In these trying times of COVID-19 isolation, many people are coming up with new and innovative ways to keep connected and positive.
For nine years, Band on the Run organizers have brought people together for a road race that is both unique and fun. But this year, COVID-19 is putting a cramp on the festivities so race directors have had to get creative.
“It is looking more and more that the race on June 13 is not going to be possible,” said race co-director Justine Brown, due to current restrictions that prohibit gatherings of more than five people. But organizers will not let COVID-19 put a damper on the spirit of the race. They’ll be offering a free virtual race for everyone in the community on June 13—with the option to purchase a VIP package which helps support Community Living Huntsville—while the road race will be postponed until the fall.
In its inaugural year, Band on the Run was called the Huntsville Half Marathon.
The race was the brainchild of Melissa Key, who was the owner of Fitt Gym. She thought that Huntsville needed a half marathon and approached Justine Brown and Rob Horton who were well known for organizing events.
“The three of us, along with Tim Cantelon, put on a half marathon and the saying ignorance is bliss is really true,” said Brown.
The first year saw 330 racers participate, which Brown said was amazing for a new race, but it helped that Huntsville embraces events that focus on the health of the community. In addition to the half marathon, which is 21 km long, the team added five and 10-kilometre distances, which are more popular.
“It was also Melissa’s vision that people could run and hear live music on the entire route,” Brown said.
After the first year, it didn’t make sense to call it the Huntsville Half Marathon, added Brown, “so Rob changed the name to Band on the Run.”
In the years that followed, the popularity of the event grew and it now includes music festival at the end of the race.
“Band on the Run has evolved over the years to be so unique and accessible to people that have never been in a race before, so we work hard leading up to the race so the day of the race is all about celebrating,” Brown said. “We still have all the elements that [are]the backbone and essence of Band on the Run.”
But this year, things will be a little different.
To help people prepare, Jess Adam of LifeSport Coaching had created 5km and 10km training plans, which are free for anyone to sign up for on the Band on the Run website.
Brown said with so many people working so hard—there are more than 300 people signed up for the training so far—they did not want race day to simply pass by, so they created the Virtual Band on the Run.
“On June 13 we are going to have a virtual event, with Band on the Run live streaming,” Brown said.
She is excited that Frances Turk will be joining them once again to do the announcing. “She is a phenomenal announcer and always wears her party pants,” said Brown. “She gets the crowd excited and happy to be there. Frances will be starting the race.”
Musicians will be streaming music as well, so people can have the Band on the Run experience in their own neighbourhood or even on their treadmill.
The virtual event is free and sign up is unlimited, Brown said. Participants will be able to upload their times and get results. “We have all the elements of the actual race,” Brown said. “Participants can even download a bib.”
Fundraising has always been a component of Band on the Run. Although the virtual race will be free, participants can choose to purchase a VIP package which includes an “Alone but Together” t-shirt created specially for the race by Portage Promotionals. Organizers will ship the shirt and participants can wear it during the race. A portion of the proceeds will support Community Living Huntsville, the race’s beneficiary of choice.
(Register for the free virtual event and purchase your t-shirt here.)
Brown said the event usually raises between $12,000 and $13,000 for Community Living, an organization that works hard to provide support and create an inclusive community for people with developmental disabilities.
With a staff of 80, Community Living Huntsville supports over 200 families and individuals, said executive director
Band on the Run provides about 10 per cent of Community Living’s annual fundraising, said Willett. The money is used for the Pathways Program, which provides support for those with developmental disabilities who do not meet eligibility requirements for government funding. It includes assisting people to think about their future, and setting and working on goals to create a full life including housing options, jobs and being a part of the community.
Right now Willett said Community Living is laying low in regards to fundraising and are grateful for any donations they receive.
She adds they are also receiving donations from the community in terms of homemade masks, which are valuable because Community Living has been deemed an essential service and staff still need to visit clients to ensure they are getting what they need to survive during this time of self-isolation.
While the virtual race on June 13 will be something new and original for Band on the Run, it can’t replace the real race. Brown said they are planning to run the road race on Sept. 12, 2020. Anyone who has already registered for the June 13 road race will automatically be included in the Sept. 12 race.
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