For many, July 4th means fireworks, barbecues, and big crowds. For me, Independence Day has usually meant a road race. Over the past 20 years, I have run July 4th races 15 times on 7 different 5K to 10K courses. The years I’ve missed have been due to injury or a crowded race schedule. In Massachusetts, I’ve run races in Boston, Concord, Marblehead, Dedham, Hingham, and Nantucket. In Vermont Woodstock, Morrisville, South Hero and before that in Seattle, Denver, and Epping NH. I can’t tell you about the fireworks displays those years but can recall the details of most of those races.
I’ve read the most races on any given day is Thanksgiving. It’s cool (or cold!) and both seasoned and occasional runners work up an appetite for the big T-day dinner. My guess is July 4th has the second most races. Often there is beer, barbeque, bands, and a party following. The weather is predictably warm (often hot!) and people are eager to hang out. The races draw kids, grandparents, and everyone in between.
So in 2020, we have Covid-19. Everything is different with essentially every race cancelled or virtual between March and so far through July. I just saw a large race in New Hampshire on August 29th is having a time trial start, with one runner going every 10 seconds. That’s just 360 runners per hour. Last year this race had 1,200 finishers. If even half that number show in 2020, it would take nearly two hours to get everyone off! Time will tell about how other races this fall will be handled or even held, including the BAA Half Marathon in October and the rescheduled BAA 10K in November, races that have each attracted about 8,000 runners.
In any event, on this July 4th I decided it was time for some semblance of a race. So I downloaded the certified course map for the Clarence DeMar 5K, emailed a few folks about it, and this morning headed to South Hero for an 8:30 start. Turned out others had the same idea. There were several groups of people who had already run and were cooling down. Others were warming up. Very informal – unlike prior years when the race preceded the parade of you-name-it local groups with the road lined with spectators in their fold-out chairs. I connected with my friend Moe and we took off to see what we could do. Away we went, and wow, what time off from racing can do! We both ran far slower than we did a year ago. Nevertheless, it was good to test things. Confirmed there is work to do. Much work! Next Sunday, a group is going to meet informally in Stowe for a time trial of the Eight Miler. If the 5K was tough, 8 miles on a grinding course is going to be a real challenge!
It’s natural to lament what we’ve lost and are missing during this time. But runners are generally optimistic and expect things to turn around, including a rebound in pace. Of course, time will tell, as it always does! I’m finding it important this year to reflect on the ability to get out and move — this is true independence and worth celebrating! Many are constrained, either by their own choices or circumstances, and yet today there were 25 or so folks in South Hero giving it their all. Many tracking their time, some not, but I suspect all feeling a level of accomplishment and celebration simply by being out there. Happy July 4th everyone!