By Vic Culp, RD
In a pandemic world, live races are possible. On August 1, we held the 12th annual Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K as a live event, on an old converted railbed in King George, Virginia. We took COVID-19 seriously and produced a quality event centered around safety, respect for others and personal responsibility. In the beginning, key points were created for the race:
- Make runners and volunteers feel safe.
- Reduce the number of personal contacts.
- Maintain physical distancing.
- Tell the runners what we are going to do, then do it. The runners will figure out what they need to do.
- Take COVID-19 seriously.
We implemented the “safety yellow shirt” policy in order to help sensitive runners and volunteers feel safe, designating safety yellow as the “stay away from me” shirt color. Because of COVID-19, we would have needed to provide all packaged food, which would have been a hard quantity to predict, so we decided to leave it up to the runners to determine what they needed.
We made it the responsibility of the runners, race staff and volunteers to do their own COVID-19 self-evaluation. Multiple emails to all stakeholders leading up to the event listed the symptoms of COVID-19 and asked them to review conditions daily. The bottom line after listing the questions was, “If you answer yes to any of these questions, please contact me, I’ll remove you from the race, happily refund your entry fee, you should be tested for COVID-19 and go into self-quarantine.”
Five-time finisher Alex Long of Port Royal, Virginia, commented, “Gain strength from the solitude on this trail. A ribbon of an old railbed runs through the woods and a little swamp with a few interesting detours. It was built in the great struggle to win the war that had to be won, WWII, as a munitions line to transport material from the main rail line to Dahlgren Naval Proving Grounds. Today it is quiet, secluded, with a varied surface from pine needles to rough gravel. Since I am way, way slower than the fastest, and only a little bit faster than the slowest, it puts me in a pocket of social distancing all to myself, for hours at times,” said Long.
Third place female finisher Lauren Lipsey commented about her race, “Thanks for a great day! All of the volunteers were fantastic, and really appreciate the personal responsibility part of your pre-race information. Thank goodness it wasn’t 15-20 degrees warmer!”
In the men’s race, 2018 champion Seth Kolosso of Norfolk, Virginia, went out a 6:30 pace for the first eu miles, hitting the half-way point in 1 hour and 43 minutes. On the return trip, Seth faded and dropped at mile 23. Stefano Ruzza of Lutherville, Maryland, ran in second until passing Seth and finished first with a time of 3:44:22. “Thank you again. I really enjoyed the race and I felt safe,” said Ruzza. Second place went to 2013 champion Alex Hetherington, 53, from Vienna, Virginia in 3:55:58.
In the women’s race, Natalie Patterson of Fredericksburg, Virginia, led from the start and was the third and final finisher under 4 hours in 3:59:32. She was the third female to run under 4 hours on this course.
In her post-race comments, Natalie said, “Thanks again for a phenomenal race and day all around. I’m consistently impressed by the work race directors are putting into making sure these events go on safely but without sacrificing the spirit of the race. You really nailed it here. I thought the safety yellow designation was really, really smart – it made it easy to respect people’s comfort level without excluding them, or coming across as “not taking the virus threat seriously.”
We could not have put on this race without the support of the Friends of the DRHT. Dave Jones of the Friends said of the group’s efforts, “The week’s weather was certainly a factor. Trees fell like pickup sticks during the week leading up to the event and Kevin and Warren, the Schlemm’s and Jim should be called out for clearing the path.”
As a race director, this was my final race. I’m retiring after working as a director and timer for the past 27 years. We need to pass the torch to younger directors to keep races going, no matter what. And, I have a few more years on my legs to keep competing.