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Time Trial Start Allows Road Races To Return In New Hampshire

BOSTON (CBS) - We see it every year. A huge crowd leaving the Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton, beginning that 26.2-mile journey to Boylston Street.

And while Massachusetts hasn't given the green light for races to resume, they are opening in other states, and they're happening safely. The future of road races may resemble what's happening in New Hampshire right now.

"Normally, it's Meb Keflizighi announced at the start of the Boston Marathon. Now, everybody gets to be a VIP and have their own red carpet start," said John Mortimer, a former professional runner and college coach.

Mortimer is the man behind Millennium Running and also the man behind the state's guidelines allowing a return to road races during the pandemic.

"It looks a little bit different because we have to have social distancing. We have to have mask wearing, we have to be safe and responsible," said Mortimer.

The key is utilizing a time trial start used in sports like Nordic skiing or cycling. Instead of one huge group of people shuffling across the start line when the gun goes off, runners go off just a couple at a time.

"We started with one person every 10 seconds. And then, we went to two people every 10 seconds. We've gone up to one person every five seconds, two people every seven seconds," said Mortimer.

Where it used to take a couple of minutes to get 2,000 people across the start line, now it's more like two hours.

The pairs are lined up, socially distanced. They then move to the on-deck area, drop their masks in the bucket, then it's on to the start line.

"So literally, our runners will walk the red carpet while their name is announced and the countdown clock will go 5-4-3-2-1, and they're announced and they run," Mortimer said.

The fastest runners are at the front and the slowest at the back. That helps to ensure social distancing is maintained on the course. And when they cross the finish line, they get a medal and a mask.

Mortimer says the reaction has been all positive from the runners. But will this stick once the pandemic is behind us?

"That's a good question," he says. "Some of our consumers, our runners, have said, 'We hope it never goes back to a mass start; because they enjoy this format. Other runners have said, 'I can't wait for a mass start.' I think we're going to have to learn to adapt to any situation we have."

Since last June, Mortimer has staged 38 races, with more than 15,000 runners. And he told WBZ-TV the feedback has all been positive.

Obviously, the 20,000 people expected to take part in the Boston Marathon in October is a very different undertaking. But the rolling start that the BAA is planning to use is something of an extension of the time trial format being used in New Hampshire.


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