Dingilizwe Ntuli, Sports Editor
ONE sporting event that seems to have benefited the most from the country’s lockdown is road running. Although it was common to come across people jogging in the mornings or evenings before the lockdown in March, the trend picked up thereafter, as it became the only form of exercising and keeping fit that people could easily do.
Gyms were all closed and with nowhere to exercise, people quickly organised themselves and jogged in small groups around Bulawayo’s residential areas.
Whilst others simply do it for fun and to enhance their athletic ability, for others road running helps them reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve blood circulation and boost metabolism.
For its health benefits, road running has recorded a spike in interest since lockdown restrictions were relaxed a few months ago, and this can be measured in the number of participants in the increasingly popular virtual marathons that Zimbabwe is beginning to warm up to.
Zimbabwe’s biggest and most popular road running event, the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon, will be run virtually tomorrow.
The annual marathon is normally held either at the end of June or beginning of July, but postponed this year to tomorrow due to fears of oversubscription, which would go against health protocols, should it have gone ahead in the resort town as had been planned.
Instead of totally cancelling it, like other marathons, organisers decided to turn it into a virtual run and they will now reap the rewards of that decision, with a record number of people taking part in the event.
In previous years, the marathon hosted about 3 500 runners from about 60 countries, but now that runners don’t have to physically travel to Victoria Falls, the number of participants has increased.
Main sponsors Econet Wireless Zimbabwe said more than 5 000 had registered for the event by Thursday afternoon, and with registration closing yesterday, that number would have fairly gone up.
Newly elected Bulawayo Athletics Board (Bab) chairman Watson Madanyika lauded virtual races as a great initiative in this period of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Econet Victoria Falls Virtual Marathon would be the first such event his association would be involved in.
Bab, Madanyika said, welcomed virtual races for helping keep athletes busy and focused on the sport they love in their own way.
“For us as Bab, this will be the first virtual marathon we are part of, as other organisations were holding their events without our input. From this one we hope to take lessons for future races of this nature. These races are the in thing now and l believe we will have more races of this nature from now on,” said Madanyika.
“Our role in Sunday’s event will be mainly restricted to compilation of results, since everyone will be running their own route to avoid people gathering. There is not much that we will do hands on,” he said.
Before the lockdown, most road runners didn’t understand the concept of virtual marathons, but were forced to quickly adapt after the cancellation of all races being held in one geographical area to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections.
They soon learnt that a virtual run is similar to a traditional running event, with the only difference being that you register online, run and complete the race in your own route, in your own way and in your own time, then you upload your results online to a large community of fellow runners.
Virtual races basically cater for everyone because they do away with the competitive mentality that so often exists in traditional running events.
There are no drawbacks in a virtual race since you plan your own route and run at your own time and at your own pace without feeling the competitive pressure of people overtaking you like what happens during a traditional race.
Being passed by other runners in a traditional road run can be upsetting and discouraging, which therefore takes away the fun in participating.
Virtual running is also cheaper in that one doesn’t actually have to travel to a particular town or place to run a specific route.
Tremendous investment of time as well as travelling and accommodation costs are cut out in a virtual race.
For example, while Victoria Falls hotels and lodges as well as some enterprising residents would have experienced a boom due to arrivals for the marathon, runners managed to save a lot, with the only money they parted with for this event being registration fees and donations to charities working with the race organisers.
There’s no doubt that whilst the lockdown has wreaked havoc and also caused anxiety on the local sporting scene, the virtual marathons have reinvigorated people’s enthusiasm for running.
The numerous mobile sporting apps available have also made virtual races easy to organise with friends or family members wherever they are in the world.
It brings great joy in running separately but evoking the feeling of running together.
So, when thousands take to the streets in different parts of Zimbabwe and abroad for the Econet Victoria Falls Virtual Marathon tomorrow, they will in essence be running their own routes, but the interactive real-time SportSplits Tracker app they downloaded and registered on will not only be tracking where they’re running, but they can switch screens and see where they’d be on the original marathon route in Victoria Falls.