Sign of the times: Races go virtual

Published 4:26 pm Thursday, November 12, 2020

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Because the TowneBank Outer Banks Marathon has gone “virtual” only due to COVID-19, its non-profit organizer Outer Banks Sporting Events (OBSE) made a pre-race donation of 1,440 bottles of water to the Dare Education Foundation just before in-school classes resumed recently.

The surplus of 60 cases was made available to Dare schools Monday, Oct. 29 thanks to quick-thinking by Barbara Davidson, the foundation’s new executive director.

Because water fountains are closed at the schools to help slow the spread of the virus, administrators realized late in the reopening planning that they needed to provide water to the schools that do not have water bottle filling stations.

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Davidson, who left smoke-filled dark skies from wildfires in Oakland, Calif. to take her post in Dare, said she remembered seeing the cases of water in the OBSE warehouse for this year’s “live” marathon, which only last month was forced to go virtual.

Davidson said it turned out to be a great way for the community to help the schools in this challenging year. The long-term solution lies in installing bottle filling stations in all the schools, she noted. But giving them the bottled water was a great short-term solution.

“And Outer Banks Sporting Events was there to support us,” she said Friday. “The community was there to help.”

Another executive director, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes all summer and fall trying to keep the marathon on track as a live event, was Jenny Ash of OBSE.

She worked with numerous area officials and made changes to the format in attempts to make the race completely safe for everyone so it could go on “live” for its 15th consecutive year.

Ash said she was saddened when she realized the races, originally set for Nov. 6 to 8, just could not happen because of concerns for public health and safety.

“Despite a smaller footprint, new racing protocols set forth by USA Track and Field as well as Road Runners Club of America, our governing bodies, the support and required permits can only be had when everyone involved is one hundred percent comfortable in the process and unfortunately, that did not happen,” Ash said.

Although the thousands of runners are well-distanced during the races, logistically it’s pretty tough to keep them safely distanced during the start, finish and post-race celebrations. With their normal point to point one-way format, a large percentage also rode shuttle buses together from Manteo back to their vehicles in Kitty Hawk after the race, Ash said.

It also takes hundreds of willing community volunteers, school groups such as varsity sport teams and various law enforcement resources from the four towns along the course including Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and Manteo.

“Since last spring, it’s been a tough time for events, event-goers and race organizations alike,” she said. “We feel a common bond in doing what we can in the meantime as we look forward, setting our sights on live racing once again.”

All the additional races were also transformed to virtual according to the groups’ website.

Those foot races include the full marathon (26.2 miles) and the Southern Fried half marathon (13.1 miles), both sponsored by TowneBank, and the Living Swell 8K and 5K sponsored by Surf Pediatrics. And of course, the one-mile Fun Run is also offered.

In past years, the Outer Banks Marathon race weekend generated significant amounts of money that gets split between two local non-profits, the Dare Education Foundation and Outer Banks Relief Foundation. Ash said typically, 85 percent of the participants are from out-of-town.

“Basically, the race entry fees provide an experience for the runners who are here visiting the Outer Banks,” she said.

The Outer Banks Visitor’s Bureau helps get the races rolling by providing financial support in the form of a grant, Ash said.

The September Outer Banks Tri (triathlon) was also offered virtually, she said.

For more information on OBSE or to register for races, go to