8 Tuff Miles 02

Runners race away from the starting line in the 24th annual 8 Tuff Miles road race, held in February 2020, before the coronavirus spread.

Just weeks after the World Health Organization’s March 11 declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, 8 Tuff Miles Race Director Peter Alter knew that the 25th anniversary of the race, then nearly 11 months away, was not going to happen. The 24th 8 Tuff Miles road race took place Feb. 29, less than two weeks before the severity of coronavirus’s spread became apparent.

“In my head I knew as early as April that even if they came up with a vaccine tomorrow, it has to be administered everywhere, and after that are people going to feel safe about grabbing a cup of water from someone’s hand on the course, or fresh fruit at the finish line?” said Alter about his decision to cancel 2021’s 8 Tuff Miles. “We had 1,085 cross the finish line this past February. Would we have that many, or more, feeling comfortable enough to participate? I knew participation levels would fall off dramatically.”

Over the past 24 years of coordinating the popular Cruz Bay to Coral Bay road race, Alter has found that 1,000 entries is the event’s “sweet spot,” where entry fees cover the cost of putting on the event as well as college scholarships awarded to top finishers and donations made to various community organizations. The race founder questioned whether it would be worth it to close the island’s main thoroughfare, Centerline Road, for the few hundred runners who might be interested in a 2021 race — if gatherings of that size would even be allowed by then. Friends of Alter’s suggested sending runners out in heats, but that would extend the race from three hours to upwards of eight or nine hours, far too long to expect volunteers to man water stations and certainly too long to keep Centerline Road closed to traffic.

The pandemic isn’t the first major challenge Alter has faced as 8 Tuff director, but it’s perhaps the most difficult hurdle to try to overcome, he said.

“In 2018 after the hurricanes, we knew what we had to do to recover, whereas now our hands are tied,” said Alter. “In 2018 I said I was going for a run on the 8 Tuff Miles date if anyone wanted to join me, but now I can’t even say I’m going to do that because we can’t gather in a big group. So, what am I going to do on the last Saturday of February? I don’t know.”

Alter won’t even say for sure if 8 Tuff will happen in 2022. Planning for the event including the design and purchase of 8 Tuff T-shirts and finisher medals begins in May.

“It’s sad that the brakes have been put on and we’re just in a holding pattern right now,” said Alter. “We can’t do a darn thing and it’s very frustrating.”

Though Alter laments the cancellation of 2021’s 8 Tuff Miles and the far-reaching effects this has on the vacation accommodations, restaurants, and shops that usually benefit from the influx of visitors, he remains grateful that the race, which has grown to become a “well-oiled machine,” was able to take place this year.