Due to the COVD-19 pandemic, the 2020 running of the uniquely demanding race, the Barkley Marathons, was cancelled for only the second time since it began in 1986. While the future of many running events in 2021 is still uncertain, Barkley Marathons organizer Laz Lake says this year’s running of the coveted race, held at Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg, Tenn., is still on, albeit with a few changes.
The race, scheduled to take place in late March, typically is capped at 40 participants, but this year Lake says many of the non-American participants have opted to defer until next year.
Twenty-nine runners are signed up so far, and officials are in the process of identifying those who have either been vaccinated or have had COVID and have recovered. These criteria constitute the participant’s “COVID passport,” and Lake says anyone on the waiting list must meet those criteria in order to be granted entry. At this point, officials say there are six wait-listers who have their COVID passports.
In an email, Lake outlined the COVID-19 protocols that will be in place for the event, which he says are different than a typical road race. Officials’ biggest concern is the matter of social distancing, which will only be required for a short time at the race start, since runners very quickly spread far apart on the course. In his email, Lake acknowledged the difficulties of hosting an event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the race itself is about as socially distanced as you can get, having a large group of people who come from all over the place in camp is pretty much the antithesis of what is recommended… in particular sharing the same bath house,” he said.
“For this reason, many of the race’s normal activities, such as the potluck dinner, will not be included in the event itinerary. Finally, Lake says that as the state of the pandemic continues to evolve, the situation is subject to change. As of now, the race will go ahead for any approved applicants who have their COVID passports, but this year’s participant list will be much more local. The only question left, then, is one asked every year: will anyone actually finish the race?