BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
PITTSBORO — The coronavirus pandemic wasn’t going to stop the Reindeer Run.
But the Chatham County Partnership for Children did have to get a little creative for the 16th iteration of its holiday race, which doubles as a fundraiser for local organizations that promote healthy lifestyles.
“We had to create a new race within our own longstanding race,” race director Jerry Lux said, adding that, at least for him, “this huge change was fun.”
This month, his team announced plans for the first ever virtual Reindeer Run, which will take place from Friday, Dec. 4, to Saturday, Dec. 12, with participants logging their times on Strava, a running app.
As per usual, it’s a five-kilometer race (just over three miles) that’s available to individuals, groups, school teams and families. And the standard course, which spans Central Carolina Community College’s Pittsboro campus, will be available for runners.
To avoid large gatherings, though, Lux and company are also setting up trails at four Chatham County Parks and Recreation Department venues: The Park at Briar Chapel in Pittsboro, Northeast Park in Chapel Hill, Northwest Park in Siler City and Southwest Park in Bear Creek. Runners can complete their 5Ks there, too.
“The thought of staggering start times didn’t seem manageable or safe,” Lux said. “Last year, we had over 500 runners. To properly stagger them in intervals (at the same location) was a lot of logistics.”
He’s been thinking over such logistics for months. Since the Reindeer Run is usually held on CCCC’s campus, Lux and other Chatham County Partnership for Children leaders found themselves in frequent conversation with Mark Hall, the community college’s Chatham County provost.
Plus, the Reindeer Run — despite the Grinch, Santa Claus and Rudolph costumes its participants sometimes sport — is at its root a serious event.
It’s certified by USA Track & Field, which means runners can use their times from the Reindeer Run to qualify for larger national events. There’s an extensive archive of race results online, dating back over a decade, and last year’s top finishers included former Division 1 college and current high school runners.
Case in point: Lux, 35, was ready to adapt far in advance.
“We didn’t want to just jump to: ‘OK, the college isn’t going to let us have this race, so we’re going to meet at this (random) park,’” he said. “It’s official, and we wanted to keep that higher standard.”
By his estimate, Chatham County Partnership for Children was in touch with Hall as early as late April. In August, they made the call to hold a virtual race at CCCC and the four other locations. (The county parks and rec department held a similar walk/run/bike challenge in September.)
Since then, Lux has been working steadily to secure sponsors, figure out traffic signs and coordinate the local police presence needed for when runners have to cross U.S. Highway 87 on their Pittsboro route, among other duties. It’s the first virtual race he’s ever been a part of.
“We love the Reindeer Run, and I’m so pleased that we’re able to continue this great community event,” CCPC executive director Genevieve Megginson said in an email. “Jerry’s put a lot of time and energy into setting up safe options.”
Runners can sign up for the event and get more information online at: chathamkids.org/5k. They can register through Dec. 11, but event T-shirts are only guaranteed for those who register (preferably online) by Nov. 20. Sign-up fees are $30 for individuals and groups, and $25 for school teams.
For $5, families can also sign up for the Run Rudolph Home competition. That’s a new wrinkle to the 2020 event, in which kids and families across the county are challenged to run a net total of 3,752 miles, or the distance from North Pole to Pittsboro (where a lost Rudolph has been “stranded”).
Realistically, Lux said he’s expecting a drop-off in total participants and fundraising numbers this time around. In 2019, the Reindeer Run hosted around 500 runners and raised $7,000, which CCPC distributed in grant form to four local organizations, including a church and a Boys & Girls Club.
But he’s hoping “we pick up a little bit of steam” since the 2020 Reindeer Run can be conducted from anywhere. Some of Lux’s family members back home in Michigan, for example, are planning to participate.
All you really need is the Strava app, three miles of roads or trails and pair of shoes to contribute to what Lux called a “really important” event to him, his organization and the race’s beneficiaries.
“It’s an event that gives back,” he said. “One really cool thing about this year is that our reach is unlimited, but all those proceeds still come back to Chatham County.”
Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.