Stepping Up for a Return to Scalable, Smart Events

Industry veterans Andrea Dowdy and Creigh Kelley worked with Colorado officials to create COVID-era event guidelines, taking care to make them practical and useful to events nationwide

Update: On Friday, August 14, Creigh Kelley shared that the final guidelines had been approved by Denver officials:

Kelley stated:

“For all of my fellow event professionals, I’m excited to announce a ‘win’!

All of you that have labored to fashion a workable solution with your respective permitting institutions intimately know it is a treacherous pathway, filled with obstacles (reasonable and unreasonable). Andrea Dowdy and I have felt your pain.

Today, after over three months of work with the City of Denver, our Guidelines were vetted and accepted and many of you contributed to our success. So, a huge ‘Thank You.’ We can do this!”

Read the approved Denver Guidelines here

Original story, July 7, 2020

DENVER – After three months of dedicated research, study, conversation and collaboration within the running industry and most pivotally, within Colorado’s governmental bodies, two longtime running industry leaders and Running USA members were able to release a set of state guidelines for resuming endurance events, guidelines they hope can be useful to event production professionals nationwide.

Andrea Dowdy and Creigh Kelley, the CEO and race director of Denver’s Colfax Marathon, shared with us the story of the guideline creation process, which has resulted in the document all are invited to access here

The guidelines link will continue to be updated as needed if situations change, as has become the normal during the time of coronavirus. Post-race festivals and close pace groups will be a thing of the past, but events must find a way to operate safely and at scale if they are to continue.

“We absolutely want people to be able to use this, which is why we’re sharing it widely. It would mean a lot to us if people don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Kelley, who has produced over 1,000 events during his career and was a founder and past board member of Running USA.

“We designed these guidelines thinking of the large events on down to the tiny,” said Dowdy. “If we could do this well, and make it scalable, that was hugely important to us. And we had a key test: for our own event, can we live with what we recommended?” The Colfax Marathon’s 15th edition was scheduled to be held in mid-May and was cancelled due to statewide mass gathering bans – that celebration has now been moved to May 16, 2021.

While they sought insight from a national brain trust of esteemed race directors – people like Virginia Brophy Achman, Executive Director of Twin Cities in Motion and a Running USA board member; Jon Hughes, owner of Track Shack and the RD for runDisney events; Dave McGillivray, longtime Boston Marathon RD and founder of DMSE Sports; Michael Nishi, Executive Vice President of Chicago Event Management; and Lonnie Somers, CEO of HAL Sports and a Running USA board member– the guidelines are equally designed with micro events in mind. Races with 1,000 runners or less have the greatest risk of disappearing permanently because of pandemic-forced cancellations.

“From the early days of Running USA, the membership base has included many small events, and one of the goals give them tools to operate in a more efficient and cost-effective way. I had that in mind as we worked on this,” said Kelley. “And more than anything, we love our industry and we want to see it succeed.”

Starting with government staff and officials they knew in the Denver mayor’s office and city Office of Special Events, the net widened to include the office of the Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, and the public health department. Hours were spent meeting with officials and discussing protocols, recommendations and possible new best practices. One of the specifics you may note in the guidelines is that events would start in socially distanced waves of 175 people per time slot – a number that came specifically from the Colorado governor’s office and its statewide guidelines for phased reopening.

One fact that quickly became apparent is that it was vital to have running industry leadership in a trusted advisory role. Another was that you may not have all the immediate contacts needed, but working with those you know to reach key decision-makers is effective, if time consuming.

“If I was going to give any advice, it would be that we’ve got great people at Running USA that are strong leaders in their own states,” said Kelley (pictured with Dowdy at left). “They should make every effort to volunteer to lead the discussion (with government) on running and walking events. Because if they don’t, somebody else will try to figure it out and it won’t be good.”

Another key aspect of the guidelines is the inclusion of a social contract with participants that would be signed off upon registration and re-verified when picking up one’s final race bib. The contract would ask the runner to certify that they will wear a mask (except when actually running in the event), are healthy, will bring a personal hydration source, will not invite spectators, will social distance at the race, and a few other key considerations.

“We were trying to go after this in a way that would make sense to us – but also in a way that would make sense to a runner,” Dowdy said. “They’ll need to understand why it’s important to bring their own water bottle and have variable staggered start times. The social contract puts the onus on all players to contribute to a positive experience.”

They expect that the first Colorado event to use the guidelines will take place in August, with more moving forward in the fall. They’ve also come up with a creative way to encourage a safe social experience for runners post-race. They can be encouraged to join friends in groups of 10 or less after they cross the finish line alone, perhaps even listening to music and relaxing outside at a city park venue.

“We do need to make decisions so there is still fun for participants,” Dowdy said. “Because if we can’t have an event that is robust, safe, and fun, we’re not going to have any events at all.”

Dowdy and Kelley invite race directors to reach out to them to discuss the guidelines and move forward to restarting events. They’ve founded the nonprofit Colorado Running and Walking Event Alliance to help events across the state stay in touch, be informed and collaborate, and plan to hold a first briefing on the guidelines for alliance members later this week.. They can be reached by email at and