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45th Pear Blossom Run will be a virtual repeat

Heather Johnson, the 2020 virtual women's winner, pushed her baby's stroller during training runs. Mail Tribune file photo

Pear Blossom Run organizers were hopeful last year’s 44th edition would be a one-off: a virtual experience unlike any other as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Well, now it’s a two-off. Again, fingers are crossed it will be the last such approach.

“We really didn’t,” race co-director Chuck Whiteley said, when asked if he thought another virtual run would be necessary in 2021. “Part of the problem is, I’m just an optimistic person. I really hoped and figured we’d be done with the COVID stuff a few months ago, but we’re going in the right direction. That’s a good thing.”

Like last year, the 45th Pear Blossom Run will be virtual, with entrants completing their runs from April 10-25. They can register for the 10-mile run, the 5-kilometer race or, back after a one-year hiatus, the 1- and 2-mile Mayor’s Cup fun runs for children.

The 10-mile and 5K runs cost $28, and the fun runs are $7.

To register, go to pearblossomrun.com. Sign-ups will be taken through April 25.

Proceeds from entry fees and donations go to the Rogue Valley Family YMCA’s Strong Communities Fund and the run’s scholarship foundation.

Participants choose their own routes and run or walk at their own pace. They can do so outdoors on roads, trails or tracks, or indoors in a gym or on a treadmill. They can run solo or with groups.

Entrants can run as often as they want during the event time frame, time themselves and upload their best results.

Race packets will be mailed. Goodie bags can be picked up April 30 from 12-6 p.m. and May 1 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the YMCA, where the Pear Blossom Run banner will be set up for photo opportunities.

Among the unique qualities of a virtual run is that people the world over can enter.

Last year, there were 311 runners in the 10-mile race and 423 in the 5-kilometer event. In non-COVID-19 years, those races average about 2,500 entrants.

In 2020, there were 25 states represented, and four countries other than the United States had entrants: Bosnia, France, Taiwan and Thailand.

“With the virtual ability for people to run wherever they are,” said Whiteley, “it turned out really neat.”

Whiteley and crew didn’t know what to expect last year as they embarked on a way to keep the iconic Rogue Valley race going less than a month after the virus forced massive shutdowns, social distancing measures and widespread protocols.

“The thing that was challenging last year is, we were some of the first people to do that (stage a virtual race) across the country,” said Whiteley. “There weren’t very many virtual runs going on at all. Since then, there have been quite a few. We paid a lot of attention and we’ve made minor adjustments to ours, but really nothing very major.”

The biggest change was bringing back the Mayor’s Cup runs.

“This year, we really wanted to find a way for the kids to be involved,” said Whiteley, “because we didn’t have very many kids in the 10-mile and 5K, not nearly what we would have hoped for.”

There will again be prize categories for accomplishments other than fastest times: elevation gain, weight pushed in a stroller, cutest four-legged running partner, longest distance from Medford, etc.

“There are all kinds of neat categories for people to win,” said Whiteley. “You don’t have to be a fast runner.”

The men’s and women’s 10-mile races were won by EJ Holland and Heather Johnson, respectively. Both picked routes along the Bear Creek Greenway.

Ashland’s Holland, now a freshman cross-country and track runner for the University of Oregon, submitted an overall winning time of 52 minutes, 51 seconds. Former North Medford cross-country state champion and Washington State runner Drew Jordan, of Spokane, Washington, was second in 53:03. Travis Thompson, of Eugene, placed third in 58:27.

Medford’s Johnson, the 2018 champion, was the lone female to eclipse an hour, clocking 59:42. Medford’s Samantha Robertson (1:02:15) and Gale Robertson (1:03:13) were second and third, respectively.

Neither Holland nor Johnson threatened the records for their divisions. Regardless, they would not have counted.

Cole Watson set the men’s mark of 49:05 in 2017, and Marci Klimek established the women’s record of 57:03 in 2015.

In the 5K, Michael Maiorano, now a junior competing for South Medford High, had the top men’s time of 15:23. Carmen Mejia, a former South Medford runner, took the women’s race in 18:14.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.