How Road Races Will Be A Little Different This Fall


After a year of race cancellations, bib numbers arriving in the mail, and plotting our own local courses for virtual 5ks, half marathons, and marathons, runners will be hitting the streets again as road races return this fall.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, road races across the country slowly began to announce cancellations and virtual race options to adhere to social distancing guidelines and limit the spread of the virus. Many runners were offered the opportunity to defer their entry to 2021, and thousands of those who did will be crossing their starting lines in coming weeks.

While it’s exciting to see races come back, things will look a little different this year as race organizers take steps to protect runners from COVID. Some major marathons, like Boston and Tokyo, pushed their usual spring race day to the fall. Others, like the New York City marathon, decreased the number of runners allowed to participate. A few, such as the New Jersey marathon, opted to hold another virtual-only race given concerns about the virus. 

Whether you’re a seasoned runner making up for a cancelled race in 2020, or a brand-new runner toeing the line for their first, you’ll want to know more about the changes in store this fall. 

Below are some of the measures races are taking to keep runners safe: 

  • Limiting the number of runners: The New York City marathon is returning on Nov. 8 with a limited pool of 33,000 runners, some 60% of the 53,520 entrants who crossed its finish line in 2019, to reduce overcrowding. The Tokyo marathon cut its race participation to 25,000 runners, a drop from its usual capacity of 38,000. 

  • Staggered start times: Many major marathons already use staggered starts, with groups of runners beginning at different times, instead of a mass start. NYC, Boston, and likely other races will use this method for their fall races, with runners assigned specific start times to limit crowds.

  • Requiring COVID tests or proof of vaccination: The Boston and Chicago marathons are two races requiring runners to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to participate in the race and attend the pre-marathon expo.

  • Changes to food & drink distribution: Some races, such as Wyoming’s Jackson Hole marathon, are considering different ways to distribute food and drink during and after the race. Runners may be encouraged to carry their own to limit touchpoints. 

  • Enforcing local guidelines: Most races require runners to follow federal and state guidelines when it comes to travel. Be sure to check the rules for your specific race, and the state/county it’s in, so you know what’s in store on race day!

  • Still a little nervous? Here are a few personal safety tips to consider:

  • BYO water and nutrition: Even if it’s not required, carrying your own food and drink can cut down on your contact with other people. A handheld water bottle, shorts pockets, and/or a running belt can help you tote the nutrition you need. Some belts, like the SPIbelt Performance Pro, have extra storage for gels and gummies while the Distance Pro comes with two water bottles you can clip to your running belt. 

  • Pack a mask: It’s easy to distance yourself from other runners once the race starts; not so much when you’re in the corral. While some races claim they’ll encourage social distancing, it couldn’t hurt to have a mask handy when you’re in a crowd at the start line. You can tuck it in your belt or loop it over your arm once the race begins. 

  • Make a post-race plan: If you’re arranging to meet friends or family at the finish, choose a meetup location ahead of time so you can avoid navigating the finish line crowd.