5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. Run!
We shouted our own race countdown together through cloth masks, taking off at a steady pace on a course we selected, on the day and time we chose. There were no officials, megaphones, or starting pistol at this race– just a few friends, my husband, and me. This was a virtual 5K, my first 5K contest ever, the culmination of months of training and transforming from hesitant non-runner to obsessed contestant. Together we ran the Friends of City Park Friends’ Fest 5K during a steamy early evening in late July.
When Friends of City Park announced their first Virtual Friends’ 5K race as one of the week-long virtual activities for Friends’ Fest earlier this summer, I immediately recruited both new and seasoned runner friends as well as my husband (who has also caught the running bug) to join me. We picked a day (Monday) and a time (7 pm) that would work for everyone, registered ($30, a park fundraiser which also gives you an online runner’s bib and medal after racing), and decided we would follow City Park’s suggested course.
The course started in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), continued around the Big Lake, curved behind the Louisiana Children’s Museum (LCM) on Palm Drive, went up and down Roosevelt Drive, down Marconi Drive, and finished with a run past the Peristyle and Cafe du Monde before ending back in front of NOMA.
Two things were uniquely challenging about this race: 1) the heat and humidity of July (low 90s with 80% humidity); 2) staying six feet apart during the first part of the run.
Shortly after our countdown, the eight of us, still wearing masks, spread out into a steady jog around the Big Lake. As it turns out, many other New Orleanians had the same idea. So our steady pace turned into a sprint around the lake to get around crowds as quickly as possible. Huffing and puffing into a mask when it’s already humid outside… Let’s just say our hearts were racing!
Thankfully the crowds thinned out once we left the Big Lake track and headed towards LCM. We spread out and gleefully took our masks off. My pace was much faster than anything I had achieved before, and my heart rate was matching. I forced myself to slow down, guzzle water (my handheld amphipod bottle was a godsend), and even walk a little.
While the masked sprint around the Big Lake wasn’t easy to recover from, I finished my first ever 5K in 38 minutes, my fastest time ever. I achieved a goal (run a 5K before turning 40, and do it in less than 40 minutes), teamed up with friends, and got to spend some quality time in my favorite park. After cheering everyone’s finish, we toasted six-feet apart with post-race beverages, celebrating the beauty of friendship and resilience that thrives in spite of the challenges of the coronavirus.
Why You Should Run a Virtual 5K
Unlike a traditional race, where the date, time, and course are assigned to you, a Virtual 5K allows you a huge amount of flexibility. While some virtual races (such as this one) have a suggested course, most simply tell you to run it anywhere that’s safe. In other words, could run a virtual event around a track, your neighborhood, a parking lot, or even on a treadmill. If the weather looks iffy, you can easily postpone it; you can also join virtual races anywhere around the country.
Running a virtual race is an excellent opportunity for new runners and for anyone intimidated by the competition. Fewer people mean less pressure to stay ahead of the crowd, but of course, it also means fewer people cheering you on. Running a virtual race with friends gives you support as well as safety in low numbers. Running solo? Post your event on social media so friends and family can cheer you on from a distance.
Training for a 5K (or any race) necessitates having a schedule and goal setting on a daily basis. It brings structure, purpose, and success to your day, things many of us are struggling to find and maintain during these trying times. Even if you have a crummy run or sore muscles, you’ll be reminded that you’re making an effort to strengthen yourself– a laudable endeavor that’s definitely very real.
Upcoming Local Virtual Races
Virtual St. Roch Run- Aug. 16-29: A free virtual 5K or 10K that supports the historic restoration of the St. Roch Chapel in St. Roch Cemetery No. 1. The race begins on St. Roch’s feast day. Donations are welcome but not required.
New Orleans Pride Run + Walk- Sept. 4-7: A virtual 5K that supports the PFLAG New Orleans Scholarship Program.
For more information about local races, check out New Orleans Track Club.
National Virtual Races
Run Across America- Fall 5K- Oct. 3rd: Aims to be the largest 5K in US History. Sponsors free registration for teachers.
Gone for a Run: Sponsors a wide variety of ongoing national virtual races (5K through marathon distance) that benefit different charities.