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Alaska Heart Run and other popular footraces opt to follow a virtual course

2019 Heart Run, Race, University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Pacific University, Race, Heart Run

Anchorage’s running season was due to open Saturday with the Superhero Showdown, an annual 5-kilometer race that encourages participants to wear T-shirts or entire costumes depicting comic book superheroes.

But as we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s superheroes wear surgical gowns and grocery aprons, not capes. In an effort to keep them and us safe, early season footraces have gone virtual.

That means there will be no mass start Saturday, no stream of runners on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive or at Albrecht Fields.

Instead, people who sign up for the Superhero Showdown have all month to do a 5-kilometer run or walk on the day and place of their choosing.

“All we ask is that you abide by local regulations,” said Mark Iverson of Skinny Raven, which hosts numerous footraces and does the timing for many more. “You can run on a treadmill or outside on a track or a road. You just upload your results.”

So far 20 people have posted their results (last year’s race drew more than 600). As of Thursday afternoon, the time to beat was 21 minutes, 46 seconds, recorded by Anchorage runner Justin Curto.

If you don’t want to share your time, you don’t have to. Registration runs through the last day of April. The entry fee has been waived, but there’s an option to purchase an event T-shirt.

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The week after the Superhero Showdown is the 42nd annual Alaska Heart Run, a 5K race that doubles as an Anchorage rite of spring. It’s going virtual too, but in a different way.

The Heart Run will be a one-day event that begins, as always, at 8:30 a.m. with the playing of the national anthem. Instead of hearing the anthem while standing in a crowded UAA parking lot, participants can watch the opening ceremonies on the Facebook.

Then, everyone will hit the road (or the treadmill, or a backyard course, or whatever) for their own personal Heart Run 5K. No results will be recorded, but organizers encourage participants to post photos and video on social media with the hashtag #AlaskaHeartRun.

Entry fees will not be waived, because the Heart Run is a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. It’s $30 for adults, $10 for kids ages 4-14 and free for kids under 4.

The goal is to raise $325,000 — a figure established before the pandemic, said Valerie Koch, director of communications and marketing for the American Heart Association. That goal hasn’t been lowered even though lower participation is anticipated for the virtual race.

“The fundraising goal was not modified because the need is urgent,” Koch said by email. “We recognize that there may be an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 for the approximately 120 million people in the United States who currently have one or more cardiovascular diseases — and that it is often more serious in those who have cardiovascular disease (including congenital heart defects), diabetes or high blood pressure.”

Last year’s Heart Run drew nearly 3,500 participants. So far about 350 people have signed up for the virtual Heart Run and more than $107,000 has been pledged. Registration runs through 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 18.

No one knows when virtual races will be replaced by real competitions. One of Skinny Raven’s most popular events is the May 29 Twilight 12K, and although no decision has been made yet, Iverson said he doesn’t expect it to go on as scheduled.

“I don’t think we’ll be in a position in May to hold these events,” he said.

While some races are being canceled or turned into virtual events, some are being postponed. The Gold Nugget Triathlon, the beloved all-female race that happens every May, said it is looking to move to late-summer. It could have lots of company.

“My biggest hope is my September and August are the hardest months I’ve ever had, because it means we’re back to summer operations and the community is back to some kind of normalcy,” Iverson said.

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