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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan races may be virtual, but the running is real

Nov 24, 2020 03:22PM ● By Mariden Williams

Virtual race participants sometimes send the city selfies as well as updates on their run times and goals. (South Jordan Parks and Rec)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

In regular years, South Jordan holds seven races a year—but 2020 is not a regular year. 

When the pandemic threatened to cancel South Jordan's races completely back in late March, the city's Parks and Recreation department found a way to move them online. Now, after introducing the Virtual Race Series, instead of having no races, they have more races than ever before. They've gone from holding a race every two months or so, to holding a race pretty much every week.

"Virtual race" may sound like an oxymoron on the surface, but it works better than you might think. In a standard race, you have a whole bunch of people running down the same course at the same time. In a virtual race, you still have a whole bunch of people running down the same course; just not at the same time. The running is still very much a real-world action, with real sweat and real sore muscles. It's only the planning that's virtual. 

"When it started off, we kind of posted a race route per week that people could run on their own time at any point during the week, and they could send us their times to win prizes," said South Jordan Recreation Coordinator Brad Vaske. "We had anywhere from about 200 to 400 people participate in those weekly from about the end of March all the way through the middle of September." 

Though the exact amount of participation varies according to the event and the weather, that 200-400 range represents a pretty substantial increase over the 100-300 people the department has seen register for past in-person races. 

"What the virtual race series has done is, it's actually allowed us to include that base group of runners, but also expand out and reach people that, you know, weren't necessarily able to attend our events on a single date. We actually have people doing this that have never run in one of our races before," Vaske said. "A lot of them had conflicts—they worked weekends, or they just never had the time to attend one of those events, but they do have time to go out run routes on their own time."

Each virtual race series lasts 10 weeks. Registration costs $30, which gets you access to a new running route shared every week, plus a shirt and a participation medal. Their fall series just ended. Next up is the Turkey Run, which is a standalone event that lasted from Nov. 23-28, followed by their winter race series, which begins on Nov. 30.

Of course, since everything is self-reported, picking winners and distributing prizes works a little bit differently for the virtual races than it does in a traditional race. 

"In the fall series, for some prizes, it would just be a random draw. If you registered for the event, we'd do a drawing of everybody that was registered and then hand out some prizes that way," Vaske said. "The winter series has been less random, more geared towards runners setting goals that they want to accomplish."

As part of registration for the winter race series, participants fill out a Google Docs form with personal goals for their weight, total miles they'd like to run, number of hours they'd like to train, and times they hope to achieve for 5K and 10K runs. Then, when they meet those goals and report back to the city, they're entered into a drawing for prizes from there. As in past years, prizes are donated by local businesses. For the Turkey Run, the prizes include three Thanksgiving turkeys donated by Natural Grocers.  

Just how long the city will host virtual races remains to be seen. 

"Right now, we're slated to keep doing these virtuals all the way into February, and then seeing what happens and what the environment's like—whether we'll still have to keep to just virtuals, or whether we'll be able to go back to on-sites and live events and stuff like that too," Vaske said. "But the virtual race series has definitely created a new area. It’s definitely been interesting seeing the people we've been able to reach with it. Regardless if we go back to live events or not, I can definitely see virtuals still being a big part of our future here."