, but with the way I was sweating after the race, there was no way I was going to wear a face mask and breathe. One had to give; you can guess which one did.
No awards ceremony
Again, to minimize contact between participants, awards were given individually by a staff member. I did not miss seeing the awards ceremony. However, if I knew more people who were racing, I may have wished it were still held.
Leave Your Questions and Comments Below
Tell us about your experience in a recent triathlon. What changes did you find?
If you haven’t raced this year, are there questions or concerns you have?