Runners get ready at the start line for the 10K run of the Frank Lloyd Wright Races in 2015. | File 2015

The Park District of Oak Park (PDOP) has opted to make its 45th annual Frank Lloyd Wright Races virtual for a second year in a row due to the high rate of COVID-19 cases in the community. After months of being on the fence, the park district made the decision to not hold the running event in person, citing safety and logistical problems.

“The rules for an event like that would be everyone, regardless of vaccination status, would need to get COVID tested within 48 hours prior to the race, so the likelihood of everyone doing that is pretty slim,” said Maureen McCarthy, recreation superintendent for the parks.

In non-pandemic years, the event is held on one day, where all participants compete against each other in either the 5k, 10k race or, for kids, the youth mile. Prior to COVID-19, about 2,500 people came out to run or walk in the races.

Those who participate this year will still be able to run the courses, which passes several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, but at their own pace and on their own timeline. While the event itself is scheduled for Oct. 17, registered participants can run or walk the routes on that day or any day before then. People can register up until Oct. 17.

Running and walking in the Frank Lloyd Wright Races has become a yearly tradition for many Oak Park families, according to McCarthy. She added that some people have participated in the event every year since its inception. As with last year, the park district  wanted to still give people the opportunity to simultaneously engage in physical activity and support the community.

“We’re excited to be able to still offer it in any format for the people that truly love the tradition of it,” said McCarthy.

Registration costs $18 per person, which includes the cost of a long-sleeved T-shirt. The fee is less than it would be if the race was being held in-person. Before deciding to go virtual, registration was much as $48. Those fees helped cover the costs of signage, timing, staffing, policing presence, renting space at Oak Park and River Forest High School and water, in addition to the T-shirts. By going virtual, those other expenses have been eliminated.

The park district has given the option of receiving a full refund or refunding the difference to those who signed up and paid the in-person registration amount, before it was decided to make the races virtual.

All the proceeds of the races go toward the park district scholarship program, which helps Oak Park families in need pay for such programming offered by the park district as after school-care, summer camps and pool passes.

“A good chunk of people just donated their money back to go to the scholarship fund, which was really generous,” said McCarthy.

So far about 700 people have registered to participate in the virtual Frank Lloyd Wright races. Last year, the first time the event was held virtually, about 600 people participated. McCarthy told Wednesday Journal smaller turnout is expected for virtual events.

“We’re hoping to hit the 600 number that we hit last year; that would make us happy,” said McCarthy.

While being glad the event can at least go on in a virtual capacity, McCarthy called it “very disappointing” that the Frank Lloyd Wright Races won’t be happening in person this year.

“We really hope next year will be better and we can go back in person,” said McCarthy.

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