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Vancouver Sun Run and Traditional Versus Virtual Events

Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.

Waiting to start the Vancouver Sun Run

Waiting to start the Vancouver Sun Run

An Enjoyable Event in Vancouver

The annual Vancouver Sun Run is a very popular event in British Columbia, where I live. It’s the largest 10-kilometre run/walk/wheelchair event in Canada and is organized by the Vancouver Sun newspaper. The event is open to people of all abilities, from elite athletes to slow walkers. It takes place in April and has done so for many years.

In 2020, the run had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic is still with us this year, the run organizers decided to hold a “virtual” event. In this event, the participants still ran, walked, or propelled their wheelchairs for ten kilometres, but they did it on their own and on a route of their own choice. They received a t-shirt and a medal if they registered for the run and had psychological support from the Sun Run organization (and perhaps from people that they knew).

I’m glad that the organization tried to maintain the Sun Run spirit and encouraged people to exercise. I see some problems with virtual runs, however, though they may not be insurmountable. In this article, I describe the traditional Sun Run first and then the virtual one. I also discuss how virtual runs could be enjoyable for people who don’t want to participate in the Sun Run and for people in other parts of the world besides the Greater Vancouver region. Virtual events may be fun at any time of year, even when a pandemic doesn’t exist, and they can be organized by a group of friends or acquaintances instead of a major organization.

Reflections at the start of the Vancouver Sun Run, with the green roof of the Hotel Vancouver in the background

Reflections at the start of the Vancouver Sun Run, with the green roof of the Hotel Vancouver in the background

Though I refer to virtual runs in this article, virtual walks could also be enjoyable. The aim of the events is to encourage people to exercise as well as have fun. People should do what is best for their body with respect to health, fitness, safety, and enjoyment.

The Start Area of the Vancouver Sun Run

Though a mass event such as the traditional Sun Run isn’t suitable in the current situation, it’s very enjoyable. The run has been in existence for thirty-five years and normally has more than 40,000 participants. I’ve participated in the event multiple times by running, alternating running and walking, and alternating power walking and regular walking.

The traditional event starts on West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver, which has some interesting architecture. People line up in waves based on their projected finish time. The fastest runners are in the first wave. The line of participants stretches for several blocks. I took the first and second photos in this article while waiting for my wave to begin. Musical performers are often present to entertain us as we wait. Sometimes fitness instructors demonstrate warm-up exercises on a raised platform and the crowd joins in. In addition, some enjoyable conversations with other participants often take place.

Looking at participants in the run from the Burrard Street Bridge

Looking at participants in the run from the Burrard Street Bridge

An Interesting Route

Sun Run participants run along the roads, which are closed to traffic. The run follows an attractive route during the first part of the event. It goes into Stanley Park and then travels beside the water for a while. Stanley Park is a beautiful area of almost a thousand acres and is a major tourist attraction in Vancouver. It’s surrounded on three sides by the ocean.

After leaving the park, the route continues over the Burrard Street Bridge, which travels over False Creek. I took the photo of the bridge below from the seawall. The “creek“ actually contains sea water. The area after the bridge is bordered by buildings, but there are usually things of interest to see. Eventually, the route reverses direction and travels over the Cambie Street Bridge. As the bridge is left, the finish area by BC Place Stadium can be seen.

The route provides interesting sights besides the scenery. Musicians entertain us in some places. Spectators clap and encourage the participants. In addition, some of the participants wear costumes, which is also entertaining.

Water and washrooms are available on the run route. There is usually a lineup for the washrooms. Medics on bicycles travel along the route to provide first aid and to call for more help if necessary.

The Burrard Street Bridge travels over False Creek. Despite its name, the creek is an ocean inlet.

The Burrard Street Bridge travels over False Creek. Despite its name, the creek is an ocean inlet.

The Finish Area and the Celebration

The fun isn’t over once someone crosses the finish line of the traditional event. If the participant climbs the steps into BC Place Stadium, they’ll find washrooms, water, free snacks, and entertainment. People who registered in the walkers’ wave can also find the first three items at the “Walker’s Pit Stop” on the route, so even if the best snacks have disappeared by the time they reach the stadium, they won’t miss the food.

The winners of the various divisions receive their awards in the stadium event. The music can be pleasant to listen to while relaxing after the run. The performers can be seen on the stage and on a big screen. The snacks include bagels, banana and orange segments, and often other treats. I’ve had yogurt and granola bars over the years.

As might be imagined, a large amount of waste is created in the Sun Run. Thankfully, the organizers recycle most of it. It’s a big effort, but it’s worth it.

A view of the live entertainment in the stadium

A view of the live entertainment in the stadium

Social Distancing Problems in the Sun Run

As can be seen in the first two photos in this article, social distancing is impossible at the start of the Sun Run. In normal times, this doesn’t matter and can add to the fun, at least at the start of the event. It can be enjoyable to gather with a group of strangers and discuss the upcoming run. When there is an infection in a community, however, social distancing is important.

Starting in a slower and larger wave as I do has drawbacks. The course can be crowded, making social distancing a problem yet again, and there are occasional bottlenecks when the route narrows. Someone who feels that they’re moving too slowly may have to do some zigzagging to find space to move faster.

The finish area and the stadium are always crowded after the run. There’s a lineup for the washrooms, and the floor of the stadium is also crowded. I’m not a fast participant in the Sun Run even when I run the whole way. It’s possible that the stadium floor is more crowded than in my photo below before I get there.

After the run in BC Place Stadium

After the run in BC Place Stadium

Virtual Run Locations

The Seawall

In this year’s virtual Sun Run, all of the participants began running or walking on a date of their choice within a specific two-week period. The organizers chose a multi-way period for the run in an attempt to prevent crowds from appearing on favourite running routes. Vancouver has a long and very popular seawall, for example. It’s appreciated by runners, walkers, and cyclists and has lanes. It’s wide enough for general use, but not for an influx of people. Many runners and walkers attempting to create their virtual Sun Run on the wall at the same time would create a major social distancing problem as well as problems for other travellers.

A crowded seawall would also make it hard for someone to reach a time goal for their run or walk. Following the route at a less popular time or in less than ideal weather would likely provide more space for a “virtual” runner or walker.

Other Running and Walking Trails

A walking trail or a park one could be a pleasant area for a virtual run in any location or at any time, provided there are no safety concerns for solo travellers or the runner has a companion. A trail is my preference for exercise sessions. Fortunately, there are some suitable ones near my home. The Greater Vancouver region has an extensive trail system.

A curious squirrel watches the race

A curious squirrel watches the race

Suburban and Urban Areas

Exploring a new area in a suburban region or even an urban one could also be enjoyable during a virtual run. Factors such as the running surface and the need to wait for the walk light or for traffic to stop before crossing a road should be considered, however.

Suburban areas sometimes have interesting neighbourhood parks as well as homes. Urban areas may have attractive buildings, landscaping, and/or public art, though there may not be time to look at these in detail when exercise is a priority. The exploration could mimic that experienced by people in the Sun Run or other events when the participants are unfamiliar with the route. Once again, safety should be considered in a virtual run and any problematic places in an area avoided.

I paused briefly during one Sun Run to take a photo of this beautiful group of tulips beside the route.

I paused briefly during one Sun Run to take a photo of this beautiful group of tulips beside the route.

Measuring the Distance of a Route

The task of ensuring that a run or walk is a 10K one or a distance of another length will be easier if someone has a portable device and an app that measures the distance as they travel. The device isn’t essential, however. Information about a walking or park trail’s length may be available from the local parks department or an equivalent organization. Details about an urban or suburban trail may be available at the local City Hall. Some trails have distance markers. Google Maps and similar programs can indicate the distance of a route before a person begins a journey.

The virtual Sun Run’s organizers suggested that if necessary a participant could run in increments during the designated period to reach the allotted distance. A running track or a short park trail with a known length could be a good site for runs (or walks) on different days during a specific period.

The “real” Sun Run offers a mini run for children. A family or other small group could organize a similar event in a park for their own children, perhaps with a water stop on the route and snacks at the end. It’s important to keep safety in mind if a group of people gather during the training and in the run itself.

Event Awards

Participants had to register for the virtual Sun Run in advance. In return for their registration fee, they received a special t-shirt. For the first time ever, they also received a finisher’s medal. The award and the medal could be picked up at a running store or were mailed to participants.

As usual, the names of all the registered participants were published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. The organizers said that they didn’t want to report the time because some people had hilly routes and some didn’t, and some people completed the course in a single event and others took several days. The emphasis was on participation this year.

Knowing that they are participating in an event with thousands of other people even though they can’t see them and receiving a t-shirt and medal as confirmation may be satisfying for some people and may encourage people to exercise, which is a very worthy goal. The run website and the newspaper had many encouraging stories about participants, which probably helped to develop the group spirit in the Sun Run.

If a virtual run is organized by a group of friends or acquaintances instead of an organization, some thought may be needed about a suitable “award” for the participants. It doesn’t need to be a t-shirt or a medal, unless that’s what the participants want, but some way to celebrate or remember the event could be satisfying. I give some suggestions in the “Potential Solutions” section below.

The 2019 Vancouver Sun Run

Potential Problems With a Virtual Run

Lack of Cohesiveness

Spreading an event out over multiple days as in the Sun Run certainly makes sense from a safety point of view. Unfortunately, I think it may hinder the cohesiveness of an event. If a virtual run starts at the same time everywhere, a participant may be motivated by thinking that as they run their ten kilometres or another distance, so are other people. It’s not as motivating to think that participants are running at different times over a multi-day period.

No Competition or Celebration

Some people may not find a virtual run a suitable substitute for the real one. They may miss the competitive aspects of a real run, such as beating their time from last year, winning an award in their age group, or even finishing in a high position in the run as a whole. These people may see little point in registering for a substitute event. Even participants who typically finish far back in the pack may object to paying a registration fee (which is a substantial sum for some people) without the fun of a mass event and the celebration that follows.

A Public Relations Problem

The organizers of a major event may have an uphill battle in attracting people to the virtual run. One online commenter said that they have run a virtual race and that although it might appeal to beginners and encourage them to improve their health, after one event it loses its appeal for experienced runners. Another person pointed out that there seems to be little benefit in paying a fee to go on a virtual run when they could go for the same run without paying for it.

The video below gives the Sun Run organizers’ reasons why we should participate in their virtual run. They may be persuasive for some people.

Some Potential Solutions for Problems

For me, a major attraction of a group run is trying to reach a goal with the people around me, communicating with them during the run, and celebrating reaching the finish line. There are some tactics that could mimic these conditions in a virtual run. I’ve given some suggestions below for small groups that are creating their own virtual event. The runners don’t need to live in the same region for this event to be effective.

Before the Run

The participants should decide on the length of the run together and the time when it should begin. Each participant should then plan a personal route. If they choose a route that they’ve run before, they could aim for a new speed record. The group should also decide on the time of any online meeting after the event and make sure that everyone knows how to access it. If the participants are in different time zones, this should be considered in the preparation stage.

During the Event

During the coronavirus situation, people who live together could participate in a virtual event as a mini group that’s part of a larger one. Once the virus situation is solved, the mini group could consist of a few friends that live in the same area. People with cell phones who are running separately might decide to communicate with each other during the run for support, though they may not want to do this if they’re aiming to finish by a particular time.

Competing for the best finish time is still possible when runners are in different locations, as long as the distance and landscape for everyone’s exercise session is similar (and as long as people are honest about their results).

After the Run

Participants could have an online meeting with the other runners after the virtual event and celebrate with the aid of special food while they are discussing the event. This might reproduce in a small way the gathering that happens at the end of a traditional run. If a family has run together as part of a larger group, a special family meal could be a way to celebrate the event. Children may appreciate a homemade certificate of achievement as an award.

I think it’s important to make a virtual run or walk a special event. If this isn’t done, it may not be much different from a normal exercise session.

Future Events

The Sun Run should be back to normal next year. Even the Vancouver Sun newspaper is predicting a normal 2022 run. This isn’t completely certain, though. The coronavirus situation is still unfolding and may still hold surprises for us.

Virtual events could be a reasonable and even enjoyable substitute for real events if they’re organized carefully, though they won’t satisfy everyone. Even when the virus problem is solved, virtual events involving people in different areas could be fun to plan and to participate in. Increasing fitness and having fun is a great combination.

© 2021 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 23, 2021:

Hi, Mary. The run is normally great fun. I hope as much enjoyment as possible can be incorporated into the virtual event.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 23, 2021:

Hi, Nithya. I don't think the virtual run will be as much fun as the usual one either, but as you say, the organizers had no choice if they wanted the event to happen. Thanks for the visit.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 23, 2021:

I've heard of this run as some friends do it. I haven't been in one but it's a great event. Am glad they did a virtual one this year.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on February 22, 2021:

Running along with other participants will be fun and encouraging. Virtual runs are no fun, and they will not be the same as the live event. But there is no choice with the ongoing COVID situation. I hope the Annual Vancouver Sun Run takes place in 2021. Thank you for sharing details of this event; the tulip photo looks great.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Heidi. Yes, the regular Sun Run certainly wouldn't work. I can understand why the organizers have turned it into a virtual run. It would have been a shame to cancel the event two years in a row. Thanks for the comment.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Years ago, I did a lot of runs (5K & 10K). I cannot imagine how to make those events socially distanced. It's easy to see why a virtual event is the best choice, at least currently.

Thanks for sharing this Vancouver event with us!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Your first sentence sums up how I feel at the moment, Flourish. I’m prepared to change my mind if new and interesting features are added to the virtual run. The cost of the event is always a consideration, especially at this time. Thank you for the comment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 21, 2021:

While you have to give the organizer props for trying, you're right that it does lack some of the oomph of the usual event. Of course, I'm one who'd never shell out good money for a dated t-shirt and the honor of walking or running a distance that I could do on my own for free -- even during the best of times. The concept seems odd to me but my husband is a marathoner and we've had this conversation many times. He's also done mud runs and other similar "event" or "experience" type runs.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Fran. Thanks for the kind comment. I hope things are back to normal next year, too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Thanks for the visit, Eman. It’s a shame that the virus has interfered with normal life (and of course horrible that some people have died from the infection).

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Thanks for the visit, MG. I think the city has some interesting things to explore even when it isn’t time for the Sun Run.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Peggy. Thank you for the comment. I hope things are going okay for you in Texas.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on February 21, 2021:

Alicia, Great article especially one that's been going on for 35 years. I do hope things are back to normal for all events next year. And, I think virtual events are interesting and it's for such a good cause. Thanks for your article.

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on February 21, 2021:

This is the first time for me to read or hear about this event. It seems fun, but it is like many world events that have been stopped due to the Coronavirus. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you, Linda, for sharing

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 21, 2021:

Very interesting. Been to Vancouver but didn't know about this Sun Run.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 21, 2021:

Hi Linda,

Thanks for telling us what the annual Vancouver Sun Run is like in ordinary times. Like you, I hope that these virtual gatherings will no longer be the norm by next year.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Adrienne. Yes, like you I hope that next year will be better. It's sad how the virus has affected life, and the loss of life is tragic.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

"Be smart, be safe, and let's get on with life." I love your advice, Bill! Thanks for sharing it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Manatita. I'm impressed with what people are doing online during this time. Human imagination is impressive! I hope you have a great week.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Devika. Yes, the day of the traditional run is always enjoyable. It's a fun event.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Bill. Yes, the first part of the part of the course is beautiful. The second part is not as attractive, but there is usually entertainment to cheer us up. Some people are starting to get tired by then, so the entertainment is appreciated!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Thanks for the comment, Chitrangada. I hope the COVID problem is solved very soon. It has been a sad and worrying event.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Mel. I'm interested in seeing how the public responds as the virtual run in my area approaches. The plan to run "virtually" may be loved by some people, though as I say in the article I've already seen some criticisms. I recently read about a school group preparing for the run, though. Thanks for commenting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Gyanendra. You've raised a good point. The publicity created by the substitution of virtual events for real ones may do some good.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Liz. Some people raise money for charity in the Sun Run, too. I hope that aspect of the virtual run is successful.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Liza. I hope that things are back to normal soon, too. I also hope that the virtual runs that are happening can be made as enjoyable as possible for the participants. Thank you for the visit and comment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Hi, Dora. I hope the virtual run is a success, too. I love the thought that COVID doesn't hinder anything! It's nice to think that things can be adapted, even though they may not be the same as the original item or event.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Thank you for the kind comment, Umesh. I appreciate it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

Blessings to you, too, Misbah.

Adrienne Farricelli on February 21, 2021:

It's sad to hear how COVID19 has impacted such a wonderful event as the Annual Vancouver Sun Run. I can see the flaws you have described regarding the virtual event. However, safety comes always first. Hopefully, next year will be better.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 21, 2021:

Society is slowly coming out of its prolonged slumber, and that's a good thing. Events like this will slowly emerge, as will sporting events, and if precautions are taken, those are good things. Be smart, be safe, and let's get on with life.

Loved the photos of Vancouver! I haven't been there in decades, but I know I would enjoy a visit.

manatita44 from london on February 21, 2021:

Hope things return to normal too. An interesting and fun one for you and with a difference. Good that you are getting out to exercise and the Sun Run sounds like a lot of fun.

We of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, have gone fully virtual and we do so much online plus Zoom: meetings and seminars, marathon runs, meditation classes, plays and skits, Peace Runs, etc. It is amazing to know the things that can be done with some imagination.

Still, you will probably tell me that we are social animals and that's great. I hear that Johnson and Johnson's vaccine will be out soon. Perhaps the U.S will share with you. Johnson and Johnson seems to be the only ones with an ethical code. Missed you! Much Love.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 21, 2021:

AliciaC A great place for such events sounds a perfect way to spend the day.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 21, 2021:

Hi Linda. The Vancouver Sun Run sounds like a wonderful event. There is nothing quite like the electric atmosphere before a large road race. And the post race festivities is always a great time to commiserate with friends, family, and other competitors. Hopefully things return to normal this year so these events can return to normal. While it’s nice that they are offering a virtual event it’s just not the same. The Sun Run looks to have a beautiful course incorporating Stanley Park.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 21, 2021:

The Vancouver run event sounds interesting indeed. Good to know about this race in great details.

So many events have been cancelled or postponned to prevent the spread of the pandemic. But now things are becoming better.

Thank you for sharing.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 21, 2021:

I have participated in many of these types of runs in San Diego. They are truly enjoyable, and it is a shame that Covid has temporarily eliminated them. I don't think a virtual event would have the same impact on a person but, who knows, it might be something productive to do while riding out the pandemic. Great coverage.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on February 21, 2021:

AliciaC, As you have already said virtual sun run will raise the spirit. I agree with your thought. To add further, this run will raise the spirit not only in your part of the world but the Spirit of the entire humanity. It will awaken all of us even those are not schooled. Thank you.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 21, 2021:

You give a detailed explanation of how the virtual run compares with the real event. We have had similar events in the UK. These events raise a lot of money through sponsorship for charities. Virtual runs have helped a little to keep some money coming in. Although I fear not to the same extent as the usual events.

Liza from USA on February 20, 2021:

Since the pandemic, I have heard of the virtual run being organized. I've seen some of my friends shared their virtual running on social media. I think it's great! People necessitate continuing to do activities even it's different than normalcy. I'm sure many of us cannot wait to resume normal activities as soon as the pandemic is over. Let's hope someday the event will be back!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 20, 2021:

Hoping that the virtual will be successful and be just as enjoyable as the real run. It's encouraging to hear that COVID does not hinder everything.Congratulations on your participation!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 20, 2021:

Linda, I thoroughly enjoyed this hub and you have presented it so nicely. I am happy that I could catch this before it moves the niche site. Thanks.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on February 20, 2021:

Yes I agree with your point of view of two sides

Well I wish everyone enjoys it at their best

Blessings

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2021:

Hi, Misbah. Thank you for commenting, I can see two sides to the argument. As you say, I think the virtual run will uplift the spirits of some people at this difficult time. That's an important benefit. Some people may not like the idea of a virtual run, though.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 20, 2021:

Hi, Pamela. Yes, I think some people will be glad that the race is going ahead in some form. I'm interested in seeing how the situation develops in Vancouver and in other areas. I appreciate your visit.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on February 20, 2021:

I am glad to hear that this will be going to be a virtual event and the extended dates, is a good idea to avoid crowds and make people feel lively.

These kind of events makes you feel lively and uplift the spirit

I hope British Columbia will enjoy this lively event

Blessings

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 20, 2021:

I have always wanted to visit Vancouver. As to the race, i guess a virtual event is better than no event. Your article explains the way they are handing this race very well. Certainly there are some possible problems but I imagine racers are glad it was not cancelled. Thanks for sharing this information, Linda.

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