The inaugural Coast Guard Half Marathon will not be run in Elizabeth City this spring but will instead be a virtual event.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Visit Elizabeth City officials decided there were too many unknowns regarding future COVID-19 mass gathering restrictions to have an in-person half-marathon and 5K race on March 6.
Runners, however, can still enter a virtual race and run the race from any location.
“In talking to our partners at the Coast Guard, the chances of us hosting a traditional road race in early March are slim to none,” VEC Executive Director Corrina Ruffieux said recently.
The first in-person running of the half-marathon is now scheduled for March 2022. The inaugural event was scheduled for last month but was pushed back last May to this coming March after the pandemic hit.
Prior to the pandemic, organizers were estimating that between 3,000 and 5,000 runners would descend on the city for the race, which will be run annually in March.
Part of the planned race course, which starts and ends in downtown Elizabeth City, will run through part of the Coast Guard base and Elizabeth City State University.
Ruffieux recently presented the Tourism Development Authority three options — a virtual event, a hybrid in-person/virtual event with a limited number of in-person runners or postponement of the 2021 race entirely. The board unanimously agreed to the virtual-only race.
“It will give us history that the event took place,” said TDA board member Johnnie Walton, who is also an Elizabeth City city councilor.
Ruffieux said one of the downsides of a hybrid event is that race officials would have to put in as much work for 500 runners as they would 5,000 runners.
VEC is partnering with a national public relations firm to promote the virtual event. The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military that does not have a marathon. Race officials hope to add a full marathon to the event, now most likely in 2023.
“It (a virtual race) will build brand awareness and gives us a list of runners who are interested,” Ruffieux said. “It will give us a massive data base of people who are already interested.”
Ruffieux said she expects that the virtual half-marathon will be popular with runners from across the country.
“Everyone will get a finisher’s medal,” Ruffieux said. “I think a lot of people will participate because every branch of the military has a branded road race except the Coast Guard. Runners do the races for the swag, the medals, the T-shirts etc. The fact that this is a Coast Guard-branded race will give us a leg up over any general half-marathon. I’m excited about the possibilities in front of us.”
Ruffieux said having the race run each March instead of September came at the request of the Coast Guard because September is the peak of hurricane season. Coast Guard reservists will be used to secure the base on race day.
“The Coast Guard is concerned that they would otherwise be occupied and we would have to cancel the race,” Ruffieux said. “So, running the race in September 2021 is not an option.”