Interview with Marline Côté, race director of Ultra-Trail Harricana™
Could you explain why it was important to go on with the event even if only local runners were able to participate?
Like any organization, we are looking to adapt to the current situation, which is forcing us to think long term, because we don’t know how long it’s going to last. Society has new rules now, and we believe that trail running can also have its place in this new social context as long as the risks are managed in the best possible way.
When we evaluated the pros and cons, we also thought that we wanted to generate a positive impact on our community – but also on society, as a consequence of the economic and social fallout of the event. For staging an ultramarathon is not just a matter of a few hours, it is a journey of several months, or even years for some. We know that many people have been holding on to this goal like it was a light at the end of a tunnel. It helped them staying motivated, fit, active and healthy both mentally and physically during the pandemic.
We are also lucky that trail running races take place outdoor, where the risk is significantly lower compared to indoor events. So, we were confident that we would be able to adapt successfully. But above all, we were lucky to have the trust and support of the public and health authorities.
What’s fascinating is that we never had the impression that we were going nowhere. On the contrary, we simply kept moving forward, adapting as best we could, and the path opened up naturally before us.
To our knowledge, the Harricana Ultra-Trail Canada was the first major running event in Quebec since March 13th. We hope we have demonstrated that it is indeed possible to hold trail running competitions safely in the current coronavirus situation and that others may have this opportunity after us. The next few days will tell us if there has been a spread of COVID19 among participants or volunteers, but we are confident that we have managed the risk in the best possible way…We’ll see…
How was the event? How was the health protocol received by the runners, volunteers, teams?
We had time to think and prepare for this special edition. We had a good plan and good strategies that were communicated to runners and volunteers before the event. We spread the message on our social medias, webinars, guides, newsletters, etc. All participants therefore arrived highly aware of the measures we put in place. I think it helped us find a nice balance between fun and respecting the rules without having to play police all the time. We knew we could trust our athletes, volunteers and team. They were so happy to live this unique experience with us that they stuck to every rule. Everyone did everything right and some participants even took extra precautions to make it go as smoothly as possible.
Can you describe the atmosphere on the course and among the runners?
If many people were worried about these rules, fearing for example a poor service offer, a slow service at the aid stations or a cold atmosphere, I think everyone was surprised by the way it went. We didn’t cancel any service; instead, we reviewed the way we offer them. We still had a shuttle service, we still had big aid stations, we still had support teams and assistants at the finish line, we still had medals and a hot post-race meal, etc. The only difference is that the schedule was revised as to avoid gatherings, the number of athletes was limited, face covering and hand washing were mandatory everywhere, social distancing had to be respected, surfaces were disinfected frequently, etc.
There was such excitement and magic in the air, as if everyone was amazed to be there and to live this moment. The atmosphere was amazing. It may have been our best edition of the Harricana Ultra-Trail Canada, at least since I became the Executive Director.
What message would you like to send to the trail running community?
It may be our resilient, optimistic and persevering temper, but ultra-runners have this will to keep moving forward despite great difficulties and to reach the ultimate limit before giving up. This is an incredible strength that can help to enhance and promote our discipline in the particular context of the pandemic. If I could pass on one message, it would be to keep the passion for trail running alive and to share it with others, and to keep looking for solutions and new initiatives. Even in the current context, we still have the power to create a lot of good things. So many great things were put in place over the past few months in the trail running community and there is certainly more to come.
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