Coming to Vets Park in Richfield, video game-themed race takes running to the next level

Pictured on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis dressed (also known as cosplaying) as Link from the Legend of Zelda video game franchise, Thomas Spargo is the creator of The Bit Run, billed as a first-of-its-kind event that combines running and video games. (Submitted photo)
Pictured on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis dressed (also known as cosplaying) as Link from the Legend of Zelda video game franchise, Thomas Spargo is the creator of The Bit Run, billed as a first-of-its-kind event that combines running and video games. (Submitted photo)

Call it the summer that video games headed outdoors.

The Pokemon Go phenomenon has been credited with getting gamers off the couch to explore their neighborhoods, and now, an event combining running and video games is coming to Veterans Park in Richfield this Sunday.

The Bit Run will feature 4K and 8K races through the park, interspersed with video game challenges. As far as the race’s creator, Thomas Spargo can tell, the event will be the first of its kind. He should know; Spargo completed his first marathon in June, and is deep in the gaming community, running a video game convention called Gamer’s Rhapsody.

The 22-year-old St. Louis Park resident has been an avid runner for years, having just completed Grandma’s Marathon in June, “and of course I’m a gamer. And I thought why not try to combine those two and get gamers into running or runners into gaming?” Spargo said.

An associate of his, Austin Colden, remembers when the idea was seeded. Colden, who sits on the planning committee for Gamer’s Rhapsody, recalls he and Spargo were driving from a video game-themed concert in Milwaukee called Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, “and we were just talking about game design and all kinds of stuff like that,” when the idea came up.

“Somehow we got on the topic, wouldn’t it be cool if there was some kind of way to make a run like you were in the video game,” Colden said.
So Spargo proceeded to organize the Bit Run, inspired by his running experience that dates back to his time as a Boy Scout, when he took up the activity to earn a merit badge in personal fitness.

“I had to commit to something for three months and I chose running and I’ve been running since then,” Spargo explained.

He has since graduated from Augsburg College with a degree in information systems analysis. All the while, his video game hobby has stayed strong. That includes joining in on the Pokemon Go craze that is getting gamers outdoors; players use the GPS and camera on their smartphones to catch and train virtual creatures that spawn just about everywhere.

“I’ve been playing it pretty much nonstop since it launched,” Spargo said.

The trend of active gaming is for real, according to Jason Redecker, who owns the software engineering company PC Hero, a sponsor of Bit Run.

“There’s a definitely a movement in getting people away from the desk,” Redecker said.

He believes Bit Run will appeal to a new niche.

“It sounds like one of those mud runs or challenges but more for people that are into gaming,” Redecker explained.

During the event he will exhibit his own indie video game, Beware of the Penguins, a survival game in which the player must handle hordes of penguins attacking zombie-style. The official competitive games in the race, though, are Super Smash Brothers, Mario Kart 8 and an indie game called Runbow, created by event sponsor 13am Games.

There’s music, too. Colden will perform with his band, Do a Barrel Roll, which exclusively plays music from video games like Legend of Zelda and – of course – Pokemon. The video game band will play after the race and as runners cross the finish line. During the race, runners will hear the stylings of Ravepulse, a Twin Cities DJ focusing on anime (Japanese-style animation), video games, pop and what a press release describes as “nerd music.”

After the consoles are powered down and the last of the race prizes have been handed out, Spargo will stay busy planning his other gaming related enterprises. His convention, Gamer’s Rhapsody – which focuses on art, music and software development as related to video games – takes place Nov. 18-20 at the Doubletree hotel in St. Louis Park.

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.