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Hungerford race adopts COVID regulations

Game on.

In this year of uncertainty, I have continually juggled, re-ordered and adjusted my racing calendar since I squeezed in a 50K just before virtually everything shut down.

Virtually being the operative word. I’ve participated in a couple of virtual races, had a successful FKT attempt and one that was epic in a totally different way.

My 100K in April was canceled and I withdrew from an 8-hour race in July, not wanting to risk picking up the coronavirus due to sharing a 3.1-mile trail for eight hours with 250 or so other runners. I also deferred until 2021 my planned 100-miler, the Hennepin Hundred, which was later canceled.

Thankfully, the Hungerford Games received the go-ahead in early August to proceed with its race at the end of September. The race will occur as long as Michigan, which is currently in Phase 4 for COVID response plans, does not revert back to Phase 3.

Hungerford offers a 50-miler, marathon and half marathon at its Sept. 26 event in Big Rapids, Mich. Check out their website for more information and use my special code RUNSPIRITED for 15 percent off any distance.

Safety precautions rule the day

I’ll be doing the marathon, which is actually a tad longer at 27.7 miles.

Rerouting the marathon and half marathon (actually 14.6 miles) courses were part of the adjustments that co-race directors Brandon Seaver and Ben Talsma made so the race could proceed as planned. The courses were changed to eliminate shuttle buses, due to COVID precautions.

“We're aiming to keep the Hungerford courses as unchanged as possible, and overall we feel we've succeeded,” Seaver says. “When weighing the options of cutting some of the course vs. adding a little on, we decided that starting all races at the same location was the best option. We recognize that some runners will not want to run longer than the traditionally prescribed distances, so we're offering deferrals to 2021 for those entrants.”

Additionally, the race directors are requesting that entrants with known exposure or contact to COVID positive friends or family within two weeks of the race, to refrain from coming. Entrants will receive deferrals if they fall into that category.

The RDs will also ask anyone with a temperature of over 100.4 degrees within 48 hours of the race to stay home.

A secondary COVID waiver acknowledgment form is required to be signed by participants.

Changes for runners and others

In a post I wrote at the start of the pandemic shutdown, I predicted that one of the changes to ultra races would be how aid stations operate. That has been true for races that have been held since March, and it will also be how Hungerford will be operated.

“In order to keep participants safe — including crews and volunteers — we are changing aid stations, as well as mandating masks for all race personnel, volunteers and crews when outside of vehicles,” Seaver says. “Aid stations will have reduced food options. We'll offer our standard liquids (water and Gatorade), but we will have only pre-packaged food options such as gels, chips and cookies.”

Previously, they have taken requests and worked to accommodate a range of needs, but this year is different. “Runners will mostly need to bring their own goodies, especially if they want items like fruit,” Seaver says. “We do still plan to offer drop bag options, particularly for the 50-mile entrants.”

The first change that runners will notice will be at packet pick-up.

“In years past, we've had runners get their bib and then pick some of their own swag item choices,” Seaver explains. “This year we will be pre-packing all entrant bags with their bib, shirt and swag. We'll be keeping runners separated at check-in by social distancing standards (six feet).”

The Michigan governor recently issued an order that limits outdoor gatherings to 70 people. To abide by this, Hungerford will use wave starts for each of the race distances and limit who can be at the start line.

“Once the races spread out, crews are welcome to drive to aid stations to see their runners,” Seaver says.

A ‘respectfully challenging’ course

While the past five months have heaped more stress onto the plates of race directors everywhere, Seaver and Talsma are looking forward to welcoming back their community.

“We are very proud of what Hungerford has become for many runners, ourselves included,” Seaver says “It's just a neat event and course. There is a lot of variety. We care a lot about giving runners a great experience. Some folks are single-track or bust purists, and we get that mindset. We are not that race. We offer single-track to be sure, but we appreciate variety too, and that is what Hungerford offers.”

Hungerford serves as good introductory courses for newcomers to each of the distances. For example, the ultra offers just 3,200 feet of gain.

All three races are almost exclusively on trails and grass. Seaver says the only “significant” paved piece is the start of the ultra for about the first (and last) 1.25 to 1.3 miles. He also says that this year the half and full marathons will have that extra paved piece at the start too.

“Our courses are very accommodating — yet respectfully challenging — to the first-time trail half-marathoner, while our marathon and ultra races are no walk in-the-park. Pun intended. We are intentionally a smaller race, and runners become part of our family. We enjoy seeing familiar faces each year, and also meeting folks for the first time.”

Finishers receive special hand-branded wooden medals. “We have a branding iron with our race logo that we heat up (by forge) to around 2000 degrees F,” Seaver says. “We also have chainsaw-carved top three trophies for each of the men’s and women's races, as well as our ‘beat the sun’ ultra sticks which the 50-milers earn if they finish before geographic sunset.”

If COVID cases spike in Michigan, the race still could be canceled, even days before. Still, Seaver and Talsma are optimistic yet amenable to runners who don’t feel safe at the event.

“As runners ourselves, we are glad that we can work to make the event happen,” Seaver concludes. “We're grateful that we have an understanding and cooperative group of local agents (and a forestry) that will work with us to allow it to proceed. They've been helpful and very reasonable in their guidance and requests. There's no doubt that current circumstances have increased the unknowns and uncertainties, but we are committed to holding this event if we are able. We also understand that some runners are uncertain and would rather hold off — and that is fine. We look forward to seeing them in 2021.”

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