By Dr. Andrew Pasternak, Silver Sage Sports & Fitness Lab
One of the biggest questions I’ve been getting in the past few weeks is what ultrarunning is going to look like once we start racing.
My short answer: I have no idea.
We still have way more questions about COVID 19 than we have answers. We don’t exactly know how many people have contracted COVID. I have been ordering antibody tests for our patients, and I’m not seeing as many people with positive antibodies as we thought (but those findings need to be taken with a grain of salt as there may be issues with the tests). We also still aren’t sure what a positive antibody test means. Typically positive antibodies should result in immunity, but as this is a new virus, we can’t say that with one hundred percent certainty yet. We also don’t know if a vaccine will work. If you ask me today, I’m feeling optimistic that we may have a vaccine as the preliminary data looks good, but there is still a lot of research to do.
In the past few months, I’ve done some podcasts with other physicians/ultrarunners, including John Onate, John Anderson, Mark Tanaka, and JoAnn Ellero*. There’s certainly no consensus yet of how this is going to play out and when we’ll be back racing but here are a few thoughts.
- We’ll probably see smaller, shorter regional races before we see larger, longer races. While we may want to race, a big part of the decision is likely going to be up to the state and county health departments. They will likely be more willing to approve smaller events first.
- We’ll probably learn from the revenue sports. Obviously, ultrarunning doesn’t have the money behind it like professional sports. Seeing how the Budesliga or the NBA/NHL handle getting up and running, however, will be interesting. We’ll likely be able to learn some things depending on how successful they are.
- Aid station hygiene is likely going to change. This one might be a bit dependent on a vaccine- If a vaccine comes out and people get vaccinated, then we could be back to where we were a year ago. Without a vaccine, however, volunteers may be wearing facemasks in order to help with social distancing. Runners may have mandatory hand washing when they get to the aid station and there may be rules about how runners get their food/beverages. Again, some of these changes may be easier in smaller races as opposed to bigger races.
- Proof of immunity/proof of a negative test/proof of immunization. This is one I’ve been going back and forth on as a medical director. Again, if we don’t have a vaccination, races may try and follow the model that pro sports is following with having a negative test pre-race. The big difference is that pro athletes are going to be isolated in “bubbles” which is not feasible for ultra runners.
- What is going to make runners feel safe? This is where I’d love to hear from some of you. What would you like to see at races? How can we do social distancing at the start and finish? What sort of aid station policies would make you feel confident? Are you willing to get tested pre-race?
One last thought- If you do get COVID, make sure you check in with your primary care physician afterward. There is a lot of discussion about COVID affecting the heart in a number of ways (this article from the New York Times does a good job of summing things up ).
Stay safe everyone and hope to see you on the trails (from 6 feet away)…..
*Editors’ note: Here is the podcast Dr. Andy referred to above: