Photo: The FBE Apple Run is underway
The start of the Foundation for Belmont Education’s Apple Run 5K/2K race is … anytime the runners want it to be.
From today, Friday, Oct. 2 until midnight, Oct. 12, participants will take to the 3.1 mile course racing against each other virtually due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Runners are racing in a number of traditional individual time categories in addition to team contests, best costumes and a slowest racer competition.
With the Brendan Home Run ending in 2019, the Apple Run – formerly the Dan Scharfman 5K – is the largest athletic event in Belmont in sponsored by the Foundation in support of technology at the Belmont public schools.
Paul Roberts, this year’s race director, talks to the Belmontonian about transforming the race into a virtual contest and way it was important to have it take place despite all the external pressures no to.
Question: The FBE Apple Run 5K/2K is the largest athletic event in Belmont and one of the Foundation’s major fundraisers. What were your plans as race director for the second running of the race when the pandemic put a halt to all large gatherings back in March?
Roberts: When COVID first hit, we weren’t even in the planning stages for the 2020 race yet. FBE was actually ramping up for its annual Spring Gala, which is our biggest fundraiser, and which ended up getting cancelled. At the time I remember thinking that ‘surely things will have sorted themselves out by October’ and that we’d be able to do the race per usual: in person, sponsor booths, Donna Ognibene’s workout, DJ Paul Madden, the whole bit. That turned out not to be the case, however.
Question: Was there ever a thought of cancelling the event like so many other organizations did?
Roberts: We did discuss cancelling the event, of course, or postponing it. A couple of things pointed us towards a virtual event. First: the race is an outdoor event and one that – just looking at the race piece of it – doesn’t require face to face or close contact. Second: we had seen other yearly race events “go virtual,” so we knew that was an option. Finally, we really felt like it was important to the community to keep this fall tradition alive. We understood that it was going to be a different year, regardless. But we felt like the more we could do to keep things the same, the better. With that in mind: we decided to plan for a virtual event and even to stick to our Couch to 5K program, though in virtual format, also.
Question: So when and how did the virtual race concept started in earnest?
Roberts: I’d say the virtual event was on the table all along. We had a kick off meeting back in the May timeframe and basically the three options were: cancel, do some form of in-person event (circumstances allowing) or do a virtual event. What we did then was to reach out to the Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and Wesley Chin at Belmont Health Department and get their thoughts on the feasibility of an in person event: whether we might do a smaller event or whether we could structure the day of in such a way to keep people physically distanced. Essentially the guidance was: no races of any size until we have a vaccine. We were pretty sure that wasn’t going to be October, so at that point we made a commitment to doing the run virtually.
Question: What has been the response from the community?
Roberts: The response has been tremendous. We had 340 runners as of Thursday, which is far above what we were expecting. The Foundation has also been really touched by the continued support of our sponsors:
- CitySide Subaru, our Platinum Sponsor again this year,
- Belmont Orthodontics,
- Shant Banosian/Guaranteed Rate,
- John Rogaris,
- Belmont Center Business Association,
- Belmont Chinese American Association.
Donna Ognibene at Triogo stepped up and will record a virtual workout for all our runners. These are very difficult time for small businesses and families, so this support has been really inspiring.
Question: You have included a few special extras to the race.
Roberts: We decided to take advantage of the virtual format to have some fun with our prizes. Because runners have 10 days to do the race, rather than an hour, we wanted to recognize and celebrate all the fun and funky ways people can do the Apple Run – running it multiple times, running it in a funny costume (not exactly a new thing), doing the race slooowly and so on. We’re also going to be celebrating runners all through the week on social media.
Question: Explain the importance of the race to the technology fund and also as a community event during a pandemic.
Roberts: The Apple Run has become one of the Town’s biggest annual events and one of the FBE’s most popular traditions. The race has raised more than $150,000 for the FBE and its Innovative Teaching Initiative. With all of the challenges and new costs that COVID has created for the community and our public schools, having an organization like the FBE becomes even more important. We think its critical right now to provide a bit of normalcy for the community. We’re really looking forward to seeing Apple runners out on the streets in the coming days!