Wherever they could find the space, women across the state and country laced up their sneakers Saturday for the 39th annual Montana Women's Run which had to take on a virtual format this year to keep participants socially-distanced.
Women's Run Board President Renee Coppock said it was a wonderful morning in Billings for a run, even though race participants couldn't congregate in the usual downtown location.
“It was really exciting because we had great weather in Billings. So people who wanted to do their virtual race on race day had a great morning and afternoon to do it. We’ve seen a lot of red shirts running around town. And that’s really uplifting considering we couldn’t all be together downtown this year," Coppock said.
The Montana Women's Run has a goal to celebrate women and to promote and guide ladies toward a healthy lifestyle. Before COVID-19, the Women's Run would hold clinics to help women get in shape for the race. The clinics had to be canceled due to Gov. Steve Bullock's stay at home order.
Coppock said people were still able share advice via the Women's Run social media pages.
“People helped each other on the Facebook page and gave each other ideas about how to run or where to run. People got ready and we were so happy that 4,822 people did sign up," Coppock said.
The total number of participants is down by about half of the usual 9,000, Coppock said.
"But at least almost 5,000 women are out there running and moving. So for us, that part of our mission has been accomplished," Coppock said.
People participated in the virtual race from Maryland, Florida, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Michigan, California and New York, Coppock said.
In the past, the Montana Women's Run has been able to use a portion of the race entry fees to donate $100,000 to local organizations that support women. Coppock said the run has helped support the YWCA, YMCA programs for kids and mothers, track and cross country at Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University Billings and the Billings Clinic Wellness Fund.
The donation amount won't be as high this year because of the smaller number of participants, Coppock said.
“We’ve grown now large enough that we’ve been giving out $100,000 to community organizations that support women and women’s health. And we’re positive we won’t be able to do that this year. And we know those organizations are impacted. But, these close to 5,000 women are allowing us to give some money back to the community. And we won’t know until a little later how much that will be. But we’re going to be happy to be able to do that," Coppock said.
During the race registration period this year, Women's Run staff had to make some changes. People would normally come to the organization's downtown office to pick up their race packet containing their t-shirt, race number and other goodies. This year, all the race packets had to be mailed.
“In order to make it affordable, we didn’t mail these shirts first class. We used bulk mail and nice big tyvec envelopes so the shirts would not be damaged. But we were able to mail them at a lot less cost," Coppock said.
The bulk mail has been running slow and some women didn't receive their 2020 shirt by race day, Coppock said.
The team got started, "little later than we had hoped because of everything that we had to do. A lot
The Montana Women's Run has offered a virtual race for two years, Coppock said. The virtual race usually costs an extra $5. When leaders knew the race was going to be all virtual, they decided to waive the $5 fee to keep the race more accessible.
Coppock has been associated with the Montana Women's Run since 1989. She said what struck her most about this unusual year was that people still love the event, even if it had to be virtual.
"These women in our community and beyond really want to stay active. And they really do like the event and care about the event. And they're excited to participate in it. So the fact that we could get almost 5,000 when we couldn't gather downtown is amazing to me," Coppock said.