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Pear Blossom Run still on, in spirit

In an effort to offer a ray of hope in gloomy times, Pear Blossom Run organizers vowed Wednesday that the annual event will go on this year, at least in spirit.

Making modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic, race director Chuck Whiteley said the 10-mile main event and the 5-kilometer race will go on as “virtual” races instead of the annual tour of the course that runs through downtown Medford toward Jacksonville and back.

“We just feel like it’s really important at this time with everybody shut in and everything to really have something to look forward to and something to do,” said Whiteley. “Now they can set goals and go out and get that physical exercise that’s so important for stress and for your immune system.”

Surrounded by co-race director Rich Stanfield, YMCA executive director Brad Russell and YMCA fitness director Jeni Beck, Whiteley said runners will use the honor system after finding a course of their own — it could even be a home treadmill — to safely navigate their chosen distance and then report their results.

“We are going to give people a window, a time frame, to be able to complete their run,” said Whiteley. “If they sign up for the 5K, then it’s going to be their responsibility to go out and find a 5K course of their own and go out and run the course and get back to us with their time that they finish the course in.”

Details on the time frame runners will have to post their results are still being worked out, according to Whiteley, but it will not have to be solely on April 11 as originally scheduled. Given the fluid situation, the group advised runners to check pearblossomrun.com for more details as they become known.

“It’s not going to be one day,” he said. “There will be a starting day and an ending day and then they’ll have all that time in between there to pick a day that works for them on a course that works for them.”

The Fun Runs, both 1- and 2-mile varieties, have been tabled for this year despite the most local school interest in event history. Beck said 24 area schools had expressed interest in being part of the runs but, given the current climate with schools closed until April 28, it was deemed best to postpone those events.

Russell said the group is merely trying to do the best it can, given social-distancing parameters that have been put in place, to provide some outlet for those inundated with coronavirus concerns these days.

In its 44th year, the run typically corresponds with Medford’s annual Pear Blossom Festival, which was canceled recently, and funds raised help provide scholarships for local high school runners.

“We want the Pear Run to live on,” he said. “The Pear Run is more than just running, this is about supporting the community.”

Added Stanfield: “The virus affects communities all over and we are a community, of runners and everyone else, and it’s important to do whatever we can.”

The group also saw the move to a virtual race as beneficial to those who have already put so much time and energy into preparing for their race.

“There’s a lot of people who are already out training for the 10-mile,” said Whiteley. “A lot of people have already put in a lot of work for this so this gives them an opportunity to meet all the guidelines that are being passed down to us and still be able to go out and have their race.”

Of particular note to those who have already entered the 10-mile or 5K race, or those who may still want to participate, is that the traditional Medford-area course is not recommended for runners to try and utilize.

“It’s not about the course,” said Russell. “They need to do it at their own place where they’re feeling safe.”

“The thing about the race course is that it takes the police to shut down intersections and so forth,” he added, “so folks are going to have to do that on their own to make sure that they’re staying safe. There’s lots of options, around the block, down the bike path at home, on a treadmill, wherever you can do it and feel safe.”

While results can be submitted to the race organizers through the Pear Blossom Run website, there will be no course records, per se, since there is no way (or desire) to verify courses beforehand.

“We found that runners are some of the most honest people around,” said Whiteley. “Maybe we’re partial but we think it will be fine.”

Beck said the group is looking into a way to put forth a social media campaign where participants will be able to post pictures of themselves “running the Pear” to further enhance the solidarity that the event has been known to offer.

With the Pear Blossom Run’s traditional “Everyone’s a Winner” motto, Beck said all participants will still receive T-shirts and medals as usual, and there may even be some added prizes announced online for the most creative costume or potentially for the participant who lives farthest away.

“The other thing that this does is this enables people from outside our community to be able to run the Pear Blossom,” noted Whiteley. “You don’t have to be here. You could be in New York and you could go out and run the Pear Blossom. It’s nice to have a little fun going on during all this (COVID-19 pandemic). This is all so serious but it’s nice to be able to do something different.”

Given the unique nature of the event with Wednesday’s change, Russell said he hopes people will continue to participate this year and give a little grace should they not be pleased with their options.

“They can get a refund or if they’d like to donate their entry fee, we would really be appreciative,” he said.

Esperansa Morales provided one of the most remarkable stories in the 43-year history of the Pear Blossom Run last year when the 10-year-old fifth-grader from Klamath Falls won the women’s division of the 10-mile in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 24 seconds. Her time computed to a 6:21 average per mile.

Tyler Van Dyke, a 26-year-old who graduated from Eagle Point High in 2011, won the men’s division in his Pear Blossom debut in 54 minutes, 20 seconds.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

FILE PHOTO: Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneRunners make their make and back to the turn-around on Hanley Rd during the Pear Blossom 10-mile Run.