Organizers say Long Beach marathon on course to happen in October

Marathons from Eugene, Oregon, to Cincinnati, Ohio, are facing uncertainty for a second straight year even as COVID-19 infections subside across the country, but organizers of the big race in Long Beach believe that runners will be allowed to take to the streets again in October with minimal restrictions.

Natalia Mendez, an event operations manager with Motiv Sports, which puts on the marathon, said that the Long Beach race appears to be on track to happen Oct. 10, but what modifications might be required is still unclear.

The city is currently in the “yellow” tier of California’s reopening guidelines, which limits endurance events like marathons to 500 participants per hour or 1,500 total. Capacity can be increased to 3,000 people if organizers require proof of full vaccination.

The 2019 race had about 17,000 participants when accounting for the full and half marathons and other events held before the race. The 2020 marathon was canceled.

A big announcement from the Centers for Disease Control Thursday that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks indoors or outdoors is adding optimism that the Long Beach race won’t be canceled for a second year in a row.

“That’s a huge announcement coming out today that gives me an extra bit of energy and hope for the fall,” Mendez said.

But any restrictions in place by October are likely to be more lenient if the state continues on its trajectory of diminishing virus transmission. Los Angeles County health officials announced this week that they expect the county to reach herd immunity by July.

A city spokesperson said that city health officials can’t provide insight on what will or won’t be allowed at large events after June 15 because the state has yet to provide details about future health and safety protocols.

June 15 is the date that state officials are expected to lift most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions currently in place across the state.

Issues like how many runners would be allowed to participate in a marathon, if the marathon expo will be allowed to be held indoors or if volunteers who hand out water will be required to be vaccinated or show proof of negative test have not been addressed.

Despite promising signs that the pandemic may be coming to a close, race organizers are planning for the event to be a bit different this year as they balance public health guidelines and making sure each runner feels safe.

There will be a switch to touch-less options for paying for products at the race expo and using scannable codes for check in. Runners will also have the option of having their bibs and race packets mailed to them instead of having to pick them up in person before the race, Mendez said.

There could also be modifications to the starting line and finish line, which is usually packed with runners and their friends and family members.

Mendez said organizers are toying with ways they can space out runners before the race. Asking that they limit the amount of people they bring to the race with them and assigning times to groups of runners to ensure that they’re not packed into corrals are both options.

Runners could also be asked to wear masks in the starting corrals, but that guidance could change by October, Mendez said.

“Nothing is set in stone,” Mendez said. “I think we’ve all come to learn that with COVID.”

Running the course itself may look different because of the possibility that race infrastructure from the Grand Prix might still be in place, but Mendez said that organizers have been ensured that the race scheduled two weeks before the marathon won’t affect the running course.

The finish line and the festival where runners typically recover with bananas, electrolytes or the complimentary beer provided to all runners 21 and up could be changed, but Mendez said organizers are working hard to make sure it still happens.

“We’re trying to figure out the best way to provide that excitement,” Mendez said. “For us, that’s why we do this. We see the joy that it brings to people, the excitement, and people overcoming their individual obstacles to finish their race. We want to make sure that experience still exists.”

There will still be a virtual option, something that the Long Beach race has offered for some time to accommodate its legacy runners who can’t make it back to the city every fall. Runners wanting to participate in the run but who don’t feel comfortable running around potentially thousands of others can sign up for that option.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.