Holiday giving virtual 5K set to begin on Tuesday

Nate Leech, of the Village of Winifred, runs along the route he recently did for an Ironman competition Nov. 22. Leech is a triathlete who qualified for the Kona Ironman championship a year ago but the in-person race was canceled due to COVID-19. He competed in the virtual Ironman and finished first in his age group.

Get ready to lace up your running or walking shoes.

The Villages Recreation and Parks Department is sponsoring its first virtual 5K event in the month of December.

The Holiday Giving Virtual 5K will be open to those who registered beginning Tuesday through Dec. 20. The event is suitable for seasoned distance runners, beginners looking to complete their first 5K or those somewhere in-between.

Participants can pick their own date and location to run or walk 3.1 miles at a pace of their choosing.

The idea for the virtual event comes as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the annual Running of the Squares 5K in October.

Virtual races have become more popular throughout the pandemic and bringing one to The Villages was a natural fit, said John Rohan, director of The Villages Recreation and Parks Department.

“Our department recognized other 5Ks around the country were going virtual,” he said. “It still allows runners and walkers to stay socially distant but active. We knew it would be a good fit for our community.”

Those who participate in the Holiday Giving Virtual 5K will receive a race shirt upon registration. They will then be able to pick up a finisher’s medal on one of three dates: Dec. 21 at Eisenhower Recreation Center, Dec. 22 at Laurel Manor Recreation Center or Dec. 23 at La Hacienda Recreation Center.

Members of the Sole Mates walking group have participated in multiple virtual races this year, said the group’s leader Darlene Wood. She said many members of the group planned to sign up for The Villages virtual 5K.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Wood said. “We’ve done a number of virtual races. We pick a morning and go out and do the walks as a group. It’s a good way to get outside and remain active and still be able to be safe (by social distancing).”

Wood, of the Village of Belle Aire, said she was pleased to see the virtual race offered as an alternative to the in-person Running of the Squares.

“I think it’s great that the recreation department is doing this,” she said. “Any motivation to get people outside and exercising is great. And we still get a shirt and medals, so that’s nice. The bling is always important.”

Lizann Atkin, the newly elected president of The Villages Running Club, said she expects the event will be popular with members of her club.

“I was pleased to see that the Running of the Squares is scheduled to be a virtual race,” said Atkin, of the Village of Bridgeport at Lake Miona. “I think that will go over well with the members of TVRC. People can be safe, support a local charity and also get a run in.”

The “giving” part of the event’s name comes into play at medal pick-up.

The recreation department will accept donations of canned goods for the Seeds of Hope food drive at that time.

Rohan said the partnership with Seeds of Hope will provide an extra incentive for runners and walkers to help the community.

“To make this virtual 5K even more meaningful, participants can also help others more in need with food donations,” he said. “We know our community will come out to give it a try as well as put some food on the table for those in need.”

Wood said she will encourage all members of her group to participate

in the food drive.

“I used to work at the Christian Food Pantry in Lady Lake so supporting pantries is something I’m very passionate about,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing The Villages is doing to encourage people to donate at this time of year.”

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.