Sneakers strive for success with virtual races

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March 2020 is a month most of us will remember forever, and not fondly. As pandemic restrictions began, road and track racing quickly became a thing of the past, as race after race was cancelled. After the initial shock and disappointment set in, the “new normal” began to take shape.

The Salt Spring Sneakers responded immediately as protocols were enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All group workouts were halted. Individual members chose to continue running or walking either solo or with family members. We consider ourselves fortunate to have had leadership that allowed for outdoor exercise and a healthy lifestyle to be maintained in spite of the declared emergency.

Race directors and organizations scrambled to keep athletes engaged. The idea of “virtual races” materialized and soon spread around the world with a variety of challenges. Participants are given specific directions and submit their results via sport-watch/GPS uploads or a selfie and their watch face with the time it took them to run their route of choice, based on the parameters of the specific event.

The first Sneaker to take part in such a race was coach Susan Gordon. She had converted her running program back to racewalking when the shutdowns began, a tactic that allowed for de-training for intense competition yet staying fit.

During the month of May, Athletics Illustrated’s Global Virtual One Hour Race added a racewalk division. Gordon entered and won the women’s division, walking eight kilometres in the allotted time. Funds raised went to a Victoria food bank.

In June, a number of Salt Spring Sneakers competed in the Athletics Illustrated Virtual 5K Relay. Team members ran strong, completing their distance at either Portlock Park or a suitable route of choice.

Among several divisions included with the race, Richard Hayden topped the men’s entries with a stellar time of 18:54.

Melanie van Soeren was the second female overall in 19:14, finishing behind Olympian Natasha Wodak of Vancouver. Wodak also won the age-graded division of the race, which uses a formula to determine a performance percentage based on the ratio of the approximate world-record time for your age and gender divided by your actual time.

Gordon was the third female overall in 21:31 and second in the age-graded division with 86.15 per cent.

The top five Sneakers’ times counted for their second-place team result. Those runners included Hayden, Gordon, Melanie van Soeren, Eric van Soeren and Duncan Elsey.

Eric Ellis, Marion Young, Marcia Jansen, Gillian McConnell, Anna Ford, Catherine Bennett and Julie van Soeren rounded out the enthusiastic team of Salt Springers.

On July 1, Gordon ran in the Big Fun Run Series Canada Day Challenge, completing 5K on the road in 21:55. She won the overall female division for this event, and once again funds raised were donated to food banks.

Given the cancellation of the Vancouver Island Race Association Series in March, a belated recognition for the 2019 MVP was awarded to Ellis, for his top club performance that earned the most overall points for the Sneakers that year.

While B.C. Athletics, Athletics Canada and Via Sport B.C. have all sanctioned a “return to sport,” it is unlikely that any of our favourite races will be returning in the foreseeable future due to the complexities of putting hundreds or thousands of people together on a starting line.

However, as much fun as competition is for certain runners, it is not the sole reason we run. The opportunity to be outdoors, stay fit and keep us healthy and engaged with the world in a kind and productive manner is more important than ever.

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