Runners getting their fix amid pandemic with virtual marathons

Runners getting their fix amid pandemic with virtual marathons


Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many of our favorite sporting events have been put on hold, including some big road races.

But that hasn’t stopped runners from hitting the streets and competing.

They’re able to get their fix virtually.

“I ran my first marathon virtually on April 4,” Rome Free Academy girls cross country coach Matt Downs said. “Races are getting canceled everywhere because of this, so the virtual races are the only remaining option.”

Downs has a goal of running in 50 marathons before his planned retirement in September 2021. And he says the way that he can stay on track is by competing virtually.

“The races mail you a bib, shirt and medal,” Downs said. “You get to pick the day and time to run. And you pick your own course. You just need to cover the distance needed. They’ll give you a range of a couple weeks to get it done.”

Downs said that once you complete the race, you submit your time, race officials will compile a list of finishers as the results. He says that many of the races use the honor system but some require a photo for proof of completion or to download the run from a GPS watch and sending it to them.

Downs says one of the biggest disadvantages of running virtually is that there is no crowd support. “I ran from SUNY Poly to Washington Mills and back,” Downs said. “My wife and baby came out to give me water and cheer. The biggest disadvantage is lack of support in giving out water or Gatorade and you have to bring your own spectators.”

For that marathon, Downs says his time was 3 hours and 45 minutes, “slower than usual, and seventh out of 66 finishers.”

Downs says that other runs will be offered virtually next month, like the Ted Moore 5K at Mohawk Valley Community College and the Erie Canal Half Marathon and 5K at the Adirondack Bank Center.

Some scheduled races, like the 43rd annual running of the Boilermaker, the Old Forge Marathon and the Boston Marathon, have been postponed to the same weekend in September, creating a packed schedule for runners.

“I’m skipping the Boilermaker for the Old Forge Marathon,” Downs said. “That same weekend is the Boston Marathon and that conflicts with the Boilermaker for other runners.”

The coronavirus pandemic not only has caused local races to get postponed, but it has also closed off some worldwide races.

Bill Callahan of the Utica RoadRunners has run all over the globe over the last five years; all to raise money for cancer research in memory of his father. He had a goal to run in all six World Major Marathons. He has completed Chicago, Berlin, Boston and the New York City marathons. He qualified for the Tokyo Marathon and the Abbott Masters World Marathon Championships because of his times running in Berlin and Boston.

But then the coronavirus pandemic broke out and put Callahan’s plans on hold. He said in an article that he has the dates of Oct. 4 and March 21, 2021 already circled on his calendar to complete his goal, give one last salute to his father and close the book on an unforgettable story.

Rome native Nicholas Clifford is a Marine Corps veteran. He’s been running a series of races through the Marine Corps all virtually. “I ran the Marine Corps 17.75K recently and they made the decision to make it a virtual race about two to three weeks before the event,” Clifford said. “They said that runners could be refunded, or transfer their entry to the virtual race and that’s what I did.”

Clifford is training for the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall. His training hasn’t changed, but he says on “race day,” the feel is different.

“When you’re racing with people, you kind of get an adrenaline rush,” Clifford said. “That first mile is packed with people, but when you’re running virtually, it’s just you. You get to pick the time and the conditions that you run in.”

Clifford echoes what Downs said about having to submit proof. “You need to track your time and distance.”

Clifford also says that there are a lot of “non-runners” that are using the virtual running races to get active.


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