Cheering on runners

Lana Broadbent, of Missouri City, Texas, cheers on runners during the 41st annual Blue Bell Fun Run at Brenham High School in 2019. The event is being moved to a virtual format this year as the COVID-19 outbreak has forced schools, businesses, concerts, festivals and other events to close.

In a time of crisis, Steve Puckett and his team are doing their best to keep the “fun” in Blue Bell Fun Run.

The outbreak of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has forced the closure of schools and businesses, as well as concerts, festivals and other social gatherings across Texas and the United States.

Add the annual Blue Bell Fun Run to that list, as Puckett was recently forced to announce alterations to this year’s event.

On Wednesday, Puckett issued a news release stating the race, which has welcomed thousands of participants to Brenham since 1978, will transition to a virtual format this year.

Puckett, who has served as the Fun Run’s race director since 2009, worked swiftly with team members Tracy Campbell and Jamie Maurer to develop an alternative, and the trio opted to devise a family friendly and safe alternative that would allow registered runners and walkers a chance to participate while also adhering to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

“We had tossed the idea around about going virtual sometime last week,” Puckett told The Banner-Press in a phone interview Friday. “We just kept following the CDC and listening to all the different news reports and what they said would be shutting down and closing.

“We started preparing accordingly and came up with what we think is a pretty strong alternative.”

The Wednesday news release came 30 days before the scheduled event (April 18), which had already garnered 3,000 entrants with an expected 1,000-1,2000 still to come. That number would have surpassed the 3,742 entrants from 2019.

Puckett is encouraging would-be runners and walkers to continue signing up for the event, as most of the event’s structure will remain the same.

According to BlueBellFunRun.com, during the week of April 12-18, runners and walkers should complete the distance for which they registered — Kids’ 1-mile, 5K, 10K, or Half-marathon. After completing that distance, entrants are advised to:

• Post an image of yourself on either the Blue Bell Fun Run Instagram or Facebook page with the following: #bluebellfunrun2020.

• Send an email to tracy@bluebellfunrun.com with your image and your confirmation number from Race Roster or your name & address.

• Be creative with those photos.

• Add other creative hashtags.

Competitors are encouraged to wear costumes and to run or walk in groups, but Puckett stressed the importance of adhering to CDC recommendations in regards to social distancing and group limits. The CDC is asking people to maintain distances of six feet, while also limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less.

Those who complete their distance will receive:

• A coupon for one free pint of the Blue Bell Ice Cream flavor of your choice at your local store.

• A 2020 Blue Bell Fun Run T-shirt.

• A 2020 limited edition Blue Bell Fun Run participant medal.

• Half-marathoners also receive a Blue Bell Fun Run half-marathon finisher shirt.

This year’s event marks the first time the event will be “canceled,” something Puckett said comes under unavoidable circumstances.

“We have grandparents who sign up and bring their grandchildren; we have parents and grandparents pushing toddlers through the course in strollers. There are a lot of factors that went into the decision,” Puckett said. “We couldn’t tell the young and old to stay home and only invite people in their 20s and 30s and the middle-aged.

“And we had registered runners from College Station, Houston, Austin, San Antonio … all areas that had some coronavirus cases reported. We had to take quick action.”

The Fun Run has traditionally survived dire circumstances, that threatened the cancellation of the event, but Puckett reiterated that the coronavirus outbreak provided challenges that required a difficult decision.

“In 2009 and last year, those were probably our two years where we were close to having to call the event off due to weather,” Puckett said. “We had torrential downpours and some heavy storms were being predicted. We were able to weather those, no pun intended, and did weather those quite well. And our runners were able to see that we were able to stay the course and make changes accordingly.

“But this is different, and we had to react differently because of it.”

Online registration remains opener until April 18. All revenue, after expenses are deducted, will go toward Run for the Youth of Washington County, an organization that supports local athletic programs and other youth organizations.

Puckett said for those who have signed up who wish not to participate this year, their sign-up fees can be deferred to the 2021 event.

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