As a long time runner and a logistics lover, being the race director for the museum’s 5K is one of my favorite job duties. The planning for the 4th annual race started last April, registration opened in July, medals were ordered, shirts and posters were designed, partnerships were formed, we sold out before early bird registration ended, and then…..coronavirus hit.
I remember talking to a friend at a group workout on March 11 about the chaos that was starting to build and how I didn’t know what would happen to the 5K. She prophetically asked “can you make it virtual?” I didn’t know the answer at the time, but the seed had been planted deep in my brain. The following day, I asked my boss if she was ok with us taking the race virtual. She said yes without hesitation and we were off to the (virtual) races.
By the end of the day I had sent an email to all of the racers telling them of our plan to go virtual and I waited. I was waiting for blowback, for outrage, for people to tell me I was overreacting. But none of that happened. While about 10 people requested refunds, not a single person was angry about this decision and at that time I knew we could make this work.
Our race is known for amazing medals, sweet shirts, awesome prizes and incredible hand-designed trophies for the top racers. With the blessing of all of our partners (Mystic Makings, T Rex Darr – LMT, Allied Capoeira League Gainesville, and 352 Woodworks) all of these race facets were still able to happen!
Racers were all asked to submit “proof of race”. This could be a selfie (double entry if dressed as a pollinator), a screen shot of their phone with the distance, or, for those not great with technology, a properly distanced virtual pinky promise. With that submission, they were entered into the raffle for prizes. With 31 prizes people had about a 10% chance to win! That’s way higher than the odds when prizes are only given to top 3.
On the Friday before the race was originally scheduled, Natural Area Teaching Laboratory (NATL) graciously allowed me to mark the trail portion of the race course. I didn’t think a lot of people would use this option, but wanted to give people the chance to run these awesome trails.
When the submissions started pouring in I was overwhelmed with gratitude and my heart was full as I received pictures of people dressed as pollinators, families getting out of their houses to run/walk/ride together, and kind emails from people happy that the race could still go on. Many people used the NATL course, while others used a route right outside their front door. We had one submission come on all the way from Brazil. Running really does unite us!
By the end, 291 of the 326 registered racers submitted their proof. When I decided to take this race virtual I told myself to be happy if half of the people participated. With 89% participating I am truly over the moon.
As we all navigate these uncertain times, I hope we all act with as much kindness and patience as all of these racers. Stay safe and wash your hands,
Amy D. Hester
5K Race Director and Volunteer Coordinator