MISSOULA — The Missoula Marathon reached the 100-day countdown on Friday, and the hope is that it’ll still be run as planned in late June despite the ongoing coronavirus precautions being taken across the country.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Tony Banovich, race director of the Missoula Marathon and executive director of Run Wild Missoula, which hosts the annual event. “We’re hopeful, but yeah, there’s a lot of uncertainty there. I think it’s just too premature for us to make any grand pronouncements one way or the other. We’re going to continue planning as if the race is going to happen. We’ll be putting together a whole separate plan for what happens if the race has to be canceled.”
The June 28 race date is past the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eight-week recommendation of canceling or postponing large-group gatherings until May 10. While that may be a positive, there are still unknowns about how the virus situation across the country will develop as the race draws nearer.
“We’re a little too far out to really have good information,” Banovich said. “There’s lots of change every day as we all see. Lots of changes on what that means with the number of cases, what’s going on in individual states, all those things. But we’re close enough to start feeling the pressures to what that means.”
Banovich started having meetings Monday with the Run Wild Missoula board of directors and with the race committee to talk about what the pandemic could mean for them. There needs to be communication between them and their sponsors whether or not the race goes on. They’re also working on the process to get a permit to host the race.
Should the race be canceled, they’re putting together a plan to communicate the news to the participants in a timely fashion. The meetings will continue for the next two weeks, and Banovich hopes to have a better outlook for the status of the race by then.
“I’m hoping in two weeks we’ll have a better feel for where we’re going to be at or at least maybe some better definition of things,” Banovich said. “I don’t know we’ll have all the answers, but I think we’ll have some much better direction two weeks from now than we have today.”
As for who decides whether the race will be run, there’s a multitude of possibilities. Run Wild Missoula will be working with the Missoula City-County Health Department to evaluate the potentially evolving CDC guidelines. They’ll also consult with their own medical director and have conversations within the board of directors and race committee.
Run Wild Missoula will also need to get a permit for a large group function, which Banovich said the Missoula City-County Health Department could deny or later revoke based on the public health situation. He added the decision could be taken out of their hands if there’s a potential “shelter in place” order in Montana, like in California or Illinois, at the time of the race.
“First and foremost,” Banovich said, “we’ll be considering what public health means to not just our participants and our volunteers but the bigger community picture at large.”
There’s about 3,500 people already signed up for the race, Banovich said. The registration numbers were about 10-15% above average at the same time compared to previous years until the past two weeks, when awareness of the coronavirus increased, he added.
Among the registrants, there are about 2,500 people currently coming from outside Montana, with runners from all 50 states and about eight foreign countries, according to Banovich. He added the influx of people for the weekend brings in over $2 million to the local economy.
“It’s a great thing for the economy,” Banovich said, “but when we look at public health, it’s a two-edged sword there, so that will all be part of the discussion as we evaluate how to proceed.”
Some marathons across the country with a closer run date have already been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. If the Missoula Marathon is still run, it could be attractive for people looking to get out and compete, Banovich believes.
“One of the possibilities out there is if we can continue with the race, it’s going to be one of the first bigger marathons and half-marathons, especially in this part of the country, that’s going to be available,” he said. “If it happens, we think we’ll still come out OK because people will be looking for that type of opportunity.”
The registration fee increase planned for April 1 will be suspended because of the ongoing coronavirus concerns. The fee for the full marathon will remain at $97 while the half marathon will stay at $87 for the time being.