Update – May 13, 2020 – Spartan announces June event in Jacksonville, Florida.
This is an opinion piece that was submitted to us by Brian Duncanson of Spartan Race. He is a 10 year employee of Spartan. We have printed it here without edits or changes.
Since Spartan suspended events at the end of March, the main question on everyone’s mind has been, “when will races start up again?” It’s a question we have been reviewing and modeling every day since the COVID-19 outbreak began. There are now some signs that point to a return sooner than some may expect. For that reality to become true, there are a few important factors to consider, most importantly the safety of the Spartan community and employees, government regulations, community sentiment, and operational adaptation. Let’s dive into each one of these to see how likely a comeback really is and what shape those events might take.
Before we dive in, some quick background on me for transparency. I am the General Manager of Spartan’s North America events, so I’m very interested in seeing the obstacle course racing business and the endurance sports business writ large come back to life. I have been an adventure racer and started several businesses, so I am a risk taker. That said, I prefer a pragmatic approach to new endeavors. I have undergraduate degrees in computer science and mathematics so I am diving deep into the various infection models presented to the public.
I also have family members who work in hospitals, so I would never make recommendations that fly in the face of all the medical staff that are bravely on the front lines of this fight. Additionally, I am a leukemia survivor who has had a stem cell transplant, so I am sensitive to creating a safe environment that makes everyone feel comfortable. To get back to racing, we need to ensure that the preconditions outlined above are met.
Let’s start with the first factor which impacts when Spartan events will start again, government regulations. In some countries, the timeline on these regulations is dictated at a national level. Since Spartan is a global company, we’ve been keeping informed through our partner network around the world.
Reopening in the US will be a gradual process, and occur state-by-state – and perhaps county-by-county – as the decision is at the discretion of the states. We have already seen a few states, such as Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, begin to reopen their economies, and Missouri is allowing live events, including concerts – so we are looking there as a target location for our first public race event. All indications are that several more states will reopen small businesses and increase the maximum size of large gatherings to some extent by the end of this month.
Of course, there will likely be limitations on crowd sizes in some locations that will force event directors to modify their formats, restrict the number of available race registrations, or hold multiple smaller events rather than a single large event. Even more important than working closely with local government and health officials is ensuring that we operate events which are safe for all who work at, volunteer for and attend them.
Many different models provide predictions on when infection rates will be low enough to open up businesses and relax gathering restrictions. Several of these models are now showing positive movement. Here are a few that provide some insight into when “normal” life will return.
The website rt.live shows graphs by US state and their Rt – Effective Reproduction Rate. This is basically how many people each infected person will in turn infect. Those above 1.0 will have growing cases, while those below will have decreasing cases. As of today, there are only 8 states above 1.0.
Even more encouraging is a new model out of Singapore University of Technology and Design. Hosted at https://ddi.sutd.edu.sg/, they have curves by country and they are predicting that the US will have seen 97% of its cases by May 11th. If this model holds, we can anticipate more states feeling comfortable opening up businesses and increasing the maximum event size.
The second important factor in determining when mass participation events reopen is the community’s sentiment. It doesn’t matter that events are allowed if people aren’t comfortable attending them. Spartan is planning to conduct a broad customer sentiment survey to get a sense of how the community feels about returning to the race course. We’ll look at the geographic data to measure sentiment by state, and see how that compares to those states who are “open”. As we work with local governments to determine the feasibility of hosting events and secure permits, we will continue an open dialogue about measures we can take to reduce the chances of participants contracting the illness – and will share these measures with the Spartan community. We want to ensure that our racers feel good about attending an event in each market before we stage an event.
The third factor affecting the timeline to re-open events is Spartan’s own operational capabilities. As mentioned, we’re working with local governments to meet their respective risk mitigation and restricted capacity requirements – while also setting our own standards we must employ to deem an event safe – and we’re working with organizations who specialize in the matter. Different locations will have different requirements for event directors to work closely with the government agencies and adapt their platforms.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Spartan has been working through numerous operational models. We have a number of processes laid out and ready for review by local governments once they open up again. While having a process down on paper is a good first step, a live events organization needs to practice these protocols to build operational muscle. Spartan has mapped out a series of steps to work back up to full-capacity events.
The first of those steps has taken place, as we held multiple live workouts complying with the newly imposed state regulation where the small gatherings were allowed. We first tried this in Macon, GA, and after a successful workout with 10 people (the maximum number allowed) and employing several new protocols, we rolled it out to multiple locations. For each, we took precautionary measures such as contactless check-in, mandatory 10-ft participant spacing to enforce physical distancing best practices, required use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and frequent hand sanitizing.
We plan to take the lessons learned there and expand on them to execute a larger Spartan Hurricane Heat on May 23, 2020. The four-hour, epic endurance event will take place in Molena, GA, 60 miles south from Atlanta, and is limited to just 30 participants, following all state, and Spartan guidelines and requirements. We then look forward to creating a small, private obstacle race as the next step in easing back into the world’s event and fitness landscape – both surrounding the 10-year anniversary of the very first ever Spartan Race in held May 16, 2010.
With each incremental step, the purpose is to progressively learn and expand our capabilities. Hosting 10 people gives us confidence to host 50, a 50-person event informs us on 100-person events, etc, so we are ready to expand at scale when government regulation allows for it Spartan plans to openly share these learnings with our local partners and the Endurance Sports Coalition we helped to form last month, which now includes more than 700 endurance event producers. As we conduct these new events, we continue to communicate with local permitting agencies and monitor the news as states begin to reopen activities. If the models are correct and we continue to implement our gradual plan, we could be operational by the end of June.