Whether racing down the sidewalk, maxing out the treadmill or adding miles on the bike, people around the Valley are refusing to let isolation measures keep them from racing season.
Since isolation efforts began, various athletic events have either been canceled or postponed. For organizations that depend on annual charity runs, opting to move online offers interested participants a way to soak up the sun while still benefiting causes with registration fees.
Two charity races that moved online shortly after COVID-19 began threatening in-person races are Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation’s Shamrock 5K and the Shenandoah Valley Autism Partnership 5K.
Muff Perry is the race director for the 13th annual Shenandoah Valley Autism Partnership 5K, formerly scheduled at Eastern Mennonite University on April 18. Each year, the race raises funds for therapies and scholarships for individuals with autism.
Because the annual event is the primary revenue source for the partnership, Perry said the decision to go virtual rather than postpone or cancel the race was swiftly made.
“We knew canceling just wasn’t an option for us because this is our main fundraiser that helps give us funding for the next year,” she said.
On average, the race sees approximately 1,000 runners on the starting line, but as of the last weekend in March, Perry said less than 300 people had signed up.
Keeping pace with previous years, fastest times will still earn a medal, delivered by mail to runners, who are asked to be transparent and accountable in logging their race information.
An advantage of virtual racing is it opens the fundraiser to a broader collection of participants who previously would be restricted from physically attending on race day. Perry said the silver lining of this is the organization is being exposed to a new world of possibilities through online events.
“With virtual, you’re kind of expanding outside of your area, which is really good. That’s what we want. So, we have family members in other states that are going to participate, and I could just see that based on registration,” she said. “We still want to have a race that’s on-site. It’s just nice to be around people and hang out with your friends. And, we have guest speakers usually come and talk a little bit. We’ve loved that piece. But, we actually were talking about maybe looking at a different time of the year of doing a virtual one.”
VA Momentum hosted a virtual Run, Sweat & Beers race on Friday and suspended further organized racing until May. In a previous interview, co-founder Kevin Gibson said registered racers have patiently obliged to last-minute changes due to pandemic news, but future races have been postponed until late spring because VA Momentum is among the organizations whose purpose is to encourage community gathering, which is unsafe during the new coronavirus outbreak.
“This isn’t a good time to ask people to sign up for things because I think the uncertainty of when this is going to end, for lack of a better term, is so unknown,” he said. “I think people are giving a grace period to races that were caught up in the mix of this while it was happening. … I think that period will start to run out because we’re at the point now that if you can look far enough in advance as an organizer, you should create a plan and be proactive.”
Erik Dart, athletics and special events manager of Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation, coordinates the Shamrock 5K every year to benefit the Harrisonburg Cardinals wheelchair basketball team. Last year, Dart hosted a virtual option for the fall Race to Beat Breast Cancer 5K for the first time. He said the experience helped facilitate the shift online for the Shamrock 5K that has raised over $2,500 this spring, after expenses.
“When we made the initial announcement, we had someone say, ‘Let me know who wants refunds, and I’ll reimburse the benefactor.’ … For someone to come and offer that up, that doesn’t happen all the time,” Dart said.
In virtual racing, participants take to treadmills, open dirt roads or pose in front of the living room TV to complete a set distance and remain plugged into their communities. David Glazer, a chiropractor at Nieder Chiropractic and Rehabilitation, is planning to complete a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon during isolation. Keeping to farm trails and fire roads, Glazer said he is grateful for the opportunity to stay fit and be a positive display for loved ones and clients by running outside.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride the past few weeks with everything going on,” Glazer said. “[It] keeps me motivated to stay fit and active, see people, be involved in a community and set an example for my family and patients.”
Some virtual races are modified opportunities by racing businesses, such as Savage Race’s Savage Anywhere that allows participants four weeks to complete 14 workout challenges from home. Online racing communities have also been connecting across the state for years, such as 2280RUN, which organizes virtual events for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County athletes. Either way, racers everywhere are showing that a physical finish line does not define a race.
For scheduled events that were impacted early on by COVID-19, Dart said the biggest financial losses are pre-ordered medals and shirts, but a number of race supplies can be saved for future programs.
“I think our running community in our area is a very understanding, positive group so … that speaks very highly to the running community we have here,” Dart said.