AUSTIN, Texas - In the race to bring special events back to Austin, the Austin Marathon is first to the starting line.
The Austin Marathon announced they have been approved to hold a half marathon and 5k on April 25 with COVID-19 safety measures in place. It will be a sort of trial run for in-person events in Texas' Capital City.
"Just to be able to get on the streets and be able to run, and not have to worry about cars, and have an actual race to the starting line, and have some people around you, I think it's great," said Iram Leon, Austin Runners Club member.
Participants will be limited to 53 percent, and runners will take their marks at spaced-out assigned starting times. This year there will be no finish line festivals and spectators are discouraged.
"Well, you always like the crowd and you like the kind of energy, but that's understandable. We don't want people sitting around," Leon said.
Austin Public Health said they will be monitoring the race to make sure everyone is taking steps to keep each other safe. If people abide by set guidelines, it could help other events in the long run.
That's important for the local economy, as the tourism industry is the third-largest employer in the city. Bringing visitors back to the downtown district is a big piece of the recovery process for businesses.
"So, there's all kinds of benefits when a visitor comes to town for revenue, not only for the city and the hotels, but for other small businesses, live music, and restaurants," said Steve Genovesi, executive vice president for Visit Austin.
Visit Austin said the convention center and other local venues are already starting to see increased interest from event planners for the second half of 2021. "Tech meetings, medical meetings, sporting events, financial, insurance, and so forth, but it's been interesting to see that a lot of the medical conventions, especially, seem to be picking up speed and wanting to go forward," Genovesi said.
Still, when it comes to the return of special events, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
The Austin Center for Events and Austin Public Health will work with each organizer to make sure everything runs safely for the foreseeable future. If COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations spike, even the marathon could be scaled back or made virtual.
Although, runners are hoping everyone will take strides to hit the ground running. "You take it for granted, what a blessing is to be part of real races, and it just feels so good that they're coming back," said Leon.