Normally, hordes of students crowd College Walk on the morning of University President Lee Bollinger’s annual Fun Run. In 2019, 1,350 participants chatted with friends, bemoaned the early start time of the race, and ran, jogged, walked, or shuffled the three-mile path around Morningside Heights before admiring the geeky commemorative T-shirts distributed upon completion.
This year, which marks the 19th annual race, what would have been hundreds of runners on campus was replaced with Instagrammable banners demarcating the race’s start and finish. Despite the unorthodox nature of this year’s race, over 1,200 signed up to run, surpassing participation in 2017 and 2018. Runners had three days, starting on Oct. 23, to complete, record, and submit their 5,000-meter run.
Now, even though people are unable to run with their friends due to the pandemic, this year’s Fun Run continues to bring the community together.
For sophomore Madison Kersten, the Fun Run presented an opportunity to connect with her peers. Although she was disappointed that she couldn’t run with others, she said the run still helped her interact with the Columbia community.
“This is kind of a way that I think we can feel connected as a student body,” she said. “It’s also a nice way to just get outside and get out of the house with everything being online.”
Although the race results were recorded and submitted online, the sense of community was sustained through physical traditions, including the distribution of 1,000 Fun Run T-shirts. The quirky shirts are updated every year— this rendition featured a stone lion donning a mask—and motivated some, including sophomore Anya Kopyra, to participate.
Kopyra, a former basketball player who transitioned to long-distance running after recovering from injuries as a high school senior, took advantage of the opportunity to add to her collection of Columbia swag.
“I run four or five times a week anyways, and this seemed like I could get a free T-shirt,” she said, completing her run from Grafton, Massachusetts.
Fun Run T-shirts signal both an accomplishment and a connection made with other members of the Columbia community. Under normal circumstances, the shirts can typically be seen around campus in libraries and in dining halls; now, they will be shipped to participants around the world.
The socially-distanced aspect of the run brought on other changes, including flexibility in the schedule. Sophomore Johanna Lund, who ran in the Fun Run this year after sleeping through the 8:15 a.m. event last year, appreciated the more flexible timing, which allowed her to take the run at her own pace. Kopyra and Kersten shared similar thoughts.
“I think [the virtual format] is beneficial for students, especially right now,” Kersten reflected. “You can kind of run at your own pace, and it’s very flexible—you can run any time of the day, and you have three days to do it.”
A virtual race format also meant no limits on the number of runners who could participate, which has affected students' participation in the past. In 2019, 96 people were waitlisted for the Fun Run. In addition, this year’s Fun Run was the first to boast participation from around the globe, both from current students and alumni. The Instagram #columbiafunrun hashtag, which has been used for Fun Runs in the past, lit up this year with celebratory photos from not only New York, but China, Florida, Ireland, Virginia, and India.
“Columbia is a global University, and now this is a global event, which is not something we would have imagined a year ago,” said Acacia O’Connor, assistant director of digital media and a planner of the event.
While the Fun Run has shifted from an on-campus race where people can run with their friends to an individual venture that can be accomplished anywhere around the world, in the name of virtual unity, the central vision remains the same.