Large Race Progress Report: Early Fall

We tend to focus our lens on small to medium sized events because that’s where the bulk of participation in the industry comes from (90-94% in 2019), but there’s no denying that large, premier events often determine how the general public sees the industry. So this week, we’re taking a look at the status of six races from the list of 100 largest races in 2019 to get a picture of how large events are fairing in the early fall.

Large events were definitely hit the hardest by COVID-19 – the most likely to cancel or go virtual, and the most likely to need participation caps and strict regulations. And have been events that have had to cancel or go virtual for the second year. Large races that are happening have seen participation drop of 25-50% compared to 2019, whether due to a limited race cap or participant hesitancy. Many, but not all, have implemented requirements for proof of vaccination and/or negative COVID tests, and traditional finish lines and expos have been modified. But fall 2021 looks drastically better than a year ago, when races over 1,000 participants were exceedingly rare, as these seven events demonstrate:

Bank of America Chicago Marathon (3rd largest Race in 2019). Coming a week before the Boston Marathon, Chicago is always an October race, and was able to proceed on it’s traditional date after a 2020 virtual edition.

  • The race cap was set approximately 25% lower than in 2019, with around 33,000 runners taking the to the course.
  • All participants were required to be fully vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the race.

Boston Marathon (7th largest race in 2019). Considered the US Marathon for many runners, Boston was back and in-person in October after going fully virtual in 2020 and postponing the 2021 event from their traditional April date.

  • The in-person field was reduced by 30%, to approximately 18,000
  • A virtual component drew 30,000 runners around the world, making the combined event the largest in history.
  • Runners were required to prove vaccination status and wear a bracelet indicating that they had completed their screening. 95% of participants were vaccinated.
  • A rolling start meant runners began between 9:00am and 11:30am, along with assigned buses to the start line.

Blue Cross Broad Street Run (9th largest race in 2019). Pre-COVID, the Broad Street Run was the country’s largest 10-miler and an institution for the city of Philadelphia. Like the Boston Marathon, their 2020 event was initially postponed, then converted to virtual, and their October 2021 date was delayed from May. But the event was run!

  • The field was reduced from around 40,000 to closer to 20,000, and the start and finish areas were blocked off from spectators.
  • Prior to packet pickup, runners had to submit proof of either vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test via a secure online portal.
  • An additional 1,500 runners opted to participate virtually

Baltimore Running Festival (46th largest race in 2019). After a fully virtual 2020, the Baltimore Running Festival returned in-person for it’s 20th anniversary with options for a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, and virtual versions.

  • Participation was down around 40%, with ~10,000 in-person participants.
  • The race went cupless to reduce touchpoints, with water-filling stations instead of traditional water stops.
  • Masks were required for any indoor interactions, and recommended for high density areas.

Boilermaker Road Races (51st largest race in 2019). Boilermaker moved from their traditional July date to October, ushering in cooler weather for their 2021 event.

  • The race focused on the local community, removing their traditional prize money and elite field. The race was won by American runners for the first time since 1989 and 1991 (women’s and men’s, respectively).
  • The in-person field consisted of 7,290 runners, with another 400+ joining virtually, fewer than the 14,500 they can typically host.
  • Proof of vaccination was required, and the beloved post-race party (outside) was accessible only to registered runners.

The Oklahoma Memorial Run To Remember Marathon (53rd largest race in 2019). Like many of the other events here, the Oklahoma Memorial Run to Remember Marathon moved from their typical spring date to October to successfully offer an in-person run in 2021.

  • The race was capped at 12,000 in-person runners, or 50% of their 2019 total.
  • Participants were required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
  • Race events were spread out over two days to provide additional distancing.

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