The Return to Racing

In-person events are returning around the world, including eight of our AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group Qualifying events so far this year (as of 1 April).

To find out what it takes to get marathons running again during the pandemic, got the inside story of how the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in Japan achieved a successful return on 14 March.

The COVID situation in Japan

Japan was one of the first countries to be affected by the pandemic last year and the Nagoya Women’s Marathon 2020 had to pivot at the last minute to an elite-only event that saw 96 finishers.

Hopes that 2021 would see the world return to normal were proven premature, as nearly a year later a state of emergency was declared by the Japanese government in January.

This meant people had to refrain from non-essential and non-urgent outings, restaurants shortened their operating hours, and events had to limit audience and participant size. The declaration was lifted on February 28, as the number of new infection cases gradually decreased. Mask-wearing has never been legally enforced in Japan, but almost everyone wears them when in public.

Reducing race size and risk

This meant that the original Nagoya field size of 22,000 was no longer possible, but they could allow 11,000 domestic entrants.

Due to worldwide travel restrictions, international runners were accepted into a virtual race. After the state of emergency was issued, Nagoya also offered a virtual option to domestic runners, which many accepted, leaving a field size of 5,000 on race day.

The race expo was held over three days as scheduled, open to the public, including participants to collect their race packets.

All runners, volunteers, staff and race officials were required to adopt COVID-19 protective measures including a temperature check before entering, the use of hand sanitizer, and submission of their health record for the week before the race.

Expo visitors were asked to provide their names and contact information in addition to a temperature check and hand sanitization before entering.

Runners stood at socially-distanced markers at the start

To get those 5,000 runners and their 5,000 volunteers to race day, some new procedures had to be implemented.

  • A COVID-19 Control Office was established
  • Social distancing at all event venues
  • Runners started in set intervals and had designated markers to stand on while waiting to begin
  • Covers placed over cups at water stations, all food individually wrapped at refreshment stations
  • All volunteers provided with face masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and additional equipment including gloves depending on their roles.
  • Supporters were not encouraged to gather or cheer on the roadside

A reimagined finish experience

Runners were greeted at the finish line by staff dressed in tuxedo, gloves and masks. They issued hand sanitizer before presenting them with the much sought-after Tiffany & Co. finisher's pendant.

For those who opted to compete virtually, the race window started on 14 March and remains open until 30 April to allow as many as possible to compete.

Just under 5,000 entrants are from Japan and a little over 2,000 are international, demonstrating the global popularity of this World Athletics platinum label women’s only marathon.

A well-heeled volunteer administers hand sanitizer post-race

Positive feedback

Many runners and volunteers shared messages of support and thanks on the organizer's website, underlining just how much the running community has missed coming together at in-person events

“I have nothing but gratitude for holding the race at a time like this," said one. "I would love to participate again next year. I want to say thank you to all the volunteers and people involved in the event.”

Another posted: “I was moved by the kindness of the people of Nagoya when I saw them putting up a board saying ‘Thank you for running’.”

And those who volunteered were also relieved to be back involved in events they had missed dearly: “Last year, only the elite races were held and there were not many opportunities to volunteer so this year, although reduced in scale, I felt the joy of being part of the event again.”

Lessons learned and looking ahead

It would have been easier for organizers to cancel the race and reset in 2022, but they worked hard to find solutions for the challenges and there is a great sense of pride in having kept the race alive, despite it being a challenge to secure sponsors and having a quarter of the usual number of in-person runners.

The status of the 2022 edition will depend on the rules around COVID-19 in Japan, but they believe that some of the policies introduced this year will be here to stay.

As a qualifying event for the AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Rankings, the Nagoya Women’s Marathon hopes that being part of a global marathon initiative will attract more runners to their event in the future as a pathway for female marathon runners to compete at a world championship.

From the 4,651 finishers – 3,510 runners were aged 40+ and 2,686 runners gained ranking points.

Congratulations to everyone involved in making this event happen and to all other race organizers who are overcoming many challenges to allow the global marathon community the chance to return to racing.A little ray of light is creeping back into mass participation events.