JEFFERSON — On Saturday May 16, some 500 runners from all over the area will suit up for the annual Furry Friends 5k benefiting the Humane Society of Jefferson County.

But instead of congregating together at Jefferson County Fair Park, the runners will compete from distant locations, clocking their own times and entering them in a shared database. Final times and ranks then will be posted on a virtual scoreboard.

The first ever “virtual” Furry Friends 5k will be an appetizer for the in-person run, which has been postponed to Aug. 22 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has canceled events and curtailed travel around the globe.

Jeff Okazaki, director of the Humane Society of Jefferson County, said that the humane society continuously has been monitoring all of the public health guidelines released at the federal and state levels and through the Jefferson County Health Department.

Local coordinators determined that even were the ban on large gatherings lifted in time to hold the Furry Friends 5k on its originally scheduled date, it would be best to delay.

“We felt it would safest and best to make the May event digital-only,” Okazaki said. “That way, people can participate in both, while taking the opportunity to exercise and stay healthy, to collaborate and connect with people across the area, all the while supporting a worthy cause.”

The humane society director said that the Furry Friends 5k organizers had looked at on-site alternatives as well. They could have staggered start times and imposed strict social-distancing regulations, but all in all, it is a large outdoor event that usually draws 500 or more participants plus spectators to the busy Jefferson County Fair Park.

Taylor Marshall, community outreach coordinator with the humane society, said that she is excited to be offering both the virtual and actual runs.

“We have been working on this for about a month now, when it became clear we were not going to be able to promote the regular event the way we want to, whether or not we got the clearance to go ahead with it,” she said.

This is a great way to get people motivated to stay fit and active during this trying time and to bring people together (though at a distance) for a common cause, Marshall said.

The humane society is urging participants in the virtual 5k to practice safe social distancing as they embark on their separate runs.

To coordinate the upcoming virtual event, local organizers have been working with ItsRaceTime.com to lay out what the virtual 5k would look like.

When people register for the regular 5k, which will take place on Aug. 22, participants automatically will be signed up for the virtual 5k for free. They will get an email link and directions on how to take part in both.

“People can choose whatever their favorite location is to run, and submit their time through It’sRaceTime,” Marshall said.

Marshall said people should plan ahead to take advantage of both runs.

The registration deadline is noon on May 15 to be entered into the virtual race. Earlybird pricing will remain valid through July 6, with a cost of $20 for runners/walkers age 13 and under or $30 for runners/walkers age 14 and up. On July 7, prices will increase by $5 per participant.

While the Humane Society of Jefferson County has never hosted one, virtual 5ks are becoming more and more popular, Marshall said.

The in-person run/walk Aug 22, meanwhile, promises to offer the atmosphere that humane society supporters are familiar with, with all of the vendors on site, with the dog agility trials, giveaways, food and cheerleaders along the route.

“It is a really fun time,” Marshall said.

Shirts and medals will go to every participant, with awards for the top finishers in each age category and in a special canine category, as well.

The humane society has emailed an update to past participants, and more details will be available in the coming weeks, Marshall said.

In the meantime, people are welcome to visit the humane society’s Facebook page to share their go-to running song and the personal route they’ve chosen for the virtual 5k.

“The HSJC encourages you to maintain safe social distancing and hopes this virtual race will bring people together while we remain apart,” Marshall said.

More information is available on the humane society website at hsjc-wis.com/event/7th-annual-furry-friends-5K/.

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