Runners head for the start line at the beginning of the 2018 Old Port Half Marathon in Portland. Last year’s race was called off because of the pandemic, and this year’s race has been moved from June 5 to Oct. 23. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

If you can run while wearing a face covering, there are two bits of good news.

Road races have returned to Maine and organizers of some of the larger races see the state’s COVID-19 guidelines for Organized Racing Events, released last week, as a path forward to holding their events.

The state’s safety plan for road races recommends using staggered or wave starts and advanced registration to decrease crowding, as well as limiting gathering spots after races. Race organizers also are being advised to avoid busing competitors before or after a race, to make food and beverages available in “grab-and-go” packets, and to consider restricting spectators.

But perhaps the most striking change in Maine road races will be runners wearing masks.

Kate Foye, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, confirmed in an email that “runners are required to wear face coverings during the competition” per both the road race guidelines and the current executive order on mask wearing in public places.

On Sunday, a small group of runners wearing masks took part in the Falmouth 4-miler. Falmouth High track and cross country coach Jorma Kurry finished third in the race.

“It was challenging to wear a mask and I’m not sure once you’re all spread out and you’re outside … I guess I’d want to see more information how necessary (wearing a mask) is,” Kurry said.

Last year, the vast majority of road races in Maine were canceled or became virtual-only events because of the coronavirus pandemic. For road race organizers, the state guidelines provide clarity for what’s needed to hold events.

Bob Dunfey of the Maine Marathon was part of the group of five race directors who had input with state officials on the guidelines.

“I can speak for those who worked with me on the guidelines, we all feel good about our events. No one was squawking,” Dunfey said.

Dunfey began informal talks with the city of Portland a day after the guidelines were released. He hopes to have a formal meeting to approve his permit for the Oct. 3 marathon by early May. If Portland approves, then he’ll move on to getting approval from Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth, the other towns along the 26.2-mile route.

“I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that we’re going to have the race because I need to know I can get a permit,” Dunfey said. “But I feel those can come together, so right now I’m doing my due diligence so we can say in a more explicit way that we can do an event.”

Erik Boucher, the race director for the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon and 5K, Gary Allen and Mary Ropp, co-directors of the Mount Desert Island Marathon and several ultra-distance events; and Jenna Ginsberg, owner of event management and timing service company All Event Sports, also were part of the advising group.

“Now with these guidelines (the state) has very specifically recognized our industry and have been very thoughtful in making it very clear how it can operate,” Boucher said.

High school athletes in Maine were required to wear face coverings during the winter sports season, and will need to wear them during competition this spring. Dunfey and Boucher said they are optimistic that improved pandemic conditions and mass vaccinations could lead to the mask mandate being lifted for road races by the time their marquee events are held in Portland. However, they will base their planning on current guidelines.

Maine’s largest road race, the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K, has announced plans for a virtual race but has yet to say whether it will hold an in-person event. Beach to Beacon, a point-to-point race held in Cape Elizabeth, traditionally is held the first Saturday in August.

The Old Port Half Marathon is set for Oct. 23, after being moved form its original June 5 date. Boucher also is race director for the Maine Coast Half Marathon/5K in Wells and Ogunquit, Sept. 19, and a new event called the Flight Deck Half Marathon and 5K on the runways of the old Brunswick Naval Air Station, Sept. 26.

The guidelines also open the door for smaller races to return, an important step for local charities, Ginsberg said.

“Our small, local races and charities suffered in 2020, those 100- to 200-person races,” Ginsberg said. “So I think the guidelines give hope to all those organizations who need these events to fund raise.”

The Falmouth 4-miler on Sunday had a hard cap of 100 entrants. Kurry, the Falmouth coach, said the field was closer to its 2019 size when 63 people finished. Another small race, the Dash for the Derby 5K, is scheduled for May 1 in Portland with a 100-runner limit.

Races are still likely to be canceled or switched to a virtual-only events. The popular Portland Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K already has been canceled. The Kennebunkport 5-miler, scheduled for Saturday, was denied a race permit by the town.


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