A small group of local runners joined thousands of Missourians online March 28, when they ran canceled marathon and half-marathon races on the gravel track near Crocker Elementary School.
Melissa Martinez, who is well known in area running circles as the coordinator of the Frog Fitness Group and organizer of numerous running events in the Waynesville/St. Robert area, said that she and local runners Rachel Bowers and Sean Wilson had all signed up for races that were canceled due to COVID-19 precautions. Instead of staying inside, they decided to go ahead and run the distances using social-distancing practices. They named their new race the “COVID-19 Virtual Run.”
“I was set to run the St. Louis GO Marathon – and I did run the 26.2-mile race, I just didn’t run it in St. Louis,” Martinez said.
Likewise, Bowers and Wilson had signed up to run half marathons in the St. Louis area, but completed their races on the track. All three runners kept in touch with fellow runners in other communities through social media sites.
Completing the half-marathon distance was an especially meaningful goal for Wilson, a local pastor and military retiree who began what he describes as a “weight-loss journey” in December, losing nearly 60 pounds through improved diet and exercise. It was the first half marathon for Wilson since 2004.
“This time last year I wasn’t able to walk a mile without breathing heavy, but my last year is old news,” he said.
Wilson’s advice to others hoping to improve their well-being is to simply, “run your race, your way.”
“Do not compare yourself with others, just get better every day,” he said. “Make small changes, set attainable but challenging goals, connect with others who are working on themselves and encourage others along the way.”
Martinez said Wilson’s determination was inspiring.
“The best part of the whole race for Rachel and me wasn’t finishing our own races, but watching (Sean) complete his,” she said. “He just kept putting one foot in front of the other, clearly determined to complete 13.1 miles. We were crying.”
A fourth runner, Ashley Shetland, arrived mid-race to cheer on the runners, and, with plenty of room to safely run on the track, joined the runners to complete a few miles.
All in all, Martinez said the runners were grateful for the opportunity to run their races, even though it required a different location, format and scale to keep everyone safe.
“It’s amazing what can happen when a few friends share a goal and encourage one another,” Martinez said. “We didn’t do it for any medal or any shirt; we simply did it because God blessed us with a beautiful day and the ability to run.”
(Editor’s note: Information for this article was provided by Melissa Martinez.)