The races are on.
Actually, they’ve been going on all year, just a little differently.
Two of Vancouver’s bigger running events — the PeaceHealth Apple Tree Marathon, Half-Marathon and 10K and the Girlfriends Half Marathon, 10K and 5K for women — will be held virtually this year. But that doesn’t mean runners won’t be able to run the actual course, said Sherri McMillan, president of Why Racing Events.
“The city is allowing us to mark the course, so that if people had planned to travel to Vancouver to run the course, they can do that any time over the nine-day window so they can do it safely and social distanced,” McMillan said.
The nine-day window for the Apple Tree Marathon runs from Sept. 19-27. The course runs through downtown Vancouver, along the Columbia River waterfront to Wintler Park, back to the Old Apple Tree — “So runners can pay their respects,” McMillan said; the tree was declared dead last month at age 194 — past Fort Vancouver, the Pearson Air Museum before finishing along Officers Row.
Competitors can also run a course of their own choosing or even on a treadmill.
“That’s the beauty of a virtual event — you can run it whenever you want or wherever you want,” McMillan said. “Anywhere in the world. In one of our events this summer, we had someone run their course in Spain.”
Why Racing hosts 12 annual road races, duathlons and triathlons in the Vancouver/Portland area. The first event to go virtual was the Couv Clover Run in March.
“We had only a week of notice before that (live) event couldn’t be held,” McMillan said. “But we already had a component in our races that allowed people who couldn’t make it to the race site to run their event virtually. It was just a matter of us taking the one small component of our events and expanding it to the entire event.”
Since then, Why Racing has hosted nine different events that have drawn nearly 6,500 competitors.
Last year’s Apple Tree and Girlfriends events drew 1,400-1,500 entrants. McMillan said the goal is draw about 800 for each of this year’s virtual events. The Girlfriends event will run from Oct. 11-18 in downtown Vancouver.
McMillan said virtual events provide an opportunity to more runners to participate.
“It allows people to call themselves marathoners, with an asterisk,” she said. “By doing it virtual, you can split the distance up over the nine-day period and run the race on their own terms. A virtual finish line is better than no finish line at all.”
McMillan said to entice athletes to compete in a virtual event, Why Racing has had to improve the amount of swag each entrant receives — hoodies, T-shirts, unique medals, Buff headware, racing sleeves and even tutus for the Girlfriends event. There are also other features that have been added to the events to make them more interesting.
And she reminds that a portion of proceeds go to Why Racing’s charitable partners. The Apple Tree event will benefit the Police Activities League of Southwest Washington and Friends of the Fort. The Girlfriends event will benefit the Pink Lemonade Project and the Jaime Wyatt Miller Cancer Compassion Fund.
McMillan also said $5 of every entrant’s fee will go to the Northwest Emergency Fund to help those impacted by the recent fires in the region.
“I think all of us who run love the outdoors and running in the forest,” McMillan said. “We’re feeling their pain.”
McMillan also said that kids 12 and under can run the 5K race at both fall events for free. Competitors ages 13-17 can run for half price.
“We’ve been hearing from the adults about how these events not only give them a sense of accomplishment, but also help them deal with the feelings of anxiety and isolation of the past few months,” McMillan said. “Well, just imagine how the kids feel. To see kids do these events, with their parents drawing finish lines in chalk, it’s cool to see.”
McMillan longs for the days of big crowds of runners flooding city streets. But she hopes these virtual events fill a part of the void.
“A lot of other events have opted to postpone until 2021,” she said. “But we wanted to give people a way to stay active. We have a lot people working hard to keep these events going in whatever way we can.”
Virtual race facts
PEACEHEALTH APPLE TREE MARATHON, HALF MARATHON, 5K
When: Sept. 19-27.
Where: Start/finish at Officers Row, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver.
Cost: Adults: $55 for 5K, $80 for marathon, half marathon. Ages 13-17 half price. Ages 12-under free for 5K.
GIRLFRIENDS HALF MARATHON, 5K, 10K FOR WOMEN
When: Oct. 11-18.
Where: Start/finish at Vancouver Waterfront Landing, Vancouver.
Cost: Adults: $60 for 5K and 10K, $80 for half marathon. Ages 13-17 half price. Ages 12-under free for 5K.