One of Harrisburg’s longest-running summertime traditions, the Harrisburg Mile, will go on in 2020 despite the pandemic.
The 39th Annual Harrisburg Mile will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 19, about a month later than originally planned, the Harrisburg Area YMCA confirmed today.
Besides the new date, the other big change is the venue. Instead of running a mile course down Front Street, runners will compete on a mile-long loop around City Island.
“We’re trying to provide a summertime event that feels like the joy that the Harrisburg Mile usually brings to the city,” said Rosie Turner, the YMCA’s director of marketing and communications.
As of now, the Harrisburg Half Marathon and Marathon are also a go, slated for Sept. 13 and Nov. 8, respectively.
The new Harrisburg Mile course offers synergy with the race’s top sponsor, Turner said.
“First National Bank has been an incredible partner, so to have people run past the ballpark and see their branding at FNB Field—we saw that as a nice tie-in,” she said.
Moving the event to City Island increases the amount of square footage on either side of the race course, Turner said, which allows race officials to put safety and health guidelines first, for all involved—runners, volunteers and staff, as well as spectators.
Given the pandemic’s guidelines for social distancing, runners have the option of lining up on the start line during what are called “rolling start times,” within windows of time, for each age group. For example, runners in the 20-to-29 age bracket can start any time from 6 to 6:15 p.m., while runners between the ages of 30 to 39 may start during the 6:55 to 7:15 p.m. timeframe.
Additionally, there will be an “open time” between 2 to 5:45 p.m. when anyone can run the course and register their mile time, especially if they want to avoid larger groups of competitors.
Every heat will be limited to 150 participants, except for the elite mile heat, which will be run in true competitive spirit with a set start time for a field limited to 30 of the area’s top runners.
Another modification, given the pandemic’s guidelines—all runners must wear masks until they start running. The masks also must be pulled back in place once runners complete their mile, before they leave the finish chute.
All in all, during a time when most running events are being canceled or going virtual, today’s news is welcome news to area runners.
“We’ve seen a lot of races we love canceled,” said Jeff Paladina, 48, of New Cumberland. “I’m disappointed we can’t be on Front Street… but I’m appreciative of the city seeing value in these races so that can all continue in the sport we love.”
Paladina is registered to compete in the Harrisburg Mile, just like last year.
“Even last year, we hadn’t heard of the term ‘social distance,’ and I wasn’t within 6 feet of anyone, so I have no hesitation saying I’ll be safe racing,” Paladina said. “The best place to be during this pandemic is outside.”
In 2019, the Harrisburg Mile attracted 1,638 runners, about 250 volunteers and an estimated 3,200 spectators.
“The event requires an incredible amount of volunteers, and we are trying to assess their comfort level. Many are excited and on board,” Turner said.
This year, registration for the mile was frozen amid the pandemic, but it reopened today.
Registration for the Harrisburg Half Marathon and Harrisburg Marathon continues to be open, with several hundred runners already registered for each race. Turner said she is “hopeful” that plans and registration will soon be announced for the Oct. 3 HopDash 5K at Tröegs Brewery, Hershey, also part of the Harrisburg YMCA’s Race Series.
Between the mile, half marathon and full marathon, net proceeds benefitting the nonprofit YMCA total about $40,000 annually.
“Our races connect people to the Y, to a place of wellness that supports the community and themselves,” Turner said. “This is a way for people to connect outside the building in a way that impacts what goes on inside the building.”
Turner said that the half and full marathons will feature staggered start times to spread runners out along the 13.1 and 26.2 mile courses. She said the events would only be canceled as a “last resort” if health guidelines mandate it—in which case runners would have the option of running virtually or deferring to next year.
Hap Miller of Carlisle has been on the Harrisburg Marathon’s start line every year for 45 years—2020’s event would be his 46th. The 77-year-old Carlisle resident even wrote a book about the Harrisburg Marathon, one of the oldest marathons in the country. The first race was held in 1973. Miller began running in 1975.
“I’m signed up for this year’s race, but I’m not sure if I’ll finish,” Miller said. “I plan on running about a third of it—as I did last year—which ended my streak [of 44 finishes].”
Miller said he’s glad to hear that Harrisburg’s marathon tradition will continue in 2020.
“It’s a small, friendly marathon because of the people along the course and in the race, the camaraderie… you don’t get lost in the big crowds like Boston, Chicago or New York,” said Miller.
Turner realizes the significance of providing race experiences for area runners during a time when so many other plans have fallen by the wayside.
“People use these events to benchmark their lives—there are so many goals around them, and already this year with the pandemic we’ve had so many lost milestones,” Turner said. “To give people back a goal, to finish out 2020 with something that feels like a stamp—what a wonderful gift to be able to give to the community.”
For more information, including registration for the Harrisburg Mile, see ymcarun.com/info-mile2020. For information for the Sept. 13 Harrisburg Half Marathon, see ymcarun.com/info-half. Details for the Nov. 8 Harrisburg Marathon can be found here: ymcarun.com/info-marathon. Hap Miller’s book about the Harrisburg Marathon is available on Amazon.