Every Saturday morning for the past 30 years, Marjorie Lebo has organized Harrisburg-area runners and routes. This past Saturday was no exception.
And she suggested a route familiar to many Harrisburg-area runners: the Capital 10-Miler route, paying tribute to one of Harrisburg’s two major March races recently canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
Many area runners are processing the health epidemic and subsequent race cancellations by doing what they do best—running.
“Given the circumstances with the coronavirus, we’re to stay out of enclosed, crowded spaces—and it feels healthy to be out,” Lebo said. “Overall, runners are very positive people—we understand these changes, postponements and cancellations—and we’re keeping it all in perspective.”
About 20 runners gathered on City Island at 8 a.m. and hit the Capital Area Greenbelt, most breaking into pairs or trios, some from Lebo’s “Saturday Running Group,” others from the Harrisburg River Runners.
“Runners get spread out along a course, so we’re really following the [health] guidelines set forth, including being out in the fresh air and sunshine,” said Lebo, of New Cumberland, and a nurse practitioner at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for more than 30 years.
She even stocked the course with two makeshift aid stations, complete with bottled water, Gatorade, cups—and given current events—hand sanitizer.
The 10th Annual Capital 10-Miler: A Run for the Arts was originally scheduled for Saturday, March 28. In a statement issued Friday evening, race administrator Open Stage of Harrisburg notified the 300 registered runners that that race was canceled—but shifting to a virtual race scenario.
Runners are invited to run the race route—or a 10-mile route of their choice—anytime between now and April 15, documenting their runs through photos and tracking apps such as Strava. Proof of mileage and times sent to Open Stage put participants in the running for age group awards; photos posted on social media put a new, creative twist on additional race prizes.
Categories range from “best selfie on the course” to “most money raised” for one of the beneficiary arts organizations. Runners are invited to include the hashtags #Capital10Miler, #c10m and #runforthearts to raise awareness.
“Being a race for the arts, founded by Mary Lou Harris, she had this vision of bringing her communities together—the community of arts supporters and the fabulous running community,” said Stuart Landon, producing artistic director at Open Stage.
Shifting the race format “is about making lemonade out of lemons, upholding the mission and purpose of the run—fundraising for arts organizations,” said Landon.
Typically, 600 runners raise $30,000 through the Capital 10-Miler. That money is divided by a handful of different arts organizations every year. This year’s race benefits the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, Market Square Concerts, Pennsylvania Regional Ballet, Susquehanna Folk Music Society and Open Stage.
Fundraising is a separate added platform beyond runners’ initial race registration—and it significantly impacts local arts organizations, said Landon.
“It’s not a huge dollar amount, but it’s huge for these organizations—a solid fundraiser,” Landon said.
He said economic implications of the coronavirus are just starting to be felt. Open Stage has an annual operating budget of $400,000.
“I would say right now over a quarter of our budget is affected [by the coronavirus],” said Landon. In addition to lower-than-anticipated revenues from the Capital 10-Miler, the theatre company had to cancel “The Diary of Anne Frank” for area school children, and rehearsals for upcoming productions are in limbo.
Runners can still register and participate in the virtual Capital 10-Miler at capital10-miler.com.
Harrisburg’s other major March running event, the Lucky Charm 5k/10k produced by Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg, also announced the move to a virtual race format. It was originally scheduled for next Saturday, March 21, as the kickoff to Harrisburg’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Parade sponsor, the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District (HDID), announced all events were canceled Thursday, due to “health and safety concerns.”
“Most people understand we’re in a difficult situation and we have to put safety first,” said Fred Joslyn, co-owner, Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg. “The truth is, this is something nobody ever could have predicted or prepared for. We have emergency plans built around things that are predictable—a snowstorm, the lower level [of the Capital Area Greenbelt] flooding, but this [coronavirus] is a one in a hundred, one in a thousand-type event.”
Joslyn said 1,100 runners were registered, and the race was “on pace” to sell out at 1,300 runners.
“When you put a lot of work into something, you want to see it come to life, and you want to see the joy that people are going to experience when they cross the finish line, and that’s not going to be the same this year,” Joslyn said.
Race shirts, medals and prizes have already been ordered. Runners received instructions to pick up those items directly from the shop during extended hours spread out over an eight-day period. The race timing company had already begun work for the event; Joslyn is honoring his financial commitment to them as well as race beneficiaries—the nonprofit Girls on the Run and the HDID.
Like many small business owners, Joslyn is bracing for the coronavirus’ trickle-down effect.
“It’s a little scary—it’s too early to know exactly how things are going to shake out,” said Joslyn.
March is normally the best month of the year for the specialty footwear and apparel shop, but Joslyn notes the entire running industry, including his store, “did much better than we ever have” during January and February. He’s watching the long-term economic forecasts, which range wildly.
“Some industries like ours might do really well because people are home, people need to take care of themselves, and people can still go run. And if you run, you need running shoes, so there’s some optimism there,” Joslyn said. “But there are also people saying people are going to be frugal and nervous about spending money.”
Similar to the Capital 10-Miler, the Lucky Charm 5k/10k is encouraging participants to post selfies with their race shirts and medals after completing their 5k or 10k routes and post them on social media to be eligible for prizes.
Joslyn says those photos will serve a higher purpose that goes beyond physical prizes.
“It’ll show positivity—in a time when it seems like when all the information you’re getting is negative and understandably so,” he said. “I think it’ll help people see there are ways to stay positive—you can run and rally around this, in small groups or by yourself, by getting on trails and roads…. One beauty in chaos is that people band together.”