There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.”
— Kristin Armstrong
Here’s the good news for runners. You can still run. Even during a public-health emergency, there are many virtual races and creative things that people are doing on line to keep themselves connected and engaged with their running compatriots.
Everything that had been planned is being cancelled, postponed or reconfigured. We are constantly trying to adjust. It’s like walking around with a pair of new contact lenses that don’t quite fit. There is fear, there is doubt, there is change. It feels as though the ground keeps shifting, while we’re struggling to gain traction.
What better way is here to deal with all this unfamiliarity than to go for a run?
Running has changed over the decades from people just showing up at a starting line and trying as hard as they could to do well. Many participants now see racing as a way to keep motivation up, to stay fit and healthy, and to exercise on a regular basis.
Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures and YouTube videos of people in China running a marathon around their kitchen table, or heard about a determined athlete on a rooftop patio in Rome running a rectangular path around decorative planters. Here in the Hudson Valley, we have only a shelter-in-place order. We’re free to run around driveways, dirt, gravel and paved roads. We have thousands of acres of parks, with trails and carriage roads. We even have the Walkway Over the Hudson, the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, spanning a mile across the Hudson River.
Looking at the options
The running calendar offers some of the most spectacular and affordable races almost every weekend from spring through fall. Unfortunately, many of the familiar local running races slated for the early spring have been cancelled, rescheduled, or gone virtual. And there’s a lot of doubt about the summer events, too.
“The last weekend for running races was on March 8,” said Steve Schallenkamp of the Shawangunk Running Club, which hosts several races and a summer series in and around the New Paltz area. “They were still able to host relatively big races like the Celebration of Life half-marathon, but after that, on the weekend of March 15, all the spring races started to be cancelled. “ Among these was the first local race of spring, the Shamrock Run, hosted by the Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley. That event is now tentatively slated for September 6 in conjunction with the Hooley on the Hudson.
Two of the Mohonk Preserve’s biggest fundraising runs, the Rock and Snow Bridge 2 Bridge five-miler and the Rock the Ridge 50-miler, had to be adjusted due to strict social distancing and state shelter-in-place orders to help curb spread of the Covid 19 virus. The Shawangunk Runners help organize and run both races.
What was done with the former this spring seems to have worked, however.
“We have to put a cap on that race, and we were all sold out with 315 runners registered,” Schallenkamp said. To comply with the state shelter-in-place orders, the Mohonk Preserve had decided to shut its 8000 acres of trails and carriage road off to the public.
The race organizers looked at their options. They decided “to allow people to run their five miles in their neighborhood or wherever they wanted and load those results up,” said Schallenkamp. In terms of runner participation, the event turned out far better than he had ever imagined. “It’s a $25 entry fee for members and $35 for non-members, and even after they let people know that it was going to be done virtually and offered to return the registration fee, only 37 people asked for a return,” he reported.
Though they lost 37 entry fees, according to Schallencamp, there were 42 new entries for the virtual run.
Mohonk Preserve special events manager Tom Leader said that offering refunds to registrants had been “absolutely necessary given the state of the economy in the wake of the coronavirus,”
“While many runners did take us up on a refund, we were able to replace those with new registrants who were happy to help the [Mohonk] Preserve by participating in the virtual event.” His organization was “so grateful to our supporters for sticking with us as we develop innovative alternatives for all of the fundraising events that support the Preserve’s mission.”
Virtual events prove popular
The Rock The Ridge 50-mile run, which had to be postponed from May 2 to September 26, takes its participants through some of the most scenic and challenging parts of both the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park. Registrants can defer their entry to May 2021, transfer their registration to another person, or withdraw and have the fundraising requirement waived.
“We are working with registrants if none of the solutions provided are acceptable, and so far we are extremely happy with the results,” said Leader. New registrations are coming in almost daily.
Schallencamp thinks it’s highly unlikely that the Shawangunk Runners will be able to host their annual Summer Solstice nine-mile race scheduled for June 24 at the West Trapps Bridge. He’s also doubtful about being able to host their Summer Series weekly night races, a 37-year tradition, “unless something drastically changes.” He promised further news by the end of May.
The Onteora Runners Club has cancelled its ten-race Grand Prix for 2020 as well as their Woodstock 5K and 15K scheduled for May 24. “We have three races that the club puts on yearly, and two of them have been cancelled this year so far,” said ORC president Diana Karron. “I suspect that the last one, scheduled for July 17, will be cancelled as well, but we’ll make that determination at our board meeting on May 26.”
Discussions are taking place about rescheduling the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Father’s Day half-marathon and 5K races from June to October.
Several long-established fall running races in the region could be displaced, including the Pfalz Challenge ten-mile single-track trail race on September 26 and the Rosendale Runs Half-Marathon on October 18, if some of the bigger spring events having to be rescheduled.
There are also the Ulster Corp Zombie Run 5K on October 31 and the Shawangunk Runner’s After the Leaves half-marathon on November 8.
Further changes are likely if the Pfalz challenge is moved from September 26 to October 4 because of the RTR event.“We’ll be opening registration in the next few weeks,” Leader said. “Our plan is to offer a virtual option for the race if people don’t feel comfortable gathering in large groups. We also are making modifications like switching to grab-and-go food instead of the usual chili lunch to prevent large crowds from congregating in one place.”
Working together works
Coordination is essential. An online Facebook group for running race directors called the Race Directors Hub is discussing the problems.
“It’s going to take a certain level of cooperation and being inventive to try and make this work,” explained longtime running race director Leader. “There is the potential for conflict with all of the existing races scheduled of the fall and the rescheduled ones, and there’s not a lot of communication between everyone, which I think there’s going to need to be so that we’re not in competition for the same runners to enter. And honestly, how many half-marathons can people run in one season?”I
If there are races in the late spring, summer and/or fall, race directors are already contemplating what that could look like. Would they resort to staggered starts? Would they have to limit the number of entrants? Would participants need to wear masks? Would there be water stations and aid stations, and if so what would be the requirements for those?
“For the Shawangunk Runners, it doesn’t matter if we host a race or not,” said Schallenkamp. ‘We don’t need the money to keep operating. But races that are geared towards raising large amounts of money for charities and organizations or are for-profit? That’s going to be tricky. We have relatively small races with 100 to 300 people. I can’t imagine how they will put on the New York City Marathon with 10,000 people in October?”
What the runners say
Hudson Valley One checked in with members of the local running community about what they are doing. Here’s what we found out from eight of them: Catherine Herne, Jason Taylor, Glenn Geher, Dennis Moore, Jason Friedman, JoEllen Valentine, Mark Eisenhandler, and Phil Vondra. SUNY New Paltz physics professor Catherine Herne is an avid runner who is often on the podium at area trail races. She said that she would be interested in participating in more events like that! In a normal week.”What keeps me going is the opportunity to be outside, even if it’s not on all of the trails we love, and occasionally running with others,” she said. “I do some speed work on my own, and perhaps another thing that would help is virtual group workouts each week.”
Jason Taylor, another staple at local races, looks forward to participating in as many Onteora Runners events as he can, and he starts each season by marking these down on his calendar. “I was initially very skeptical of the idea of a ‘virtual’ race,” he admitted. But he enjoyed it more than he had anticipated. Seeing his time and route posted prompted a sense of camaraderie. No longer commuting to an office for Scenic Hudson, he said that he has more time to run than he did “pre-crisis.”
“I very much enjoy my various weekday loops through the village,” Taylor said, “Starting the day by touring through some other neighborhoods provides a welcome reminder of the presence of other people, even if we can’t have contact with them …. Just today, I visited Mud Pond for the first time, which absolutely feels like tourism. Mapping out a route for next weekend’s run makes it easy to stay motivated.”
SUNY psychology professor Glenn Geher tested positive for Covid 19 and “had a nasty two-week bout of it.” He had several races lined up, all of which have either been cancelled or postponed. “That was a bummer, for sure,” he said. “As silly as it sounds, I’m furious at Covid 19, and I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to stand up to it. I guess that’s been my approach to fighting this beast.”
Seventy-three-year-old Dennis Moore and some running buddies went to virtual racing. “Recently he and his cronies competed in a virtual race 13,000 miles apart. “Talk about social distance,” he said. There were three participants in New Paltz, one in Virginia, and four in New Zealand. They coordinated the start and finish on cell phones. Moore gave out virtual t-shirts and virtual medals. The youngest, in his sixties, got the “youth division” medal.”
Local doctor, ultramarathoner, host of the podcast “The Pain Cave,” and last year’s winner of Rock The Ridge’s 50-miler Jason Friedman said he detected a surge in the popularity of FKTs — Fastest Known Times, where you select a defined route and try to run it faster than anyone has done it before. “People are training for big FKT attempts and using them as proxies for race efforts,” He said.
Joellen Valentine, a lawyer and mother of three, had been training hard for now-postponed events. Some 16,429 people worldwide had signed up for one of the two virtual races she joined, the Virtual Race Across Tennessee.
“I am not particularly fast, so I have always loved recreational racing for the community,” Valentine said. “I miss that part of it the most, so joining the virtual community of runners seemed like the perfect solution for these times.”
Mark Eisenhandler, a passionate runner, cyclist and triathlete said that he’s seeing much more virtual racing in his circles with Zwift, the online indoor cycling simulation game. “The intriguing features of virtual racing are that you can participate with people worldwide, at almost any time of day and skill level,” he said. “And you can do this all from your basement.”
He also likes to check in on his athletic comrades via the endurance sports app Strava, a sort of Facebook for triathletes. “I see Strava as a barometer and another tool,” Eisenhandler said. “These types of events not only often support local worthy causes but can provide a sense of community with other athletes. Having a virtual event on the calendar provides that motivation to train for many runners as well.”
Fifty-one-year-old Phil Vondra, 51, the 100 mile national trail-running champion in the 50-55 age group, said he’s enjoying running as much as ever, despite the fact that two of his big races had been cancelled. He loves running and training. He does miss running with some of his training buddies, like Friedman. “I don’t run with a lot of people, but I do have a small group that I really enjoy. I miss running with Jay because we always have so much to talk about. When we only have an hour to run, I get anxious because I know that we have at least two hours of things to talk about!”
He usually with his dog George, an Australian labradoodle prominently featured on Vondra’s Instagram posts. “Fitness is long-term, so keeping running is not just about next week or next month,” he said. ‘It’s about next year. the year after, and many years after that. So keep running!”
We’ve got to run it out
While most runners are missing the communal aspect of running, the pre-race and post-race check-ins, the group runs and training sessions, the shared experience of hitting the trails and carriage roads and streets together, there’s hope that reuniting may not be too far off in the distance. We’ve just got to ride it out and run it out.