Running virtually: When there’s a will, there’s a way

Sparta. With physical races banned due to COVID-19, area runners are finding other ways to challenge themselves.

Sparta /
21 Jul 2020 | 11:47

Runners are a unique breed. They willingly go out, in all kinds of weather, to pound the pavement, hit the trails or track, and partake in races of varying distances and over all kinds of terrain.

Enter the coronavirus, and these races they love so much came to a screeching halt. Even the iconic Boston and New York City marathons were scratched. So what can they do to perpetuate the sport they love so much and continue to compete? Virtual races, an app called Strava, and group runs, at distance, aren’t the same -- but they’re the options.

“I’ve done three virtual races and one virtual challenge,” said Laura DeLea of Sparta. “The virtual races I did with a team in my attempt to stay motivated and to keep my miles up. We had some fun with it, but it’s just not the same as a real race. Although we go to races to do the best race we have in us, we also go for the comradeship and social aspect with our teammates and competition. Pushing that run alone in a virtual is rough.”

DeLea has run in national USA Track & Field championship races around the country each year, all of which were canceled for 2020.

“To say the least, I’m very disappointed, but we keep going, keep training to stay healthy,” she said. “We are blessed that our ability to go out for a run was not interrupted through all of this.”

A first-ever 5K is virtual

Maureen Block of Stillwater participated in the Virtual 5K Run/Walk for Family Promise of Sussex and Morris counties. Believing in the cause and wanting to do something positive and active, this was her first-ever 5K.

“I have no comparison to an actual race, but I didn’t feel very connected to the cause, as I received no individual communication from them other than a quick email thanking me for my donation,” Block said. “When they put together a video, my upload to them was not included (this was not a big issue for me just a small disappointment because I did not run for recognition and I do believe wholeheartedly in the cause).”

Block used her Fitbit to clock her distance and time.

Kevin Higgins, who, along with his wife, MaryEllen, owns the area’s only running store: Runner’s Haven, in Randolph. He isn’t a fan of virtual races, but, said his wife, “He’s competing through the Strava App.”

The app tracks people’s runs — distance and time — through GPS, so Higgins takes a portion of someone’s run and challenges himself to beat their time.

Chris Black, of Andover, and his son, Patrick, wanted to do something special with running friend, Dan Holdt, of Hampton, for his birthday.

“We did a 10.5-mile run for Dan’s birthday,” Black said. “It’s wasn’t a virtual, just our COVID running group, which consists of my son, myself, Dan and Dan’s friend Rick. We’ve been running every morning five to six days a week since mid March. We have not signed up for any virtual runs. As someone who has done many large races, I can’t really get into the virtual concept.”

Bill Bosmann of Sparta has participated in some group runs at distance.

“With everything being shut down and so different, it’s great to get out and see and talk to fellow runners,” he said.

Hundreds of area runners look forward to the annual big marathons. Many push themselves to hit the qualifying time for their age group to be able to run the Boston Marathon and the New York City marathon, which one can participate in if chosen through a lottery system, is another favorite.

“I think Boston being moved to September and canceled again must be heartbreaking to people who qualified,” Black said. “New York being completely canceled so far ahead of time is also frustrating. I understand the amount of people and foreign runners traveling to New York City is concerning but there should have been an attempt to conduct the race with maybe just US runners and spread people out. By canceling and offering entries to the affected 2020 runners in the coming years, it makes for an already difficult race to get into, nearly impossible”

“It’s a shame that the largest marathons in the world were canceled, and for those of us avid runners this was crushing,” DeLea said. “Whether we run them or cheer for our talented friends who run them, it’s a big part of each year in a runner’s life not to mention the Olympics being postponed. Those athletes work so hard.”

“It’s a shame that the largest marathons in the world were canceled, and for those of us avid runners this was crushing. Whether we run them or cheer for our talented friends who run them, it’s a big part of each year in a runner’s life not to mention the Olympics being postponed. Those athletes work so hard.” --Laura DeLea