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03 October 2022, 12pm

Effects of the pandemic on the number of distance running events held

Running through Covid

by Paco Borao

The graphs on this page indicate how expectations have been repeatedly confounded by the reality of Covid in each of the past three years.

The blue line represents the number of races each month that were scheduled on the international race calendar at the beginning of the year – the graph, once set, doesn’t change at all, whatever may happen through the year.

The red line represents the number of races actually held each month. These may be either in the planned schedule or after having previously been postponed.

The graph for 2020 shows the immediate and devastating impact of the covid pandemic on the race calendar. Races in January (31 out of 32) were conducted ‘as normal’ before Covid had become a cause for widespread public concern. Only two races were cancelled in February as governmental authorities and race organisers alike started to become aware of the scale of the problem. In March, as lockdowns were enforced as a response, organisers of public events were banned from using any public or private space where people – like race participants – could gather.

In many countries lockdown lasted until late summer of 2020 but from September races started to be held again as regulations eased. This was only in some places and the gap between the proportion of races held against those planned was only partially lessened. By the end of the year though, for the first time since February, December figures showed that the number of races held was more than 50% of the number of races planned at the start of the year (24 out of 46).

Just when it looked like things might be improving the mutant ‘delta’ strain of Covid took hold. Infections increased and in many countries a second lockdown was imposed. Races continued to be held, but more sporadically, and it was not until July that again more than half the number of races planned at the start of the year were taking place (9 out of 15). From that time on the gap between the number of races taking place against those planned has remained much smaller than before, even when the omicron variant of the virus emerged at the end of the year.

Into 2022 the pattern remains the same. The effects of Covid on the international road race calendar has gradually lessened. In May there was the anomaly of three more races being held than the number that had been planned.

The post-Covid running scene is likely to remain different to what went before in some key respects: To mention only two, virtual races are now very often offered as an alternative to traditional in-person events and ‘running tourism’ is likely to appeal less while anti-covid style travel restrictions remain in force.


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