Social runners who’ve been missing the thrill of a running event may not have to wait much longer, as vaccinations pick up the pace and the community starts to slowly reopen after more than a year of the COVID outbreak.
While most race organizers in southern Arizona have been sidelined and putting on “virtual” runs throughout the past year or so, one local organization has been able to put on limited, in-person events.
Everyone Runs founder and race director Steve Landau said that last year, as other organizations shied away from putting on live events due to coronavirus restrictions, his organization was able to put on three live races, albeit on a smaller scale than usual.
“Here at Everyone Runs, we took painstaking efforts in 2020 to put on three live events, with great success, due to the cooperation of our running community,” he wrote in a recent email. “We drew up a complete health and safety plan that was approved by our state and county.”
Landau said that he has several live races scheduled for 2021, the first of which will be Everyone Runs Holualoa Catalina State Park 5.3 and 10.6 Mile Trail Race, scheduled for April 3.
In-person runners will be required to follow COVID social-distancing protocols, avoid gathering in groups and must bring their own water to drink on the route.
While the sold-out race is capped at 250 participants, there will be a virtual option as well.
Everyone Runs events have been scheduled in Catalina State Park and Old Tucson, so Landau has not had to deal with the more stringent COVID restrictions that have prevented large gatherings in Tucson. Additionally, the races have been capped in the number of participants to facilitate social distancing, runners are required to wear masks and the races start in waves to reduce the number of people in groups.
The usual pre- and post-race gathering have also been eliminated, but Landau says his events have been intended to lend some sense of normalcy in unprecedented times.
“We just kept going. I wanted to stay relevant,” Landau said. “I did a lot of reading and a lot of webinars on how to put on races in this situation. So I kind of embraced it.”
Beginning last July, Everyone Runs hosted a trail race at Catalina State Park that drew 100 participants. The number of in-person runners increased with each event and in November, the Veterans Day Half Marathon and Holualoa 5K at Old Tucson hit its cap of 250 racers.
“The events weren’t big, we were basically putting them on and losing money, but we wanted to just keep going,” Landau said. “They were for people to go run. They weren’t exciting by any means, it wasn’t parties afterwards, it wasn’t a lot of fanfare, it was just, ‘let’s go see if we can pull this off.’”
Other upcoming events include the July 11 Holualoa Run With Roosters Kinney Road 5 Miler at Old Tucson, capped at 500; the Holualoa Catalina State Park 5.3 and 10.6 Mile Trail Races and Virtual Trail Events on Sept. 26; and on Nov. 14, the TMC Veterans Day Half Marathon and Holualoa 5K at Old Tucson.
This is Landau’s 17th year putting on events in the Tucson area. He says he began Everyone Runs so that people who are not necessarily the fastest runners can enjoy the sport and win a medal for their efforts.
“This is a place where everyone has an opportunity to win a medal or come in second or third when they’ve never done that before,” Landau said. “So that’s kind of why I started.”
Details and registration information for Everyone Runs can be found at everyoneruns.net.
For Run Tucson’s Randy Accetta, the dynamics have been more complicated, as his core races are big events in the heart of Tucson, which has much more stringent COVID restrictions than Pima County or the state.
Since the City of Tucson announced suspension of in-person events last year, Accetta has struggled to keep things afloat, and has survived by doing virtual events, including the TMC Tucson 10K, New Year’s Day Hair of the Dog Run/Walk and Run Tucson’s 2021 TMC Trail Challenge, a two-week virtual challenge to get people out on the many trails in southern Arizona—and elsewhere—to run or walk.
The only live event Run Tucson was able to host after March 2020 was the Grand Canyon Trail Half Marathon, which also had a cap on the number of participants.
When vaccines began to roll out and it looked like Tucson was opening up, Accetta was prepared to go full-on into preparations for the June 5 TMC Meet Me Downtown Night Run, a large downtown Tucson event that has traditionally brought thousands of people to the heart of the city.
The event features several classes of races, entertainment of all kinds and even a beer garden for post-race hydration. Accetta says he puts on the event to make Tucson a better place through running and to “nurture community soul.”
The race also brings elite athletes from locations far and wide vying for a substantial purse.
“We’ve put up like $3,000-$4,000 in prize money every year,” Accetta said. “So we get a good field. Last year we gave away—even without doing a race—over $15,000. So normally between charity dollars and prize money, we’re giving away $25,000.”
But with the city hesitant to approve permits for the event, Accetta is thinking about moving the race to August, hoping restrictions will loosen by then. With April on the horizon, time to plan the event is growing short.
Accetta is considering creating a one or two-day event the weekend of Aug. 21 as a fill-in for 2021, but is planning to go forward with its Saguaro Labor Day Run with a cap of 250 runners. Plans for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon are moving forward as well.
The Labor Day run hit a high of 1,700 participants a few years ago, but Accetta has had to limit the race to 750 to be more in line with Park Service resources.
Accetta and his wife Tia have managed to continue safe training groups throughout the year, with no reports of illness due to contact through running.
It all comes down to location when it comes to putting on events.
“Pima County has been more open to outdoor events, as has Marana, than the city of Tucson,” he said. “We’re working hard to create a safe outdoor community event that promotes health and wellness, but at the moment can’t get clarity on a permit.”
Also in a holding pattern is Himmel Parkrun, a free, timed weekly 5K that takes place on Saturday mornings throughout the year. Organizers are waiting for permission from the city to begin again, after shutting down in March 2020.
“The Himmel Parkrun directors team had a meeting and we’ve decided that we are going to attempt to get all the permissions necessary to fully resume by the end of April,” event director David Armet, wrote in a recent email. “But we may have to start in May or June if we cannot secure the approvals and permissions until then.”
Armet began Himmel Parkrun in 2018, bringing a localized, global event back to his hometown after working for a few years in England.
For more information, go to parkrun.com.