This is the month Eric Lerude has circled on his calendar. It's when the president of Race178, a Reno-based race production company, hopes he will again be gathering thousands of people — clad in the latest Nikes, Asics and Adidas shoes — to run a race in Northern Nevada.
Truth is, Lerude's business will have a tough hill to climb if the Reno Running Fest, scheduled for Sept. 12-13, has to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Normally, people would be signing up right now,” Lerude said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “But, people are not because no one knows what's going to happen, so we're not getting the normal amount of entry fee revenues we would be getting.
“I can tell you, if no one signs up, we're going to lose tens of thousands of dollars. Because we won't have the event if no one signs up.”
Across the nation, the economics of the endurance-event business make a public health crisis an especially large hurdle to clear.
This spring alone, more than 5,000 road races, 775 cycling events and 250 multisport events will not happen, according to the New York Times. As a result, racing organizations, big and small, that stage those events are grappling with the fallout of postponements and cancellations.
It's no different in Northern Nevada, Lerude said, considering registration fees produce about 88% of the Race178's annual revenues.
“The endurance event industry is having a very difficult time,” Lerude said. “From the smallest of companies to the big players — the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon — we're all in the same difficult spot trying to figure out when we can go back to putting on in-person, live events. Right now, it's still unclear.”
Lerude said Race178 had to cancel its Leprechaun Race 5K a mere two days before its scheduled date of March 15. Weeks later, as the COVID-19 outbreak spread and shut down any chance for large groups to gather in Nevada, Lerude realized his company had to cancel its signature event: the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey, the popular 178-mile team relay from Reno to Tahoe and back again.
Roughly 240 teams and 2,750 runners had signed up for what would've been the 16th annual RTO on May 29-30, Lerude said.
With RTO, Race178 gave participants who signed up for it two options — a 50 percent refund of the 2020 entry fee, or fully deferring to the 2021 races at no extra cost.
Lerude said that “almost all” people are deferring to next year.
Still, due to deferrals and losing out on “thousands of dollars” in sponsor revenue, Leruse said cash flow will be a challenge for 2020 and beyond.
“We're going to have to put on next year's events without getting any more entry fees,” explained Lerude, noting the company's three-person staff has also taken 25% pay cuts to help stay afloat. “We're going to be adversely impacted to make this all work by the time we're all done.”
In the meantime, while large in-person events remain shelved across Nevada, Race178 is pivoting to host “virtual” races for runners to meander across Northern Nevada.
Under its newly launched Virtual Run Adventures umbrella, the organization recently hosted the first-ever Run-Reno Tahoe, a 105-mile virtual course operated through racery.com that started at the Reno Arch, ran over Mt. Rose Highway and looped around Lake Tahoe, Lerude said.
Participants had a two-week window — May 15-29 — to complete the course. Registration was a flat $25 fee.
The event wasn't just for runners. Any physical activity — from yoga to yard work to golf — could be converted to miles, Lerude said.
The racery.com technology enables runners to record miles daily and track progress on an electronic map of the entire route. When participants reach highlighted locations — Mt. Rose Summit and Emerald Bay, for example — they receive milestone emails with encouraging messages.
Pulled together in three weeks, Lerude said he initially estimated 250 participants to sign up. By the May 21 registration deadline, more than 600 registered.
“There's so much sad news and bad news, and we wanted to create something positive for our community,” he said. “Not only for our running customers, but for the rest of the community as well.”
To that end, Race178 is adding another virtual event, Run Nevada, taking place June 17 to July 8.
Similar to Run-Reno Tahoe, the 408-mile virtual course will run on Highway 50 from the Nevada/Utah state line to Lake Tahoe. Registration opened June 1.
“We don't expect these virtual events to be that profitable, given our costs to create and produce the events,” Lerude said in a follow-up email. “But we are having fun with this concept, and it is so much better than the race cancellation business.”
Notably, Lerude said Race178 plans to donate money received from its Run Reno-Tahoe event to the Community Foundation of Western Nevada's COVID-19 Relief Fund, and money from its Run Nevada event to KNPB Channel 5.