The Flagstaff Summer (Fall) Series just came to an end that was as virtual as its beginning. The virtual flexibility of time and place allowed me to complete all eight events, as did 19 other runners.
The first event was the Four on the Fourth, which I doubled up with a leg of a virtual relay I was running with some of my old college running buddies. A month later, I ran the actual Machine Solutions course at Fort Tuthill at sunrise on a cool morning. In the summer, there was a real benefit to getting on the trails at sunrise for virtual races, to beat the heat.
One unifying feature of the series was the debut of a phone app that would track each event and upload your time to the race results as you finished. The app could never replace Vince Sherry’s crew from the Run Flagstaff timing van, but it was a suitable COVID-19 substitute for 2020.
If you didn’t mute the volume on your phone, the app tracked your route and provided verbal mile splits with projected finish time. For some events, you even got to “run” with series coordinator Neil Weintraub as he gave verbal encouragement and occasional directions (which were mostly correct).
About 10 seconds after the app read off your splits and projected finish time and played a sound bite from some motivational rock or pop song, it would emit a dismembered “woo-hoo.” Those who did the full Summer Series got over 50 woo-hoos this summer. Once I understood this feature, I came to enjoy counting down the woo-hoos to the finish line.
Here’s a series summary by the numbers. There were eight events (virtual races) totaling about 64 miles for the long-course option. Six of the eight included the option to run the actual course, in addition to virtually running the equivalent distance anywhere. Gail Hughes and Neil coordinated the series and results. They indicated there were 750 unique runners across the eight events, and 174 of these were registered in the Summer Series.
As much as I enjoyed each course, by far the most fun was going to Cottonwood to do the bonus Loven Family Run. We tend to forget how slowly we run in Flagstaff until we drop down to low elevation. As I ran the roads of Deadhorse Ranch State Park midweek at sunrise, a few motorists driving around the park shouted encouragement, but not “woo-hoo.”
As I approached the last couple miles of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff Half Marathon, Caleb Schiff and I passed on the trail. I got hungry remembering the gracious challenge Caleb provided those who completed four series events — a free Pizzicletta pizza. The challenge was enough motivation for me and 85 other series runners to get out there and enjoy the new virtual racing world.
Thanks to everyone who made the 2020 Virtual Flagstaff Summer Series a successful community running event. It was fun to track the results of everyone who was able to participate and work toward a pizza prize and a shiny finishers medal. Might there continue to be virtual options in future series? Will Neil or Vince provide woo-hoos? Only time will tell.
When not running the trails of northern Arizona, Abe Springer is finding springs as a professor of hydrogeology and ecohydrology in the School of Earth and Sustainability at NAU.
How’s your running going? Send your story to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at firstname.lastname@example.org.