As the months of pandemic have dragged on and shutdown orders in some form have remained in place in Tucson and Pima County, the social aspect of recreational running has been stifled for nearly a year now.
Through it all, local running guru Randy Accetta and his wife Tia have done their best to maintain the Run Tucson network of training groups and events, but given social distancing guidelines, the cost of insurance, the inability to get permits and, of course, an unexpected fiscal crunch, that has been difficult at best.
“It costs a boatload of money to put on one of these events,” Accetta said. “It’s not feasible at this time [due to COVID], so we’re doing our events virtually.”
Virtual runs entail signing up for a race and running it in a certain timeframe wherever one happens to be. Posting results is largely on the honor system in lieu of having electronic chip timers that are de rigueur for on the ground events.
The benefits of virtual racing include motivation for runners who might otherwise remain indoors, financially supporting the local running club and of course, the T-shirts, medals and other swag associated with racing.
In order to run an in-person race, Accetta usually has to get permission from multiple entities or jurisdictions, which is not happening at this time. Neither the City of Tucson nor Pima County will issue permits for mass events until at least the end of February or possibly March, according to Accetta.
Run Tucson’s signature events, the Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown, named in honor of Gabrielle Gifford’s director of community outreach killed in the January 2011 shooting, generally raise tens of thousands of dollars for local charities as well as supporting Run Tucson’s ability to survive. The series includes three races—TMC Get Moving, Meet Me Downtown 5K and the TMC Tucson 10K—that have all been run virtually this year.
The year 2020 resulted in vast revenue reductions for the organization and the only live event Run Tucson has been able to host since the March 2020 shutdown was the Grand Canyon Trail Half Marathon, which took place in early November, before the COVID surge that has plagued Arizona in recent months.
Despite that, Run Tucson and its participants still managed raise nearly $28,000 for local charities to support, “children in need, wheelchair athletes, health care workers, animal welfare, local public media, explorations in science, and health, wellness, & public health advocacy.”
Those nonprofits include BEYOND-Tucson Foundation; Arizona Public Media; Team Hoyt Arizona; Humane Society of Southern Arizona; Pima County Parks Foundation; TMC Foundation; Tucson Children’s Museum; Educational Enrichment Foundation; Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce; Biosphere 2 and the Southern Arizona
Run Tucson’s next event will be a virtual trail race to replace the Old Tucson Trail Race that will not be held in person due to county COVID restrictions. The challenge is to run, walk or hike as many trails as possible between Sunday, Feb. 21, and Sunday, March 7. Information can be found at runtucson.net.
Accetta hopes to be able to offer some kind of in-person event by May, but is not committed to any specific timeline.
Another motivational tool provided by Run Tucson—Accetta is director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America—is the WOG, or Workout Group, a weekly training group for persons of all ages and abilities.
WOGs have undergone expansion during the pandemic, as well as adding restrictive measures to ensure the groups are as safe as possible. The WOGs follow CDC guidelines for masking and social distancing. For guidelines, updates or to sign up, go to runtucson.net.
Ultimately, the Accettas and Run Tucson have adopted a wait-and-see approach to group running while attempting to help Tucson runners keep their sanity during a stay-at-home global pandemic.
“Nobody has any money these days: We have to innovate in the face of this,” Accetta said. “The goal is to create opportunities all around.”
Another active group in Tucson that has had to adjust to the “new reality” is Himmel Parkrun, an all-volunteer organization that is part of a worldwide network.
Himmel Parkrun is a weekly, timed 5K run that for several years took place every Saturday at the urban park on North Tucson Boulevard just south of Speedway. Parkrun has not hosted an in-person event since March 2020, but lead organizer David Armet hopes that will change in the weeks to come.
“As of now, Arizona is in a very bad coronavirus outbreak but it won’t last forever,” he wrote in a recent email. “At this rate, I can’t easily guess when we will round the corner but when it does I’ll look forward to restarting Parkrun.”
Armet’s “best guess” is early spring 2021, but for the time being, there is a virtual option.
When he gets the OK from all parties, including Parkrun International, which sets rules for the program, Armet says he is ready to start up again. All that’s left is for life to get back to some semblance of normal and the city to allow activities to resume in its parks.
He is hopeful though, given that the vaccine is making its way through the population and infection numbers seem to have leveled off in Tucson in recent days.
“When the external world grants permission we’re ready to go,” Armet explained. “Once we see kids playing soccer in the parks, that will be a good sign.”
Parkrun is a global organization begun in 2004 in Teddington, UK, providing free events in 22 countries around the world, acting as a motivational, free tool for thousands of runners. Armet began Himmel Parkrun in 2018 after returning to Tucson from a stint in London.
For more information, go to parkrun.com.