The virtual 5K has been around since long before COVID. It's a pretty simple idea, if you think about it. In this day and age, when you can have a robot vacuum automatically clean your house every day, or order all your groceries on an app and have them delivered to your car, why are we driving to different destinations to run 3.1 miles?
Some might sight the camaraderie, the collective feeling of running as a team or a club, or even just the feeling that other people are going through the same hell you are. I think I know the most common answer and it's because runners like the competition and nothing will push you harder and faster to the finish line than actually feeling your competitor breathe down your neck. Or show up in your peripheral vision. Or try to pass you.
I'm a reformed competitive runner. I ran track in middle school and four years of varsity cross country; it was brutal. The runners at Ilwaco High School competed at the Washington State Championships every year. Although there was a remarkable sense of teamwork, the teams we ran with were out for blood. Our blood. Anyone's blood. Have you ever seen a teenage girl get competitive? How about one from a small logging town when it involves her scholarship status? I have.
Today I have one rule: I run my own race. Those who know me personally might not find this surprising at all. I just completed a law degree at Northwestern California University by correspondence program, which allows you to set your own schedule, choose your participation levels and basically hold yourself accountable. I love running but I've been out of the competitive scene since high school.
As of today, I run a 5K maybe once or twice a week, and I run it at a steady pace. Turns out, 30 minutes of time in my head is usually enough time for me to focus on whatever problem is in front of me that day and come up with a pretty reasonable solution. Sometimes it's something I'm studying for the bar exam, sometimes it's the next chapter in the book I'm writing. Sometimes, I'm just clearing my head so I can sit down at the easel for a few hours. Yet, I do feel a little saddened when I see my community out there running to raise awareness and money for a worthy cause. I'm just not sure I want to drive somewhere at 6 a.m. on a Saturday when the beautiful Eureka Waterfront Trail is always down the street from my door.
It took only a couple of virtual 5Ks to get me completely hooked. The first one was a complete disaster. It was a fundraiser for the Eureka Theater in October of 2020, which was my idea. After months of building the race, designing the finisher medals and working on securing advertising, I ran the race alone. Like, literally alone — no one else uploaded their race results. To add insult to injury, it seems eight months of working from home, staying inside and weathering the first wave of COVID had left me horrifically out of shape. It's the only race I've ever run where I came in both first and last.
Luckily, the legal aid I work for here in Eureka holds a fundraising event every year on Valentine's Day weekend called the Race for Justice in Sacramento, our organization's headquarters. I've never been. Legal Services of Northern California did a much, much better job organizing a virtual 5K than I did. Their advertising was better, you could self-report your results, you could create teams to compete as an office or just as friends, and participants actually posted pictures of themselves and their teams walking together on social media. To be fair, this was the organization's 17th race. Once again, I participated on the Eureka waterfront trail, running my own race.
Humboldt's most recent virtual 5K success was the Run in the Redwoods, benefitting the Redwood Park Conservancy. The organizers really went above and beyond for this one, even putting together a podcast so you can feel like you are actually running in the redwoods. Even in the before times, I probably wouldn't have made that drive.
So here's everything you need to know about running a virtual 5K. Once you sign up and pay your registration fee, most every race will issue you a T-shirt, a finisher's medal and a race number. The organizers of the race will try to ship these to you right away so you can wear your shirt and bib number while you run your race. Do it. This raises awareness for the race and the cause, making all the hard work worth it. Also, please post it on social media. I know no one likes a sweaty selfie but absent 100 runners blocking off traffic in the main thoroughfare on a weekend, this is the best way to spread the message. Lastly, post your results. Some races require you to use a tracking app and sync your results, while others allow you to self-report. My favorite part is that all the air has been let out of the tires at this point. No one cares who won, which is how and why a lot more walkers are joining these causes.
So get out there, Humboldt. Support your community and run (or walk) your own race.
Elaina Erola (she/her) is a writer, artist, runner, legal grad and Humboldt County community enthusiast living in Eureka.