* The following was emailed to all registered 2020 Superior Fall Trail Race runners and volunteers on Monday June 15, 2020.
I hope this email finds you well. What a wild ride this year has been. Between the impacts of Coronavirus, the political atmosphere in this country and the murder of George Floyd (and all other similar injustices of late), our minds are weary and our hearts are heavy. Perhaps if there is any silver lining in a largely cancelled trail / ultra season thus far, it is that it will allow us more time and energy to reflect and take action; so that we may do our part to help stop the spread of Coronavirus, find some common ground with those whom we disagree, and do our part to educate ourselves and take actions that result in safety, equality and opportunity for all.
The reason for my email today is to provide you with an update regarding the Superior Fall Trail Race. My last email was on May 7, a copy of it can be found HERE https://www.superiorfalltrailrace.com/covid-19-update-5-7-20-superior-fall-trail-race/
As of today the 2020 Superior Fall Trail Race is still scheduled and we are continuing to make preparations. At the same time we are continuing to monitor the pandemic generally along with state guidelines as they continue to change. We are staying in touch with our permitors and the local communities where our race is held. One of the greatest features of the pandemic has been the maddening level of uncertainty that comes with it. I will occasionally get an email from a runner looking for some certainty or clarity, and sadly I can provide none – nobody has a crystal ball. While things are starting to reopen in Minnesota, as of today an event of our size is still prohibited regardless of modifications. The major permitors and land managers in the state have been canceling special use / special event permits a month at a time since March.
We have 930 registered runners from 46 states and 6 countries. It takes around 350 volunteers to produce the race. In a typical year we have another couple thousand friends, family, spectators, crew and pacers on race weekend. Superior race weekend draws in excess of 3,000 people. Even if state restrictions are lifted to the point that we can proceed, we have to be cognizant of and sensitive to bringing thousands of people into remote communities with extremely limited medical resources. There are also many other really challenging features of Superior when viewed through the lens of the pandemic including but not limited to the following. All participants take lengthy bus rides to the start of what are point to point races, as the Superior Hiking Trail is a linear / point to point trail. The races are extremely challenging and as a result the overall race duration is extremely long (38 hour cutoff for the 100 mile, plus many hours of setup and takedown on either end), allowing us little wiggle room to do things like wave-starts to increase social distance – we can only (safely) ask our volunteers to be out there for so long. There are 13 aid stations, and by their nature, social distancing is near impossible. The race is on nearly all single-track trail and with three race distances happening at the same time, there is a lot of passing that gets done, again, raising social distancing issues. Pre-race, at aid stations, and post-race, all “natural breaks” are done using portable restrooms, so there are sanitary issues. It takes around 350 volunteers to make Superior happen. Most come out of the Twin Cities (5 hours away) and over 1/3 of them need the communal style lodging provided by the race in order to make volunteering economical / possible for them, this puts a lot of people who normally are not together in very close quarters. Many of our core volunteers are in the higher risk age brackets and many more are not feeling ready to return to volunteering due to the virus. This is a long list of challenges, and to be sure, there are more. With all of that said, we are working on modified protocol in an attempt to address each of these challenges as best we can should we have a chance of proceeding with the race this year.
So where does that leave us. Superior is a logistical beast – we cannot turn it on a dime. We need six or seven weeks of final prep time in order to successfully put the race on. On a normal year, we are working sun up to sun down in this final six to seven week period. Today I am committing to providing you with an answer by August 1 as to whether or not we will be able to move forward. The following things will need to be in place on August 1 for us to move forward. We will use these specific criteria, as well as a few others, to determine if we are able to proceed with this year’s race:
1.) State guidelines will need to allow for an event of our type and size to take place, without this, it’s a non-starter.
2.) We will need all of our permits intact and the blessing of all of our permitors in order to proceed. These permitors include; Lake County, Cook County, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, United States Forest Service and the Superior Hiking Trail Association.
3.) We will need the blessing of the counties and communities where our event is held, our recreation cannot come at the cost of the safety of those that call these communities home.
4.) We will need to feel confident in our ability to hold a race that is safe. Safe not only for our runners and volunteers, but also for any person, business or community that our race, its participants and volunteers come into contact with.
5.) We will need to feel confident in allowing runners to ride buses to race starts, in our ability to keep porta-potties and aid stations sanitary and in our ability to maintain acceptable social distance throughout the event as required by state guidelines.
6.) We will need to feel good about the modifications required in order to safely execute the race by asking ourselves the following questions; Do we have enough volunteer support to safely pull off the race? Will too many runners and volunteers be excluded from participating based on their inability to travel to the race or because of their age and / or risk factors to the virus? Is there a point at which the race ends up so highly modified that it is run under a dark cloud or a veil of paranoia? Is there a point at which it is simply no longer fun? Will it still be anything like the “Superior” experience that has been carefully cultivated over the past 30 years?
Given that August 1 is just over 6 weeks away, this is a lot of boxes to check in a short amount of time. Given that we have a no refund policy, and there are many who are hoping beyond hope that the race will happen, we are doing everything in our power to give it our absolute best shot. Conversely, we have also heard from many of you who will not be attending even if the race is held, either due to health / safety concerns, the impact that the pandemic has had on your physical, psychological or financial well-being, or based on your own personal risk tolerance. There is the further complication of our Canadian and International friends that may not be able to travel to the US for the race. To be clear, we will under no circumstance sacrifice safety or an inclusive experience or try to shove square pegs into round holes – that is not who we are. In plain language, the race is in a really tight spot – this is going to be a really tough needle to thread given where we are at today. We are doing our best to meet our obligations to all parties in a situation where so much is out of our control – significant progress and clarity over the next six weeks will be needed.
My final logistical points for you today are as follows: 1.) I want to remind everyone that if the race does not happen, everyone that made it through the lottery this year, will make it through again next year should you want to sign up again. Additionally, if the race is held this year and you cannot or choose not to attend, you will also make it through the lottery next year. In either scenario, you will need to enter the lottery and pay the entry fee, but you are guaranteed to be selected. 2.) I would not make any travel plans until you get final word from me and I would check the cancellation policies of any existing reservations you have made. 3.) For those of you that are wondering, “should I continue training?” You are going to have to finesse this as you see fit – again, nobody has a crystal ball.
As mentioned, I will be back in touch on or before August 1. If in the meantime you should have any questions, please shoot me an email and I will get right back to you. Hang in there friends.