With gatherings of 50 or more people banned in Delaware, Newark-based Fusion Racing is offering an alternative for runners unable to compete in races for the foreseeable future.

The Hoppy Runner – Virtual Challenge offers racers a chance to interact and compete with runners from across the country while still adhering to CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19. Participants will post a picture proving how far they have run each day to a private Facebook group. The challenge is to run either 50 or 100 miles by the end of April.

“With everything that’s been going on, we probably had about 15 races in the next two months that have either been canceled or postponed,” Fusion Racing founder and president Nic DeCaire said. “For runners all over the country – we’re upset. They’ve been training for marathons, half marathons, races, and everything’s getting canceled across the country.”

The challenge began Monday and lasts through April 30. Interested runners may register until April 1.

DeCaire initially hoped for at least 100 participants. As of Monday night, only 48 hours after registration had opened, 322 people had signed up from states including California, Missouri and Wisconsin.

“It didn’t stay local, which was kind of cool to have all these people across the country participating in this,” DeCaire said. “We’re all in the same boat. We’re all looking for something to do and we’re all runners. It’s a community.”

Natalie Rosenberg, of Wilmington, decided to participate as a way to stay motivated in her training.

“I’ve been thinking about doing a half [marathon] in the summer or fall and I thought this would be a good way to motivate me to keep up with running right now and maybe do some longer runs,” she said. “It will keep me accountable with my running instead of doing just my usual three- or four-mile runs that I’ve been doing. Since everyone sees how much you run everyday, it’ll motivate me to do a longer run.”

She immediately crunched the numbers and believes 100 miles by the end of April is possible. Those who complete it will be mailed a medal and T-shirt. Participants who run 50 miles receive a medal.

“They can walk it, they can jog it, they can run it. We created a social media event page for it where they post their mileage to, so it gets them communicating with other runners,” DeCaire said. “You’re really using social media to create the community – posting on Facebook, interacting with them, talking with them. Besides the running aspect, asking people where they’re from, trying to get common bonds between people and letting those relationships build organically is what we’ve done in the past and it seems to really work. We’ve seen this before – people will make friends. Runners travel to other states, so they might meet somebody in California. Maybe a year from now, somebody goes to California to do a race and they meet up with these people they met online through this.”

DeCaire said Fusion Racing will post in the Facebook group each day. Then, in the comments, runners will share a picture of their results from that day. It can be a picture of their treadmill, Fitbit, Apple Watch or however mileage is recorded. Fusion will record the results in a spreadsheet.

“It’s very manual,” DeCaire said. “Like everybody, we have employees. How do you keep them busy, keep them paid during this time? If we don’t events, we don’t have income coming in.”

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