It’s going to take a lot more than a worldwide pandemic and a shutdown order from local politicians to stop the New Balance Falmouth Road Race from happening.
Cape Cod’s sporting crown jewel will continue to shine this summer, but in a different way than ever before. The road race’s board of directors announced recently that the 2020 edition of the road race will be a virtual race.
Race organizers posted on their website on April 30 that “The 48th running of the iconic race will be celebrated worldwide as a virtual event beginning August 15 – on the birthday of late founder Tommy Leonard – and concluding on August 29, with runners covering 7 miles in their own neighborhoods any time during that period. With the Falmouth Board of Selectmen implementing a “no large event” policy through the end of August, race organizers have designed an experience for everyone to have fun while staying fit and focused on a goal this summer.
“Registration will open on May 18, and the first 5,000 to enter will be guaranteed a spot in the 2021 New Balance Falmouth Road Race. Further details on the 2020 New Balance Falmouth Road Race “At-Home Edition,” including registration information, personalized athlete interactions, gift bags, contests, and virtual content, will be announced soon.”
FRR President Scott Ghelfi said that the road race would have much preferred to have a “regular race” this year, but they were exploring options, such as a virtual race, before the board of selectmen banned large gatherings. Options such as postponing the date to later in the year were also considered, but in the end it was determined that following the “virtual race” blueprint, something that Disney Races have implemented for several years for its running community, was the best decision for 2020.
“This way people can still do the race from home and be a part of the tradition of Falmouth, can still get their bibs and items, and the community that we’ve built will be able to do everything together, even if we’re not in the same place,” Mr. Ghelfi said. “There are a lot of races that do it...a lot of races are getting canceled this year, and they’re pivoting.”
Mr. Ghelfi said that the possibility of postponing the race until sometime in the fall was discussed, but it was determined that doing so did not guarantee any certainty that a 2020 race would be held.
“Who’s to say that the ban wouldn’t be extended. You just don’t know. There wasn’t any surety there,” he said. “Choosing the virtual path is the safest, surest path at this point.”
Road Race Director Dave McGillivray pointed out that postponing raised even more questions for the organizers. Would there be an elite field, and how would they bring them in? What would the weather differences demand? Most importantly, he noted, would it even be safe to do.
McGillivray said that “extraordinary times” call for extraordinary solutions, and that the one that Falmouth has decided is a great one, in his eyes, one that he used personally just a few weeks back. The longtime director of the Boston Marathon said that rather than sit out Patriots Day for the first time in 47 years, he held his own virtual Boston Marathon that day, running a 3.7-mile loop around his neighborhood in North Andover seven times to keep his personal tradition alive.
“I think it opens up a lot of possibilities for people to get creative and have fun with it,” Mr. McGillivray said. “I’ve been saying, ‘your game, your rules,’ so people can run their races this year.”
Mr. McGillivray said that he understands the heartbreak that runners might be feeling by not lining up in Woods Hole and running their beloved course, but that the road race is about more than just running a race.
“It’s about philanthropy, it’s about the streakers, the runners who run consistently, and the people that just run that one day of the year,” he said.
Philanthropy might be the road race’s biggest purpose. The Road Race raises thousands of dollars each year for a variety of charities, scholarships and grants. By holding the virtual race, Mr. Ghelfi said that the tradition will continue this year. He noted that had the race been canceled that a lot of problems would have arisen for the runners that had already begun to raise funds for their charities of choice. With the “At-Home Edition,” fund raising can still be done for each runner’s own personal version of the road race.
“Our mission is to give back to the community and canceling the race was not an option to us,” Mr. Ghelfi said.
An announcement detailing the ins and outs of exactly how the “At-Home Edition” will work will be made on the road race’s website on Monday, May 11. Mr. Ghelfi said that the Road Race has already purchased $25,000 in gift certificates for local businesses and restaurants as registration prizes that will be awarded randomly.