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Ironman may inspire Lake Placid Marathon restrictions

Runners begin the 2019 Lake Placid Marathon and Half. (News photo — Justin A. Levine)

LAKE PLACID — For now, two major races are still on the calendar in this village for 2021, the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon on July 25 and the Lake Placid Marathon and Half on Sept. 12. The same race director for both events says if state health officials allow Ironman to be held here, he may use some of the same COVID-19 restrictions for the marathon.

“We’ve got some pretty impressive distancing and safety and health protocols in place at other Ironman events that are operating now,” said Greg Borzilleri, race director for Ironman Lake Placid and owner/operator of the Lake Placid Marathon and Half.

Ironman usually brings about 2,500 competitors and their families to town, while the marathon attracts about 1,000 runners and their families. Ironman Lake Placid is sold out, and registration for the marathon opened on Friday, March 12. This year’s Lake Placid Ironman 70.3 triathlon was canceled last year.

Borzilleri moved the marathon from its typical date — the second Sunday of June — to later in the season, with the hope that more pandemic restrictions will ease by late summer and early fall, allowing larger events to be held.

The same is happening around the country. The 125th running of the Boston Marathon, for example, is scheduled for Oct. 11 instead of its usual date on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April.

“We announce the 2021 Boston Marathon date with a cautious optimism, understanding full well that we will continue to be guided by science and our continued collaborative work with local, city, state, and public health officials,” Boston Athletic Association CEO Tom Grilk said on Jan. 26. “If we are able to hold an in-person race in October, the safety of participants, volunteers, spectators, and community members will be paramount.”

In recent years, the Lake Placid Marathon has been a qualifying event for the Boston Marathon and certified by USA Track & Field.

At their February meeting, members of the North Elba Town Council approved the dates for Ironman, the marathon, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk on Sept. 19 and the Lake Placid Classic half-marathon and 10K on Oct. 9. Supervisor Jay Rand stressed that the approval was contingent upon the go-ahead from state and county health departments.

In a letter to the Lake Placid marathon community, posted on Facebook shortly after the town’s approval, Borzilleri was honest that the event still may not happen, and it will all depend on government approval.

“We cannot guarantee that the race will take place on September 12 if these entities don’t allow us to but we are confident at this time, looking at the data and trends, that it is possible,” Borzilleri wrote.

In a March 3 interview with the News, Borzilleri conceded that it’s a gamble. But it’s no more of a gamble than most event coordinators for Lake Placid’s major events took in the 2020 in the early months of the pandemic. Many early-season events were pushed to late summer and early fall, only to be canceled due to COVID safety guidelines.

“We’re hedging our bets, but hopefully it will work,” Borzilleri said. “And if we have to do restrictions, we’ll do restrictions.”

Even during a non-pandemic year, Ironman is a hot-button issue with many locals who have grown tired of the crowds and traffic. Yet it brings millions of tourism dollars to the local economy. Borzilleri said the restrictions Ironman has put in place at other races may work well in Lake Placid.

“Hopefully the townspeople will see it and say, ‘Hey, they’re being careful and being cautious,'” he said. “It’s all up in the air right now whether we’re even going to operate those two events, but there’s mechanisms in place to make it as safe as we possibly can.”

Borzilleri said he could use some of the same health and safety measures Ironman has put in place at current races for the marathon. They would most likely be used at the Lake Placid triathlon if the race is allowed to go ahead.

In addition to the spectators lining the streets and roadways and start and finish lines, and people running the multiple aid stations and transition areas, there are many times when athletes are in close proximity to others, not least of which during the competition itself. The race begins with more than 2,000 people swimming at the same time in Mirror Lake during the 2.4-mile course.

Last summer during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ironman instituted what it calls the “Return to Racing Guidelines” and says they can reduce total touchpoints and interactions by 90%, compared to the 2019 racing standards. The guidelines are in place during the entire Ironman experience, from the time the athletes pick up their packets through the post-race functions.

The new guidelines focus on the five areas below.

– Enhanced hygiene: There will be “enhanced” cleaning of common venue areas and the availability of hand sanitizer, hand washing stations and disinfectant wipes at the venues. In addition, Ironman will provide staff and volunteers with face coverings and gloves, which are required when working in all the athlete-facing areas. Athletes will be also be provided with face coverings at packet pick-up, and they are expected to wear them at the event venues.

– Screening and education: Staff and volunteers will be trained on appropriate personal health, hygiene and safe support, and they will be required to fill out a pre-race health questionnaire. In many venues, people will be screened with no-touch thermometers, and people with a body temperature of more than 100.4 F will not be allowed to race, work or volunteer.

– Density reduction: Measures will be put in place to space out the athletes and supporting staff in places such as the swim start, transition and finish line. Non-essential functions such as banquets and in-person briefings will also be modified or eliminated.

– Touchpoint minimization: Touchpoints between athletes and staff, volunteers and other participants will be reduce or removed in some areas. And aid stations will be reconfigured to minimize those touchpoints.

– Athlete self-reliance: Ironman will give athletes tips through its Athlete Smart Program to race safely, saying, “Athletes will be empowered to determine their individual level of self-reliance to further minimize interaction and touch-points with race officials and volunteers.” They are also encouraged to “race smart” by carrying their own nutrition and hydration.

Learn more about Ironman’s Smart Program at https://www.ironman.com/smart-programs. For more information about the Lake Placid Marathon and Half, visit https://lakeplacidmarathon.com/.