Virtual running races in Colorado during the coronavirus outbreak

The running community has taken a major hit because of coronavirus restrictions this spring, a time of year when the race calendar normally is ramping up and runners are itching to lace up their racing shoes.

Runners who thrive on the energy and spirit they find at races suddenly are on their own because of cancellations or postponements. Companies that put on races, and the charities that count on them for financial support, also are hurting.

The Bolder Boulder Memorial Day 10K was rescheduled for Labor Day. The Cherry Creek Sneak, which was to have been run April 26, was postponed; a new date has not been set. Likewise, the Colfax Marathon, which was scheduled for May 17, is waiting on the city of Denver for a new date.

A few other races that had been planned for the spring now are going virtual, so runners can still have the sense of belonging that comes with racing while benefiting the charities that depend on those races. Demand for assistance from some of those charities has grown because of COVID-19.

“Most of our charity partners are seeing between 30 and 70 percent increases in demand for food and supplies, and opportunities for them to bring in funds have declined significantly,” said Michelle Bettis of 3W Races, a company that puts on 50 community races a year across the metro area that all have “charity partners.” So far, two of their spring races have been converted to virtual runs because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Virtual races have become a thing in recent years, so much so that Running USA, an industry trade association, added questions about virtual runs in its annual U.S. Running Trends Report released last month. Of the 3,500 runners who responded to the survey, 26% had participated in a virtual race in 2019; 33% of those said they were motivated to participate for “good swag,” while 28% said their motivation was supporting a charity.

That, of course, was before the coronavirus. Now, virtual runs are providing a way for organized races to salvage something from events that could not take place in person.

“It really does help,” said Michelle DelPiccolo, whose company helps put on the Miles for Smiles 5K for the Two Angels Foundation, which provides adaptive cycles for children with special needs. “The virtual run, people might think it’s not that big a deal, but it’s going to help these charities because they do count on this fundraising.”

Here’s a short list of virtual races happening over the next few weeks, along with a description of the charities that benefit from them.

Spring Fling Prairie Dog half marathon, 10K and 5K

This was supposed to have taken place on Easter Sunday in Arvada. Now it’s all virtual, and runners can report their results. “We are going to have a virtual-race-results reporting option open from April 12 until April 30,” Bettis said. “You run your distance, you log into your RunSignup account, you click on virtual results and it posts live to the results page.” You’ll still get a race T-shirt, and if you do the half marathon, you will receive a medal. The race supports Community Table, a non-profit Arvada food bank. Runners can make donations when they register.

Cinco K Mayo 5K 

This race, a benefit for the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, was to have been run May 3 in Washington Park. The physical race has been canceled, but there will be a virtual race option, and everyone who previously registered for the race has been automatically switched to the virtual option. Shirts and finishers medals will be mailed later.

Furry Scurry

OK, it’s less a race and more of a fun run and dog walk that benefits the Dumb Friends League, but it’s going virtual this year, too. The walk typically draws 12,000 people and 5,000 dogs, according to Dumb Friends League. It was scheduled for May 2 in Washington Park. “Just because we won’t be walking together doesn’t mean that we aren’t walking for the same reason — to help end pet homelessness and animal suffering,” the race website encourages participants. “Enjoy our livestream and special virtual Furry Scurry coverage on Saturday, May 2, and then get moving with your friends and family — furry or not!”

Colorado Women’s Classic

This is another 3W Races event that is held annually on Mother’s Day (May 10) in Westminster. Both genders can participate, but the focus is on women with 5K, 10K and 10-mile options. This year, it will be all virtual. Finishers get T-shirts, and 10-mile finishers get medals. The charity partner is Growing Home, a Westminster non-profit that provides food and other services for underprivileged families.

Miles for Smiles 5K

This Arvada race, which was scheduled for May 17, benefits the Two Angels Foundation, which was founded by a couple who lost two children at the age of 5 because of a rare form of muscular dystrophy. After the race every year, there is a short Adaptive Dash for kids who have benefited from the foundation. “Everybody got to see where their money was going,” DelPiccolo said. “It’s a great foundation, a great cause. They have other fundraisers through the year, and they get some grants, but those bikes are expensive.” This year it’s all virtual, and runners will have until June 15 to post their results. Everyone participating will get a race T-shirt.

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Virtual religion: Denver houses of worship go online after coronavirus closures

At Central Presbyterian Church last Sunday, Pastor Louise Westfall stood in a strangely empty sanctuary, lit a candle, and delivered a livestreamed service.

“If you’re watching via Facebook, check in regularly during the broadcast. Those little emojis scrolling up the screen provide a way to connect with virtual touch,” the pastor told her distant — and social-distancing — congregation.

Elsewhere in downtown Denver, a kansho, or bronze bell, sounded outside the Denver Buddhist Temple, the traditional start to a Sunday dharma service. But last week’s service there, too, was digital, posted to the temple’s Facebook page, Instagram account and YouTube channel.

On Wednesday night, Chris Griggs , pastor of Denver Baptist Church, clipped a lapel microphone to his polo shirt, sat at his dining room table, placed a Bible in front of him, and looked into a camera.

“Our mission statement isn’t dependent on a building. We don’t need these things to make disciples and advance the Gospel,” he said early in a 28-minute video that was later uploaded to Vimeo.

Across the city, state and country, houses of worship have been closed indefinitely almost overnight, victims of a global pandemic unlike any in recent history. But with the tools of modern technology at hand, faith leaders soldier on, delivering the wisdom of ancient texts via Facebook, Zoom, Vimeo and YouTube.

“We never thought that we would be doing first-century church — in other words, church at homes — through digital connections, in the way that we are right now,” said Pastor Marty Lettow as he adjusted his glasses and spoke, via video, to members of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on Wednesday night.

At Temple Sinai, Rabbi Rick Rheins hosted a virtual class on the Talmud on Thursday afternoon. Congregants joined via Zoom, allowing them a break from the solitude this bizarre week brought. The chat was interactive, with laughter and heartfelt hellos and jokes about who wasn’t wearing pants.

“My goal,” Rheins said then, “was for everybody to be able to share and see each other. Because one of the parts of being in isolation is that we feel so alone.”

That is especially true for elderly Coloradans who live alone and for whom religious services are a source of great comfort. Online services, for those with the technical know-how to access them, can be a connection to a familiar and friendly weekly routine that has been dramatically upended this month.

“It’s hard to adjust,” said Iman Jodeh , a spokeswoman for the Colorado Muslim Society, which streams services on Facebook. “People look forward to going to the mosque. It’s a place of solitude and sanctuary and when that’s taken away from a lot of folks, it’s hard. Especially for people who are there every day.”

In an attempt to replace that solitude and sanctuary, leaders of congregations large and small, of faith systems Western and Eastern, sat or stood in front of a camera this week and did what centuries of their predecessors did before them, during times far more trying than this. They read aloud holy words from holy works.

Some did so in sacred spaces that now sit empty. Others spoke from a home office or living room couch, the sounds of their children and dogs in the background. Still others did so from a kitchen table or back patio. But all carried a similar message: We, as a people and a religion, have survived worse, and we will survive this.

“There is a fear around us right now,” said Father Sam Morehead during a pre-recorded Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. “There is this unknown disease, the coronavirus, in our community. We should be very prudent, very smart in how we handle our health, but we must not be ruled by any fear. Not ever.”

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