Your Pace, Your Place, Your Race: Annual Pear Blossom Run Lives on as Virtual Event
As closures, cancellations and confinements continue, people itching for isolation-relief now have a way to get reconnected to society—ironically, without necessarily leaving the house (or, more technically correct, without breaking shelter-in-place rules). This ray of light comes thanks to the Rogue Valley Family YMCA’s continuation of their annual Pear Blossom 5K/10-Mile Run/Walk, this year offered in a more quarantine-friendly format as an entirely virtual event. Now in its 44th year, the run typically corresponds with one of Medford’s oldest springtime traditions, the Pear Blossom Festival, which was canceled recently due to growing COVID-19 concerns. For more than 65 years, this cornerstone community event has brought tens of thousands of southern Oregonians together to celebrate their shared interest in the Rogue Valley. While not surrounded by its typical festivity and fanfare, the continuation of the Pear Blossom Run is helping to preserve that longstanding legacy, while providing a glimmer of encouragement to society in the process. (Note that the one/two-mile Fun Runs have been cancelled).
“More than ever, people need something to look forward to and something to do,” said Jeni Beck, Fitness Director at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford. “We saw this as an opportunity to not only keep the spirit of the Pear Blossom Run alive, but to help people feel involved and connected during these uncertain times, giving them a reason to set a new goal, start a new hobby or just get that physical exercise that’s so crucial for our immune systems and stress levels”.
With this new virtual format, avid runners and novices alike can customize the specifics of their individual run/walk, selecting the distance, the schedule and the course that’s most convenient for them, whether that means on a neighborhood trail, paved sidewalk or home-gym treadmill. And unlike traditional organized runs, participants are able to complete their chosen distance over the course of several days – 20 to be exact – tracking their miles with their preferred GPS or running app and submitting their best time through the registration website. Race organizers will then tabulate the finisher data and determine the final standings, relying on the honesty of participant submissions. The event officially kick-offed with a ceremonial singing of the National Anthem on Saturday, April 11, giving participants until April 30 to safely complete their selected race distance and send their results, all without compromising their health or the health of others. (Check-out the Rogue Valley Family YMCA Facebook page for a replay of the National Anthem!)
Following the Pear Blossom Run’s traditional “Everyone’s a Winner” motto, all registered contestants will receive a commemorative medal and event t-shirt (if purchased along with registration), and will even be able to download and print a finisher certificate customized with their personal results. What’s more, race organizers have added some fun new award categories conducive to the virtual format, including “Cutest Four-Legged Running Partner”, “Most Weight Pushed in a Stroller” and “Best Costume”, among others.
“Aside from the personal achievement that results from physically completing a goal, participating in an organized race event brings a great sense of comradery and solidarity, so we’re trying to do everything we can to generate that feeling in this new virtual format,” explains Beck. “Community engagement is big part of the Pear Blossom Run, and we’re leveraging technology to create a digital community where people can get connected and united online, sharing their photos and narratives while helping to keep their goals worthwhile.”
Participants are encouraged to engage with their fellow participants on the Rogue Valley Family YMCA’s social media pages, using the hashtag #PearBlossomRunYMCA as they post photos of their treks, share their course routes, or even initiate friendly challenges for others in good-natured competitive spirit. Social media will also play an important part in determining winners for many of the contest categories – so put on your most creative costume, lace-up your sneakers and start posting!
Another benefit of the digital landscape is that it allows people from outside the Valley to get in on the fun, bringing the tradition and impact of the Pear Blossom Run to people cooped-up across the country. (There’s even a prize category for the most geographically distant participant!) Regardless of where you’re located, all registrants who sign up before April 28 will receive race packets and run bibs to further emphasize the team-spirit focus, sent via USPS mail immediately upon registration. Contest winners and results will be announced online in early May, with finisher packets, goody-bags and a celebratory finish line crossing available for local participants between May 4-9 – assuming social-distancing requirements allow. (Packages will be mailed to out-of-state individuals in early May.) Stay tuned to social media and email for all the latest updates throughout the coming weeks.
Still on the fence about participating? Keep in mind that proceeds from the Virtual Pear Blossom Run (i.e. registration fees or donations) go towards the YMCA’s Strong Communities Fund and Pear Blossom Run Scholarship Foundations, which aid local children, families and student runners. This year, a portion of run profits will also be used to help maintain the YMCA’s Emergency Child Care Plan, which was developed in conjunction with local schools and medical organizations, including Pear Blossom Run Presenting Sponsor, Asante, to support health care workers, first responders and essential workers currently on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. Giving back while getting active – sounds like a win-win!
Full details including registration fees, contest categories and rules are available on the Pear Blossom Run website and Rogue Valley Family YMCA social media pages, listed below: