Covid-19 and the future of Mountain Running – A discussion of Advendure with Organizers and Technical Directors of major International Races!

Από 22 Απρ 2020

The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are already visible in mountain running, domestically and internationally, with almost all organizations worldwide – including major championships like the Ultra-Trail World Tour and the Skyrunner® World Series - canceling or postponing their races. So, after the article regarding the domestic races, we host today the opinions of organizers and technical directors representing significant mountain running and ultra-trail races from around the world, in order to get a general picture on critical questions that concern our sport in this difficult period. What are the possible economic implications that they believe have been or will be brought about by this unprecedented situation to the mountain running organizations? What do they think could be the next day in mountain running? Discussions have already begun on the hygiene rules that should be followed from now on in the races, especially in the aid stations. Do they have any first thoughts or suggestions on this subject? To what extent do they think that the mountain running and outdoor in general will be affected in the future, based of course on the current data and the developments so far? Many thanks to all, for answering our questions and provide us with their valuable perspective on the developments in mountain running after the pandemic.

 

 

Cristina Murgia - La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail & EcoTrail Florence (Italy)

Dimitris, you are correct, we are living in 2020 an unprecedented situation that we will never forget. It seems like one of those films about a strange virus affecting all the population with thousands of death, but it's not a movie, it's the reality. We decided to cancel Lavaredo Ultra Trail three weeks ago, as a sign of respect to all 5.000 runners registered to the race, coming from more the 65 nations. Apart from those practical problems like reserving flights or organizing the trip to Italy, in this uncertain time, many athletes underlined the difficulty to keep training in order to compete for long distances and the fear of travelling to Italy, one of the countries more affected by the virus. For us, cancelling two events in 2020 was really a shock, both emotionally but also from an economical point of view. We had to cancel also the EcoTrail Florence, scheduled on March 28, with a lot of international runners coming to Florence to enjoy the city and the race. One year of hard work burned by the virus. For professional organizers this is a real problem. We also have to think about how will be life "after the Covid-19" emergency and see how we can organize events, living with the problem.

Regarding the next day, of course we are already thinking about how could be organized a big event, respecting all those rules and habits linked to Covid-19. We believe everything will be better if we will find the correct cure for the problem and the vaccine too. Until then, we will have to rethink the start line of the races, the aid stations, the shuttle busses and all services provided. For sure, we have to organize in a different way the aid stations: not only gloves and masks but also social distancing to avoid too many people around a water station or on a line to get a cup of soup. We are working with many other organizers of big events to find the best way to hold an event in complete safety. First of all we have to follow the rules in each country but we also need to cooperate with the international community, only together we can stop the spread of the virus. As I said, I believe that big events planned at the end of the year and all races of 2021 will have to change many important aspects, to avoid new contagious among athletes and supporters, starting from the bib number collection and finishing with the prize giving ceremony. Many governments are thinking about a kind of "health passport", so people could freely travel and register to the races with such a document. I hope we will see soon the progress made by scientific research on Covid-19 topic so we can enjoy our outdoor sports again.

 

Hubert Resch - Grossglockner Ultra Trail (Austria)

I would like to answer your question regarding economic consequenses from my perspective of organising a major Ultra-Trail event. The impact and economic consequences of the crisis for the (sports) event business will be heavy and will last much longer. Not only for the event organisers, but also for the whole supply chain (video, stage construction, tent rentals, speakers, magazines and the sport equipment brands, hotels, catering, …). Companies with not solid financial reserves will financially most likely not survive 2020. Very, very sad, but I think we currently just see the peak of the iceberg. We will recognise even heavier impacts of the current crises later this year, or rather in 2021. Together with tourism, event business is probably one the most affected industries, since it is impossible to catch up lost turn over, what is possible in other sectors, such as construction, at least to some extent. And the lack of events will also have a direct impact on hotels, restaurants etc. Last but not least, it will be a very hard year for all full or semi running pros, because of the probably loss of sponsor revenues and price money …

Hygiene rules are crucial and almost impossible to fulfil under current conditions. This starts with cleaning of the toilets, which is almost impossible under current requirements at large events, in particular in the high mountains. Regarding aid stations pipes of water/iso barrels would have to be disinfected after every runner. The common practice of the joint use of food bowls where sweating runners grab their food is a nightmare for every virologist … strict hygiene rules would have to be applied for all volunteers (masks, hats, gloves …). Keeping the minimum distance between runners at aid station at large races is almost impossible to comply. To some extent problems could be solved with individual cans or prepared food bags for every runner and a lot of disposable tableware … You can say that in principle, there is a solution for almost everything, but is it ecologically or even economically sustainable? More important, do we like the picture of boxing a race through and with volunteers wearing masks and producing a lot of waste, … And what and how would we celebrate under such conditions? We love nature, the mountains and running there, but what picture would we give by pushing races through at any price and under such conditions?

I think, the impact of the crises on the mountain sport (event) business will accompany us for quite some years – see also question 1 above. But, perhaps we should take the positive effect of every crises: I remember that crises comes from Greek  word “κρίσις”, meaning also turning point, correct? In a way that should lead us to reflect and reconsider what we have done so far: Is it necessary to have and support global race series brining runners around the globe in always closer time frames? How many races are in the UTWT currently? Is it sustainable to make runners travel far by plane for races where they perhaps never have travelled to just get the fixed bib in Chamonix? Please do not misunderstand me, I so much love travelling, seeing other countries too, Europe or globally, and I am a fan of a united Europe and a connected globe. But have we perhaps turned the wheel too fast? Didn't we thereby all contribute to overtourism (Venice, skiing in the alps, …)? And does the crises therefore hit us even harder because we were driving too fast? Or would a bit less be even much better? I am applying these questions also in the context of GGUT. Honestly, we are really so proud and happy to have so much friends from abroad coming to GGUT and to share with them the flair and the so impressive landscape. But, does it make sense that we run GGUT every year? Or would an edition every two years with a timely extension of the race for more than 3 days be more sustainable? So you travel not so often, but stay longer? I am not saying that I have the answer yet, but this is what I am reflecting currently, in addition to daily crises (κρίσις) management ...

 

Jordi Vissi – Pyrenees Stage Run & Costa Brava Stage Run (Spain)

In our case we can speak with the experience of what we just have lived. One of our stage races was supposed to be held from April 24 to 26, and obviously this will not be the case.First of all there is a purely emotional aspect. We are a private company, moved to organize the type of events we do by a total fanaticism for sport, nature and interpersonal relationships. Obviously, seeing what you have been projecting for almost a year has to be canceled for reasons that you do not control causes great disappointment; which increases when you think of all the people who have trusted you to live a unique experience and will not be able to (for now!). On the other hand, there are a number of more economical, logistical and structural implications. We organize complex events with a large international audience (over 70% on the Costa Brava Stage Run and more than 90% on the Pyrenees Stage Run). This makes almost all the dedication for months managing the purchases of supplies needed for the event, with the corresponding institutional formalities (with dozens of town councils, Natural Parks or Government departments of Environment or Territory, among others), managing the event work teams and the transportation and accommodation (very important in our events), not valid anymore.This, in the companies that are dedicated professionally to the organization of events, implies that a suspension and refund of the registration amount may mean that the salaries of the people who have been performing these tasks are directly affected. A postponment, however, has the same consequence, as much of the tasks listed need to be redone.That said, the great challenge we have come across is continue working harder than ever so that when we can return to normal, we do better than ever; and at the same time make sure that the decisions we make are not an added problem to those who have trusted in us to enjoy a unique experience. In this sense, due to the relocation of the Costa Brava Stage Run on October 2nd-4th 2020, we have offered 3 options to our participants: adapt to the change of date, transfer registration to 2021 free of charge or return of 100% of the amount paid.

Regarding the next day in mountain running and the hygiene rules, currently we are in a situation where there is a lot of information, and very diverse. We believe that it is time to overcome this situation and then, as always, follow the instructions of the experts and the regulations in this regard. This is what we have always done and will continue to do. We hope that this situation will change the behavior of human beings and their relationship with both the rest of society and the wildlife that surrounds us. Just before this pandemic we were receiving many signals of the negative impact we were making on the planet, and we really think we should take advantage of the moment we are in to rectify or redirect our way. Obviously, many conclusions can be drawn from this desire. But the main one could be a more environmentally friendly approach by all organizations: to generate less waste, to impose more sanctions on participants who throw garbage in Nature, to submit the races to environmental impact studies, not to saturate the calendar with competitions by area or limit the number of runners per event. All this may entail a change in the regulations governing outdoor sports events, accompanied by a tightening of preventive medical measures to be adopted by organizations.

We must not forget that we and the rest of the events organization companies owe ourselves to runners. In this sense, we will have to adapt to the new reality once all this happens to continue offering unique experiences with all the necessary security. And we will do so in an environment that we own but in fact nobody does, that is unique and unrepeatable, and that it is reminding us that we must respect it. As I said before, this is what we have always done and will continue to do.

 

Matteo Matteuzzi – Chianti Ultra Trail (Italy)

Economic problems are many, from the organization's point of view, from the sponsors and also from the athletes. The races cannot be based only on the registration costs, public and sponsor contributions are the main economic source, in this situation these revenues are reduced to zero, and if from the public point of view, once get out of this situation can find economic support, as a tool for promoting the territory, by the sponsors there will be large cuts dictated by budgets that will suffer significant losses due to this health crisis. From the athletes' point of view, the lack of income, and having already in many cases paid the entries for competitions which are then canceled or postponed represent a problem, to which in many cases the sums paid for hotel travel are added, which is not always they are reimbursed, so the whole sector will feel a big blow, at all levels, and the restart can only be gradual. We cannot expect an immediate restart.

Regarding the next day in mountain running, given the evolution of the infections, here in Italy we could assume August / September, but it is necessary to understand with what precautions. We are talking about an outdoor sport that covers many kilometers of territory. I find it very difficult to be able to give effective rules, I think we can go back to competing safely when everything has passed and there will be a vaccine for Covid-19, but maybe even earlier, it will depend on the global evolution of this pandemic. I also believe that no organization will be able to guarantee health security for athletes and staff, hospitals are not succeeding, therefore I find it unlikely, at the same time from a legal point of view nobody will issue authorizations for the competitions, none of he will take certain responsibilities until the general situation is safe, the organizers themselves cannot have these responsibilities. I believe that the most important impact will come in the economic part, there will no longer be the same money available and this will make a selection in some way, from the point of view of hygiene and health I believe that everything can be solved only with the vaccine and with care specific as there are for other diseases, we cannot imagine competitions with specific healthcare organizations for these situations, I don't think it can be put into practice. The hope remains to have a vaccine soon, this would bring us back to normal in a shorter time.

 

Koray Murmann - Salomon Cappadocia Ultra Trail (Turkey)

First of all, public and runners health is more important than the organisations, so from that reason we have cancelled immediatley the Alanya Ultra Trail two weeks before the event date by realising the risks. Certainly it has costed a lot to us because 80% of the preparations were completed and we refunded full amount of registration fees to all participants. Whilst running organisations stand alone barely, this sitiuation will be a big loss for each organisation and for their sustainability.  Also most of the sponsorships agrements are unhonoured and organisations will not be getting any support as well from sponsorships. In our all organisations we are precautious about the hygiene as possible and we apply ITRA health conditions, but health wise I think we will need more and we will apply the suggestions and new rules which will be provided by WHO, ITRA and federations. We also may provide or request neccessary conditions on top of others if needed. Just for sure we are dealing and getting in touch with almost very runner during the organisations from that reason all organisers have to be sure that pandemy is totaly finished before they give start to their event, this has to be the concientious responsibility of each organiser. Regarding how much mountain running and outdoor is affected, first of all we think that runners will prefer the races which are guranteed to return their money in case of force major situations, secondly runners will be more timid to register and complete their travel arrengment. Also this year postponded races stuck in one or two months near the end of 2020 and from that reason organisers and runner will be facing new conditions like weather and local effects to the organisations. Also postponded races almost will be organised twice in 6 months time, one in 2020 and one in first quarter of 2021.

 

Jossef Mayerhofer - Mozart100 - Salzburg Ultra Trail (Austria)

First of all, we are still in a very early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. I would not like to speculate about the future as the pandemic’s overall implications will only be seen in six to twelve months time. Many organizers had or have to cancel their races this year. Same as any other industry, race organizers are suffering financial losses which are not covered by prior profits because there are hardly any. The short term economic situation will depend on their refund policies and on the financial support they are granted from local or regional governments. What is also needed from athletes is solidarity with race organizers. No race organizer can afford to refund 100% to its registered participants. Regarding the next day in mountain running and the hygiene rules, as mentioned before, I do not want to speculate or assign myself a role of a fortuneteller. What we certainly do not need are any measures or rules driven by hysterics. The extent of the current pandemic was not caused by a lack of hygiene with races but by a lack of immediate actions by governments against the further spread of Covid-19 in the early phase of the pandemic. I am not very confident that mankind will learn enough in the long run from what we have experienced so far and what we still have to face.  We have to be very disciplined as individuals over the next months in order to regain our prior lifestyle. As race organizers we have to prevail in this difficult environment. At some stage – which will occur the earliest in 2021 – we will be able to return to our usual business. The current crisis will certainly result in a consolidation of the market with several races disappearing from the landscape. Overall the positive trend in mountain and trail running will continue. Keep humble and confident!

 

Charles Sheya - Ultra Trails Lake Tahoe - Epic Endurance Events (USA)

If we can start racing by August the running community will survive but there is serious hardships until then. Some races will not survive. Regarding the hygiene rules, we will only use packaged nutrition like gels and bars, runners will hold their bottles-bladders, we will follow guidelines from the government. We will suffer short term economic losses but by 2021 we should return to profitable events with growing participation, the rest of this year will remain difficult.

 

 

 

 Dimitar Dimitrov - Pirin Ultra (Bulgaria)

It is really hard to answer on these questions now. It seems the impact on short and mid term for competitions will be very big. Especially on big, international races, being mountain or city. Our expectations are for major decline from races, vs further growth of individual running and mountaineering. More FKT, individual challenges shared via digital and social platforms. The independent style activities will grow - less aid stations, less turning the mountain to a park and return to the true core of the mountain sports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dimitrios Troupis

 

Δημήτρης Τρουπής

Κατάγεται από το Ξυλόκαστρο Κορινθίας και ζει μόνιμα στην Πάτρα. Συμμετείχε στην συντακτική ομάδα του Adventure Zone από το 2009, ενώ μαζί με τον Τάκη Τσογκαράκη ίδρυσαν και "τρέχουν" το Advendure.  Το τρέξιμο στα μονοπάτια των βουνών και η μεταφορά εικόνων και συναισθημάτων μέσα από τα άρθρα του αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ζωής του. Παθιάζεται με τους αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος, υπεραντοχής και  περιπέτειας. Έχει πολλές συμμετοχές και διακρίσεις σε αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος όλων των αποστάσεων, με έμφαση στους αγώνες ultra trail.  Θεωρεί ότι το τρέξιμο και η πεζοπορία στη φύση είναι μια εσωτερική ανάγκη του ανθρώπου, μας φέρνει πιο κοντά σε αυτήν και μας κάνει να αγαπήσουμε περισσότερο το περιβάλλον.

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