Usually this time of year, Races2Run.com’s Wayne Kursh would be knee-deep in thousands of registrations and planning race and post-event party logistics for events up and down the state.
But since the onset of Covid, a lot has changed on the charity racing scene.
“My work in the city of Wilmington has pretty much disappeared for now,” said Kursh, who has managed running races in Delaware for 43 years.
“It’s all about the permitting. We can do events with 250 people outside. But we just can’t get permits in places like Newark, Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach. It’s too bad because we could honestly host most of these races live – we know how to do that safely, and our system works,” he said.
In addition to keeping runners six feet apart with masks on until they take to the starting line, Kursh staggers his runners in waves, with a maximum of 25 people per group, to space participants further apart.
Live, in-person races held on one day at a single location are down about seventy percent at Races2Run compared to this time last year.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared. Since the pandemic struck, most fundraising 5K’s, like the Westside’s Superhero 5K/10K which will be held in August, have gone virtual. And many are having great success, in large part depending on the size of the email database an organization can tap into.
If a non-profit has a rich local email list and an ability to tap into a national – or even international – list of potential virtual run participants, Kursh says the payoffs can be enormous. Virtual races essentially can host a limitless number of runners and walkers.
“I had this one guy in Singapore sign up to participate in one of our virtual races, and he emailed me to ask if he would still get the t-shirt. And I said, ‘Sure. I’ll mail you a t-shirt if you went to that much trouble to find a virtual race in Delaware.’”
In August, Races2Run will host 11 races in the state, of which only three will take place at one site on the same day. Races2Run has 17 races scheduled in Delaware for September, and just six are live races.
The Westside Way 5K/10K was originally scheduled to take place in June in Wilmington. But when organizers couldn’t get a special events permit, they pushed their event to August and changed it to a virtual run/walk.
Registrants choose their event (5K or 10K) and can walk or run any day in August. Participants will use a fitness watch or smartphone app to track their distance and time, take a picture of their record and submit that to Races2Run.com.
Westside Way race planners never considered the notion of canceling altogether because the 2020 run represents two important milestones in Westside Family Health’s history.
“This is the 30th anniversary of our race, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of our president and CEO Lolita Lopez. She actually founded the race in 1990, just two years after we opened our doors to families seeking quality healthcare. So, it really has been kind of in alignment with her succession,” said Westside Family Healthcare External Affairs Manager Leann Marcinek.
For the last several years, the race has had a superhero theme, which is well-suited for social media posts during this virtual race year.
“We came up with is more or less as a play on the words “healthcare heroes” well before Covid, and the staff and other supports just have a lot of fun with it. Some physicians come in tutus or other silly costumes. And then you have your usuals. One guy comes every year and dresses up like the Hulk,” said Marcinek.
Like other nonprofits, Westside Health has worked hard to maintain the support of loyal sponsors even while taking fundraisers online. This is the second year Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate has sponsored the Westside Way “Superhero” 5K/10K.
“As an organization, we feel it’s important to give back to the nonprofits in our marketplace. Together we have the common goal of investing in the wellbeing of the community and making it a better place to live and work,” said Justin Kierstead, director of marketing at Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate (PSRE).
Patterson-Schwartz’s support of nonprofits often stems from personal involvement by employees and sales associates. That personal engagement leads to the sponsorship of dozens of events a year by the Patterson-Schwartz Foundation.
Kierstead says it’s important for businesses to continue to support local nonprofits even when corporate visibility might not be comparable to live events. PSRE plans to encourage people company-wide to sign up to participate in the virtual 5K/10K as part of team PSA Power.
“COVID has presented numerous challenges for us all, obviously. But it’s really been surprising how well we’ve been able to connect to organizations that still ask for our support. We’ve actually been really encouraged by the resilience that’s been shown by the community, by the real estate industry, and by our agents,” said Kierstead.
Races2Run’s Kursh is optimistic that the Westside Way run and all of his virtual races will still generate strong registration numbers. “People are still paying $30 or $35 for a virtual event. So they’re basically doing a training run to support a cause. But the virtual events definitely fill a need, and there’s no limit to the number of people who can participate,” he said.
Like everyone, Kursh looks forward to the days when all of his races can once again take place in person.
“I am enjoying my semi-retirement. But with that said, I really miss my work, and I miss normal. I do these virtual races — you don’t get to see the people, you don’t get to hug them. You don’t get to chat with them have a beer afterwards. And I’m waiting for that day to come back, and it will.”