"This year we started planning a bit later because the shop has been busy even during the off season," said Sugarbottom Bikes' Nate Kullbom, Race Director for the Lake Macbride Fat Tire Classic next weekend. "There was never really any doubt we would try to hold the event. In races like this, we are talking about wide open spaces with plenty of room to move about, and almost zero spectators. You may have a fairly large group at the start, but by 5-10 minutes in you will have most people riding solo or in very small groups."
To be sure, the very nature of outdoor events makes them easier to do safely. But organizers aren't stopping there. "We moved to online registration only," said Kullbom, "with packet pickup available almost every day at Sugar Bottom Bikes the week preceding the event. Masks or face coverings will be required right up until participants put the power down on the pedals. This is winter fat biking after all, some people may choose to wear a face covering for the entirety of the event just to stay warm!
"The biggest change is an optional start time window of 2 hours to allow people to start whenever they want and avoid a mass start. Registered racers can organize a time for the fast racers to start together if they want. Typically at a race like the Lake Macbride Fat Tire Classic, 70-80% of the participants are just in it for the experience, and not necessarily racing. "
Last year another early season favorite, the Team Red Shamrock Trail Challenge, was one of the first races to go virtual. "We were one of the very first events that dealt with the shut down," says Race Director John Hall. The Red Shamrock Foundation, normally a busy non-profit supporting young cancer survivors, hasn't been active since. "We suspended all activity since then. When we pulled the plug on 2020 events, the 2021 Trail Challenge was always set to be our next event."
The popular trail run, part of the No Coast Trail Series, is set to return for its 10th edition March 27th in Iowa City's Hickory Hill Park. "It was probably in November of 2020 that we started prepping for the event. It takes a lot of time to ramp up to these things and at the time we hoped that COVID would be under control. If not, we also knew that we could do another virtual event.
fewer volunteers, checkpoints, snacks, beer
"We will have the normal precautions of face mask and social distancing, even though it's an outside event. If necessary we'll stagger the start, although I'm hoping we don't have to go that far. For post race food we will have prepackaged food/drink to grab and go. No homemade goodies like in years past."
There will be sacrifices. "We will have fewer volunteers, checkpoints, snacks, beer," said Kullbom. "A crowd favorite is our beer and bacon station, where some riders have been known to spend 2-3 hours just hanging out. Obviously we'll have to forego that sort of thing this year."
Kullbom agrees that racers are receptive, with early registrations for the Lake Macbride Fat Tire Classic out pacing those from last year. "We have had many people express how grateful they are that someone is still willing to do the extra work and actually hold an event."