Eighteen ultramarathons in Massachusetts have been canceled and a few more postponed or turned into virtual events due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. In fact, the last in-person ultra race in the state took place all the way back on Feb. 1-2 at the TARCtic Frozen Yeti 30-Hour Ultra.
The wait for an in-state, in-person ultra may be almost over for runners in the Bay State. Carla Halpern, Race Director for the Village Ultra 24-Hour and 12-Hour Runs, recently received approval to conduct her event from 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5 through 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6 on the Town Common in New Salem, Mass.
“I’m very happy to be able to offer an in-person event,” Halpern said. “While I sometimes enjoy running alone, I also love to run with friends and to make new runner-friends. The Village Ultra is an opportunity to be social or solitary in a safe and supportive environment.”
Like most runners in the ultra community, Halpern misses running with friends old and new. Her event will be an opportunity for new runners and ultra veterans alike to log miles together while maintaining social distancing in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendations and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s orders. The event has always been amenable to social distancing thanks to its relatively small size and its course design that consists of four small loops that runners can choose from to make their own course. The White loop is 0.25-mile around the Town Common; the Blue loop is a 0.6-mile mix of dirt, trail and grass with some hills; the Silver route is a 2.2.-mile round-trip out-and-back on a dirt road; and the Gold route is a 2.4-mile round-trip out-and-back on a road that’s part dirt and part pavement.
“The Village Ultra lends itself to complying with COVID-19 regulations, as it has never been a crowded race,” Halpern said. “Multiple courses and varied individual goals also make this race easier to put on in these times. Knowing The Village Ultra’s history, the New Salem selectboard was not especially concerned about the race occurring, with a few modifications.
“The New Salem Board of Health was also supportive and offered additional regulations to keep everyone safe. As Race Director, and a resident of New Salem, I am fortunate that everyone is on-board to make The Village Ultra happen and to keep all visitors and townsfolk safe.”
Specific protocols will be in place at this year’s event to comply with COVID-19 precautions and ensure the safety of attendees. Among them, participants must bring masks and wear them whenever they are not able to maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves and anyone not in their household; no food or beverages will be provided, so runners must bring their own fuel; runners must provide their own hand sanitizer; race bibs, pins, beads, medal and other items will be distributed in sealed bags; and port-a-potties will be available on-site rather than flush toilets inside buildings, as was the case in previous years.
“Due to the reduction in amenities (no food or flush toilets), registration fee will be on a sliding scale,” Halpern noted. “I will still ask for the standard $90 for 24 hours, $50 for 12 hours, and $10 per hour ‘drop-in’ fee, but will accept whatever people can pay. That said, I humbly ask that people pay at least $25 to offset the cost of port-a-potties.”
Additionally, the event is capped at 50 people in-person – runners and volunteers combined – at a time.
“This means we could potentially have more than 50 participants, so long as they do not overlap their time,” Halpern noted.
In-person participation is limited to residents of Massachusetts. Also allowed to run in-person are runners from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii, if they provide proof of 14-day self-quarantine or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the race, in accordance with the governor’s orders.
Runners also have the option of participating virtually; virtual participation is not capped.
The Village Ultra was founded as a way to fundraise for organizations that could use financial support. Proceeds from the 2020 event will go to the Swift River School. In previous years the race has raised between $1,500 and $3,000, and Halpern said she hopes this year’s event can do even better.
“I would like to break that record,” she said. “Swift River School is a tiny gem. The school’s motto is ‘Small School, Big Heart.’ With public schools in a budget crunch for many reasons, including COVID-19, we feel that one of the best things we can do for our little community is to promote the education and welfare of our children. There will be a few cost savings due to an all-remote instruction plan for the start of the school year, but there will also be multiple additional expenses and a lack of funding from other sources.”
With three weeks to go until race weekend, it’s still possible that COVID-19 issues could impact the in-person event, but as of today it remains on track to take place. Halpern is eager to make it happen, to welcome friends and newcomers to her community and encourage them to push their personal limits in as close to normal of a racing environment as has been allowable in the state in several months.
“Of course I love to raise money for Swift River School, but I confess that seeing participants hit PRs has always been one of my favorite parts of this race,” Halpern said. “I look forward to cheering all you runners and walkers and I look forward to celebrating your victories, even if we can’t hug or high-five. I love to see your faces when you hit 13.1 or 26.2 miles or more… and then I love pushing you further! I’d say we have about a 90% PR rate for this race; let’s make that 100% this year!”
Registration for The Village Ultra can be done online at this link.