The Outside Rail

Nic DeCaire’s one regret might be that he underestimated people.

The owner of Fusion Racing, a Delaware company that provides timing, tracking and logistics services to running (people, not horses) races in the area, created a 100-mile running challenge as a way to stay engaged with runners and produce at least a bit of revenue through what will be a trying time for his business during the Covid-19 crisis. Almost 500 registrations later, DeCaire has a movement on his hands with The Hoppy Runner – people pay $29, log their miles between March 16 and April 30 and if they get to 100 they get a medal and a T-shirt. The hoppy part links running to beer, but you don’t have to be a beer drinker to take part. You really don’t even have to be a runner as walking counts too. The whole idea was to keep people connected, encourage them to stay active for when races start again (hopefully) and help Fusion get through an early spring season with no business.

“We thought if we got 100 people this would be a win,” DeCaire said early in the week. “We’re at 407 (445 and climbing now) and you can register until April 1. We have 22 states and I think I’m now more concerned that we have to keep track of it all and mail this stuff out at the end. The daily recordkeeping part of it is going to be a lot of work. Bigger companies have data platforms and software for this. We’re doing it manually on a Google spread sheet.”

But he’s not complaining, just marveling.

Fusion puts on 100 or so races (5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, etc.) a year and lost at least 20 to cancelations this winter and spring. DeCaire has employees, overhead, a family. An instant 20-percent reduction in business will make you worry, and make you get creative. He owned a gym for 13 years and kept members involved with fitness challenges of various difficulties. The challenges lasted a month or so, raised money for non-profits and were open to anyone. The Hoppy Run taps into the same mindset: people want to engage with something, they want to have goals, they want to give back and they – apparently – want to help local businesses.

“Some of the runs are creating virtual races, but we created something that’s more of a challenge, we’ve got more people involved on social media, we’re creating cheerleaders,” said DeCaire. “We thought we’d get more buy-in this way. How can we get people to get out there, bring awareness to our foundation and generate some income?”

Last year, DeCaire received the Small Business Council of America’s Humanitarian of the Year award for Fusion’s efforts that have raised $2 million for several charities in the area including the building of a handicapped-accessible playground in Newark and supporting the Newark Police Department’s K-9 unit.

That good will and more shows up in the response to the Hoppy Runner. Runners or walkers log miles, post proof of the activity on a private Facebook page (open only to registrants) and the Fusion staff updates the spreadsheet. Four days in, runners have run 4,620.52 miles. They’re running on roads, trails and treadmills in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, South Carolina, California, Wisconsin, Oregon, Minnesota, New York, Illinois, Arizona, North Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri and Georgia. Oh, and Japan too.

Why did DeCaire get such a response? Good question, but it feels like a mix of reasons. The outdoors, so far, are about the only thing not affected by the coronavirus. People’s work routines and home routines changed, so going for a run feels like a bit of normalcy or at least something you can control. And even those at home with children who can’t go to school can get on the treadmill or do laps in the yard.

Hopefully, there’s a bit more to it. People want to be together, they want to motivate one another, they want a reason to check in, they’re at least a little bit competitive (I’m at 15 miles; one guy has 50 already). They might also be going a bit stir-crazy or trying to escape the news but, hey, whatever it takes, right? Right.

This has nothing to do with horse racing, until you start to think about it. Everything in this Covid-19 crisis is connected and we all need to remember that. Racetracks and steeplechase meets have canceled racing or closed their doors. The Kentucky Derby moved to September. The Maryland Hunt Cup, which started in 1894, was canceled. Its only previous cancelations came during World War II.

We’re probably not going to see Thoroughbreds in 100-mile online challenges any time soon, but we can be there the way DeCaire’s runners are there for him. We can support small businesses. We can recognize good work. We can reward good decisions and interesting ideas. We can carry on. We can help the people who care for the horses, and the people who care for those people.

“We’re a smaller industry, people know each other,” said DeCaire, unknowingly linking what he does to horse racing and any business really. “You’ve got to be there to support people. People know what we’re about and they know what we stand for. People know we rally around causes and they’re willing to support us.”

For more, check out The Hoppy Runner online. More runners always welcome.