NISKAYUNA — Jason DeRocco is hopeful the Niskayuna XC Ekiden will be able to help kick off the Section II cross country season in as close to its normal format as possible, but is also developing multiple backup plans that could still allow the event to take place under some more stringent social distancing guidelines.
DeRocco, the cross country coach at Niskayuna, sent out an email last Friday opening registration for the 13th annual Ekiden meet, which is currently scheduled for Sept. 5 at Iroquois Middle School.
The event, which features a unique cross country relay format where teams of three runners each run a 1.55-mile leg, has been a popular starting point for many area teams since its inception. Though there’s currently no guarantee whether schools will be open or what shape the fall sports season will take due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeRocco wanted to get a head start on planning his event — which would take place the weekend before school is scheduled to start.
“I wanted to put it out there early enough, where if teams wanted to come they had that option,” DeRocco said in a phone interview Monday. “There’s so much up in the air [right now], I just wanted to gauge interest, first of all, to see if it even made sense to try to do it.”
In planning for the event, DeRocco said a “three-tiered” approach is being taken to explore different options for the meet.
Plan A is to run the meet in its traditional, mass-start format with both freshman and varsity races for girls and boys.
It would be the ideal situation, DeRocco said, but it does have obvious complications.
“It’s hard to social distance in a race, if we did it traditionally,” he said, “so we would obviously be looking for directives from the state, the governor, Section II, our school district. It would obviously be optimal if we could run it as usual.”
Plan B would involve the scrapping of the freshman races and instead move to what DeRocco called a “team time trial” format. In this scenario, a school’s entire team would start together, each runner’s time would be taken and the times of the first four runners of each gender across the finish line would be added up to provide a cumulative time for the school’s “A” teams, with further teams being made up of following groups of four.
Schools would start the race about 5-7 minutes apart, allowing things to be spaced out on the course and letting teams leave once they’d completed the race.
“That way, at least, we would be social distancing schools,” DeRocco said. “It would be weird, because you wouldn’t know who won until well after the fact, but just to have something would be better than nothing at this point, because I’m going through a little bit of withdrawal.”
Plan C would be more of an individual time trial format. Runners would be seeded based on ability, with the fastest projected runners starting first, and starts would be staggered at designated intervals.
“It would be like an accordion, hopefully,” DeRocco said, “where the faster people would be getting away from the slower runners.”
If the meet can’t be held in any of these manners, DeRocco said, it would likely end up being canceled.
“I don’t want to do it just to do it,” he said. “I would like to have it be a good, competitive way to start the year, but also to be as safe as possible.”
While DeRocco said he wouldn’t be surprised if the turnout ends up being smaller this year, and doesn’t expect coaches to respond immediately considering the school year just wrapped up, he did get confirmation Monday that Shaker is planning to send its teams to the Ekiden if the meet occurs.
Meanwhile, a few other invitationals are starting to take shape. Queensbury sent out a notice in May to gauge interest for its invitational on Sept. 19, while DeRocco said that the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Invitational — which brings together close to 100 teams at Saratoga Spa State Park — was open for registration on MileSplit with a planned date of Oct. 17.
“Hopefully, with that being later in the season,” he said, “we would have much more of an idea of what the season’s going to be, and if they can maintain a meet that size or if they would have to scale it down.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.