SCHENECTADY — When Brian Northan canceled a road race he was directing at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the middle of March, and leaves hadn’t even begun to grow on trees.
Seven months later, the leaves have changed color, but the conditions under which road races can be run have not.
So Northan, co-director of the MVP Health Care Stockade-athon, and fellow organizers are back in the cancellation business, as the popular 15k will not be run for the first time since 1976.
There will be a virtual option, however, with details and an online entry form coming out sometime in the next few days. It’s the latest in a long line of races that have fallen by the wayside, some even foregoing the virtual route, with plenty more on the horizon in a sport that can be highly solitary — except on race day.
“I’m really, really disappointed,” Northan said on Thursday. “I knew the writing was on the wall.
“There’s been a lot of debate about how we should market this. To be honest, the majority of our races have been completely canceled. It’s hard, because some people in our club [Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club] think you should not try to do an alternative, because, I don’t know, they kind of feel like it’ll cheapen the race. Like, ‘We can’t do it, that’s that, let’s just concentrate on next year.'”
It’s a common debate for races that have such rich tradition and decades of emotional investment from the runners.
The Stockade-athon, which covers a 9.3-mile loop that runs through the Stockade in the early stages and turns around at Central Park to finish at City Hall, has drawn over 1,300 finishers in each of the last 10 years.
The 2020 race had been scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 8. Northan said once the virtual Stockade-athon entry form is up, runners will have a window from the middle of October to the middle of November to post a finish time on a 15k course of their choosing, with the times tabulated as race results.
Many runners these days have GPS watches that can record time and distance; others will be welcome to lean on the honor system. They’ll also have an opportunity to submit photos that will be collected on the site.
Big races like the Freihofer’s Run for Women in Albany have already run successful and popular virtual versions. Some, like the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon & Half Marathon, which were supposed to have been run this Sunday, have been canceled entirely.
The logistics and health protocols pose a daunting challenge for race directors, even if they get past state and local permitting hurdles.
Albany Running Exchange Event Productions, which handles start/finish line set-up and result tabulation for the Stockade-athon, presented on Aug. 29 what appears to be the only road race in the Capital Region that actually has been run with a full field since March.
Under CDC and New York State guidelines and requirements, 297 runners finished Druthers Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon, which was moved to the Altamont Fairgrounds and originally had been scheduled for April 18. According to the results page on the AREEP site, “The race was started 1 or 2 people at a time, with 180 unique starts.”
Northan had explored the idea of setting up a live version of the Stockade-athon, perhaps using the bike path behind Rivers Casino & Resort for part of the course.
“Even up until a couple weeks ago, I was hoping to get something together, but with the pandemic, people in the club just didn’t feel comfortable with it,” he said. “We didn’t push it, because it was pretty obvious that no one has gotten a permit anywhere.
“I probably would’ve tried to pursue it further, but our club as a whole, especially with our sponsorships involved, is pretty risk-averse. So the general feeling was if this thing really cleared up, we’d do everything we can to get racing back to people. But it’s been in this ongoing state for months now.”
Between governmental restrictions and guidelines offered by USA Track and Field, the bevy of Thanksgiving races, which draw thousands of runners to road courses all over the Capital Region, appear to be in jeopardy.
The homepage for the Troy Turkey Trot, which began in 1916 and has been run continuously since 1964, says “Stay tuned for an update on the 2020 event.”
But as Northan said, “It’s pretty complicated.”