Mark Armstrong: Mass participation events - how do you feel about them?

Norwich Half Marathon 2021

The Norwich Half Marathon took place in a safe, secure way but can events with tens of thousands of people be put on in the same way? - Credit: Mark Armstrong

How safe do you feel on a race start line at the moment? 

I’ve felt comfortable in all the local events I’ve raced and reported on since restrictions were eased and local clubs have managed to put on races in a responsible way. 

Masks, hand sanitiser, social distancing, rolling starts – they've become the norm, at least locally. 

But there’s a big difference between racing alongside a few hundred compared to racing with tens of thousands of others. 

Mass Participation Sports Organisers issued a statement earlier this week celebrating the return of mass participation events outdoors as part of the government steps of moving into step four from July 19. 


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So as it stands events like the London Marathon, parkrun, Brighton Marathon, Manchester Marathon, London Landmarks Half Marathon (there are too many to mention) are all able to go ahead. 

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Now anyone that’s been paying attention to the pandemic and the handling of the restrictions will know how changeable this whole situation is. More than 40,000 cases of coronavirus were reported on Tuesday for example and with only just over half the population fully vaccinated it feels like it’s a bit early to being doing cartwheels about ‘Freedom Day’. 

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Whilst the vaccine roll-out has thankfully changed how we’ve been living our lives for the last 18 months, it’s also clear that we’re very far from being out of the woods just yet. 

I accept that living with Covid is something we’ve got used to. We’ve even got used to racing with it in the last few months with several excellent local events staged.  

Will it be safe for 50,000-odd runners to congregate from the end of the month onwards? It’s quite a shift in mindset given we’ve been told to avoid crowded situations or any close contact for so long. I’m only just about getting used to not judging people for hugging again... 

A lot of people will still feel understandably uncomfortable at the prospect of racing even if all the data suggests that transmission of the virus in an outside environment is unlikely. The Norwich Half Marathon last month was 50 percent down on the expected field and whilst some people are desperate to run races, others aren’t quite so sure, understandably. 

I feel rather torn over it. Whilst I love the Norfolk race scene, a mass participation event really does up the ante and it’s these sorts of races that have maintained my motivation in the past. 

As previously mentioned, I have a place for the Manchester Marathon and if my body allows, I would like to build my mileage towards this. 

However, I’ve made my peace with the fact that there is still a chance it might not go ahead... or perhaps I won’t feel comfortable enough to attend. It’s not just my health I have to consider when making these decisions, as we all do. 

But I feel comfortable enough training for a race that might not happen – I’ve got used to it, as I know a lot of others have. 

I love the structure of my training when there is a big event on the horizon and the focus it provides. It’s a huge stress reliever for me. 

But there’s a long time between now and October 10 when Manchester is due to take place. Quite what the situation is then wholly uncertain... but that’s the only certainty we’ve got. 

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