Only a week before the event was scheduled to take place, the Asheville Marathon and Half at Biltmore Estate was cancelled due to concerns of spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus and the official proclamation by the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and the State of North Carolina prohibiting any organized group of 100+ persons to assemble. The event was set for March 21 and 22, 2020, and we ran a virtual run in its place.
To say we were disappointed we had to cancel is an understatement. We had almost 2,500 runners signed up; it’s our largest and most expensive event of the year, and a major revenue generator for our business. With runners coming from nearly all 50 states, we knew our participants had made many personal sacrifices and trained on average 4-6 months for these endurance events. This was a one-of-a-kind, bucket list weekend experience for so many of them, and we knew they were deeply disappointed that we had to cancel a little over a week before the event.
At first, we were skeptical about having a virtual run in its place - especially with all of the negative feedback we were getting regarding the sudden and unexpected cancellation.
Then, something amazing happened: 415 runners joined our Asheville Marathon and Half Virtual Run. They ran their full marathons, half marathons and challenge distances all on their own or with friends and family, and photos from all over the U.S. were being posted in Strava. We received photos from an almost empty New York City. Snowy trails from Arkansas. Chalk-colored sidewalks from children who cheered on their mom’s and dad’s. Home-made medals.
These runners had been training hard every week for the past several months to run this event in Asheville; they weren’t going to let a virus stop them from achieving their goals.
Tina Addison from Virginia wrote: “Never done a Half one day and then a Full…Definitely a challenge, but that’s what makes you stronger.. Anne made me my medals. Priceless.”
Bruce Nelson from Arkansas wrote: “It sure was a beautiful spring day here in Eagle River, AK for a virtual 1/2 marathon. The trails at Biltmore may have been more inviting but what the heck, adaptability is the key. Thanks to everyone who joined in and we’ll see you on the trails of Asheville when the dust settles.”
This year’s Asheville Marathon and Half was also a fundraiser for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so for many of our participants this virtual run was a major step in their journey to help find a cure for cancer.
Shirley Mei from New York City, who was running to raise money for cancer through Team in Training, posted: “Not the Backyard To Vineyard Challenge I wanted but I had fun exploring all the New York tourist spots I usually avoid now that the tourists are all gone. After my coach’s warning about weakened immune system after running super long distances and thus would put myself at higher risk for Coronavirus, I made the tough decision it’s wiser I ran the half last weekend and full this weekend instead running both within same weekend. Anyway, most important is I signed up for this race with Team In Training and fundraised for a cure to cancer. The miles are meaningful but the funds raised mean even more. Go Team.”
Finn Rigsbee, a Patton High School senior in Morganton, NC, was all set to join the Asheville Marathon and Half when it was cancelled. Instead of giving up on his goal, however, he ran his 26.2 mile race all on his own — his girlfriend riding her bike behind him the whole way, offering encouragement and support. Click here for the article.
Race Director Daphne Kirkwood, who was diagnosed with lymphoma nearly two years ago, was so inspired by all of the posts, she ran a half marathon on her own - her first one since her cancer diagnosis. She captured most of the run on her iPhone, sharing encouraging words along the way.
“I ran in solidarity today with all the virtual runners participating in the Asheville Marathon,” said Daphne. “Despite the race being cancelled due to COVID19, the energy, love and spirit of the runners is alive and strong! I felt it and 2 miles into my morning run I knew that running a half marathon today, with all of these runners was what I wanted to do.I have been consistent with my running routine since I was diagnosed with lymphoma almost two years ago. But I haven’t run over 9 miles since then. What your mind believes, it can achieve.”
The coronavirus has forced us to come up with creative and out-the-box options for runners, and it has been heartening for our iDaph team to see how people adapt and make the best of these trying times.
“Today I celebrate with all of you, we are all together in this,” Daphne said. “Running will help us through this tough time we are all in. Keep running. Keep hope. Keep believing. Keep loving.”
About Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate
The Asheville Marathon began 8 years ago with only a marathon option, which sold out quickly in its first year, and again the next year. A nationwide interest in half marathons was becoming popular, so for the 3rd year a half marathon option was added. In the 4th year, the event expanded to two days of races and a half marathon on each day. To add a twist in the 5th year the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge was created, where participants race in the Saturday half and Sunday full. The challenge was very popular and for the 6th anniversary, Backyard to Backyard Challenge was added, where participants run both the Saturday half and the Sunday half.
The Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate is held on and run entirely on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, where runners will wind through paved and packed dirt roads to see hardwood forest, meadows, gardens, and extraordinary views of the Biltmore House and Estate. This is the original Asheville Marathon and first race of its kind to come to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. You can follow our posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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