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UPDATE: June 25
Ironman announced it is canceling the event. Read the update here.
This Sunday, June 28, the first major triathlon is scheduled to take place since nationwide shutdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March. Lubbock 70.3, in Lubbock, Texas, is a 30-year-old event (previously known as Buffalo Springs 70.3 until 2019) with a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike, and a 13.1-mile run. As of last weekend, there were 950 registrations, according to race director, Marti Greer—a number that is up drastically from the 500 registered prior to the pandemic, she said.
Locally, the race has received the blessing from the City of Lubbock Mayor, Dan Pope, according to Greer, and the Ironman 70.3 Lubbock event is listed on the city’s website as a “Lubbock Safe!” outdoor event that has been approved for over 500 people.
“If we all work together and follow the best practices that have been laid out by experts [we can do this safely],” Greer said. “We are so proud of our city and the efforts that they have put into watching out for the health and wellness of everyone and being willing to develop a plan, LUBBOCK SAFE, that allows businesses to come back and function in this new normal for our world.”
Lubbock is also in a unique position as a medium-sized town with a population of roughly 300,000 people, located in northwest Texas, over 300 miles from the closest major metropolitan areas of Dallas, Oklahoma City, or El Paso. In fact, Lubbock hosted a girls softball tournament last weekend with 88 teams in attendance and roughly 1,000 players, with social distancing and sanitary measures in place.
For the upcoming weekend’s 70.3, the longtime race directors, Marti and Mike Greer (the latter formerly served as president of USA Triathlon and interim CEO) said they’re instituting Ironman’s “Safe Return to Racing Guidelines” to help mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19. USA Triathlon also has guidelines that have been posted since May for both participants and race directors, and like all U.S.-based Ironman events, Lubbock 70.3 is officially USAT sanctioned and requires either a one-day or annual membership before signing up.
While the list of measures from Ironman’s “Safe Return to Racing Guidelines” is lengthy, some notable precautions scheduled to take place specifically in Lubbock include:
- Health screening of athletes at packet pickup—which will be held indoors at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, where athletes must schedule times to check-in
- Physical distancing—the swim start will be self-seeded with three athletes, separated by six-foot-wide chutes, entering at a time; the bike is one loop, out and back; and the run is a three-loop course
- Digital athlete briefings
- Extra spacing in transition
- Manned aid stations that will only be set up as “grab-and-go” with volunteers only restocking and not handing out nutrition
- A no-touch finish line with extra space provided
Also, as the race has two transition areas, organizers will space out seats on the transportation buses from transition to the start line and require masks for passengers. The city of Lubbock does not currently have a mask requirement in place, and Mayor Pope was quoted as saying that “That’s not on the table for us right now,” in a story last week on everythinglubbock.com.
However, Pope also signed a letter alongside nine other Texas mayors last Tuesday that asked Texans to take the pandemic seriously, saying at one point, “Mixed messaging from many hasn’t helped either, and today we wanted to be very clear with our constituents: The virus is here. Infections are rising. Hospital capacity is filling up.” And ends the letter with “For containing coronavirus, we must all do our part or we will head into an uncertain future that limits our lives. Mask up!”
The statements from the mayors couldn’t have come at a more important time, as the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported yesterday that Lubbock “reported the highest one-day number yet of new COVID-19 infections the city has seen to date.” And went on to say that the total number of cases in Lubbock is now 1,547 (as of June 23). While this may not seem like many in a city of roughly 300,000 people, the big concern is more cases have been now reported in the last two weeks than in the 76 days between March 17 (when the first reported case in the area was confirmed) to May 31, according to a story in everythinglubbock.com. To put it simply, there have been more cases in Lubbock in the last two weeks than in the previous three months combined.
Nationwide, the New York Times reported today that cases in the U.S. have grown in the highest levels since April. They also reported that the state of Texas is considered a hotspot, as a result of a sharp rise in cases since June 14, where new cases went from roughly 1,400 reported daily to yesterday’s reported daily rate of roughly 5,000.
Today, the governor of Texas responded to the national attention his state is receiving for its rise in cases and said on Kbtx.com, “First, we want to make sure that everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitization, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home. Unless you do need to go out, the safest place for you is at your home.”