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Why YOU Should Run a Virtual Race Series Like Stumptown Cross

By Rick Lovett

When TRL conducted its first virtual race, the Stumptown Quarantine 5K in May, interest was overwhelming. We had more than 300 finishers from at least 15 states and two foreign countries. The Lizard open-division women got into an exciting duel with a very good high school team, and the Lizard masters men had an equally fierce battle with Bowerman.

It was, briefly, a return to…if not normality, something that actually felt like the excitement and joy of the sport we love.

In late September—right about at the normal start of the Stumptown season—I spent a morning at Fernhill. Fog was breaking into sunshine, a nip was in the air, and I was reminded of years of similar mornings watching people warm up for a race. It was impossible not to think what a perfect morning it would be for cross-country.

Fire dangers and extreme smoke delayed this year’s season, interfered with a lot of people’s training, and to some extent put a damper on the usual pre-season excitement, but it’s time to rediscover the enthusiasm.

It’s time to sign up for the Stumptown Cross series, or some similar virtual event, if you are out of town.

Why? Because it’s good for you.

During the COVID-19 doldrums, it’s been easy to fall into depression, malaise, anxiety, and for many, loneliness. Running as hard as you can through Portland’s parks on a fall day is a good way to forget all of these for a few minutes, even if you are alone, with no competitor to but a time someone posted yesterday that you think you might be able to beat. It takes you out of the cruel reality of these times and breathes a touch of normality into your world—and not just for a few minutes, but through the entire week, as results roll in.

More importantly, it gives you something to get energized about. Sure, it’s not a “real” race. But it’s still a race, and it still can be something to get excited about—not just for one week, but for the entire series, all the way into December. And excitement and anticipation are good things. Normal things. Things we want to seek out and cherish. They are emotional reminders not of what we’ve lost, but of what we can still taste now. Reminders that there will be other things to anticipate, cherish, and become excited about in the future. Reminders that this virus has not stolen our humanity.

They are also important for you as a runner. A lot of people will be loath to participate because they are out of shape and likely to post slow times. But, pretty much everyone is out of shape. And the only way to get back in shape is to train for something and do something. If you don’t do that, by the time the pandemic ends you may discover that you’ve lost a year of training, and that the climb back to fitness is an unpleasantly long slog. Racing now, even if it’s not a “real” race, offers an opportunity to find a goal, train for it, and move into the winter season much as you would in a normal year, ready to come off it and return to full strength much more quickly next year.

So, sign up and get out there. The more who participate—fast, slow, or in between—the more excitement there is. And as I noted above, it really is the excitement that matters. Both for your state of mind and your incentive to stay fit and prepared for the eventual return to whatever the post-pandemic brings.

What have you got to lose? $2 per race? Maybe I’ll do it, too, even though I no longer run and for me, these will be hikes. That will guarantee that nobody else can be last!

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