On March 13th at 12.27pm a statement was released that the 2020 Spar Omagh Half Marathon was to be postponed. This was just 15 days from our race date. Little did we know at that point about what was to come. As the Coronavirus pandemic developed over weeks it became clear that we would not be able to hold an event in excess of 3000 people. On May 21st the decision was made to cancel the event. As front-line workers battled bravely to fight the virus there was no other decision to take.
Like many events, we had very little time between lockdown and when our event was to be held. Runners had started to taper, T-shirts were ready, medals were ready, supporter tops were ready. Everything was on the ground ready to go.
We had a decision to make. Roll the tops and medals over until 2021 or to run a virtual event. The club was looking at a huge financial loss for the event with no certainty of when the next opportunity would be. Our charity partner Air Ambulance NI was not going to receive any funds on top of multiple events falling as the weeks progressed.
The decision to transform the event into a Virtual race was made.
From that point, we were blown away by the response. Aided by an amazing top and medal the race gained momentum. Soon we were receiving entries from overseas. Entries came in from all over Ireland, all home nations. There were entries from over 2560 entries from 11 countries. Runners were embracing the virtual format and using it as motivation and soon races across Ireland were transferring to virtual. With the uncertainty moving forward a virtual race meant avoiding the potential waste and financial loss connected to unused tops and medals.
The virtual event being a great success meant we could donate £8081 to our charity partner. This was more than we are traditionally able to donate due to the generosity of entrants who donated their entry, when we had to cancel the event.
Air Ambulance NI is a charity that makes a life and death difference every day. Along with many other charities they have seen funds decimated with lockdown leading to the cancellation of almost every fundraising event.
Since 2017, Air Ambulance NI has been tasked to the Fermanagh and Omagh Council Area over 130 times and with a charitable contribution of £2 million needed each year, or £5,500 per day. The service relies on donations to stay in the air.
Damien McAnespie, Air Ambulance NI Fundraising Manager, said “On behalf of Air Ambulance NI I want to thank the entire committee of the Spar Omagh Half Marathon on their huge donation to the service. There was massive disappointment back in March when we realised the event could not go ahead due to Covid-19 but I want to commend the committee for their resilience and proactive approach in turning it into a virtual run.”
“The entire town of Omagh, and surrounding communities, have been very supportive of Air Ambulance NI over the past 3 years. People in West Tyrone are aware of the distance and the time it takes to get a seriously ill or injured person to a major trauma centre such as the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. Our medical team, composed of a consultant doctor and critical care paramedic at all times, can fly to anywhere in Northern Ireland within 25 minutes, bringing that emergency pre-hospital care to the scene.”
On behalf of the committee we would like to thank everyone who took part in this year’s event. We also want to thank The Henderson Group and all of our sponsors for their continued support in the most difficult circumstances. Entries deferred to next year’s event will receive info when we confirm the dates for 2021.