Runners participate in virtual races amidst pandemic (includes video story)

Major annual fitness events like the Miami Marathon and The Disney Wine and Dine Marathon have shifted — at least temporarily — to virtual.

FIU professor and frequent marathon runner Jay Sandhouse details how virtual races work, explaining that runners can set their own routes on their own time. They then upload their results to the virtual marathon’s website and are awarded a medal and T-shirt, just as in a traditional race. Sandhouse said that while virtual marathons are not as fulfilling as running traditional marathons and half-marathons with thousands of people together, they are the “next best thing” for runners.

Hector Arana, owner of iRun & Company Miami has partnered for the past few years with Lululemon for an annual race called the MIA 5K/10K. However, Lululemon withdrew this year, citing concerns over large gatherings during the pandemic. iRun then decided to hold the event virtually and awarded runners with a unique medal to mark the occasion.

iRun also hosts a weekly run in the area near the store that was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic. Arana explained that once folks understood how to keep people safe, they resumed the weekly runs with new regulations. He noted runners are used to high-fiving each other at the end of a run, but now they are expected to celebrate with others at a distance.

Susan Harmeling is one of the organizers of the Gasparilla Distance Classic that takes place in Tampa, which draws around 50,000 attendees annually. Harmeling said that while several organizations have converted their races to virtual for financial reasons, Gasparilla has not had to make the shift. Barring any major setbacks, the Gasparilla Distance Classic is expected to hold its annual race in February, albeit under rules that promote social distancing.

She shared schematics that detail the changes the event is making to keep runners safe, such as not allowing friends and family at the start and finish lines and spacing out the water stations so that no one needs to come into contact with anyone. Runners also have a habit of discarding their empty cups on the street, and this will now be discouraged.

In the case of runners not feeling safe taking part in Gasparilla, there will also be a virtual event. When asked of the possibility of converting the race to virtual-only in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, Harmeling said: “Because the majority of our runners come from this market, we believe we can still have a successful health and fitness expo where runners can take part virtually while still attending the expo to pick up their medals and other goodies.”

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