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Community 5Ks optimistic about running their races soon

  • Competitors start the annual Shamrock Shuffle 5k road race in downtown Lebanon, N.H., on March 22, 2014. The race is a fundraiser for the city's youth programs and parks. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Sarah Priestap – Valley News file photograph

  • Woodstock's Hannah Reed approches the finish line before winning the women's division of the 2019 BarnArts Race Around the Lake. This year's 5K and 10K races, scheduled for May 23, will include both in-person and virtual options.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 4/26/2021 11:24:48 PM
Modified: 4/26/2021 11:24:47 PM

The Upper Valley road race season traditionally begins with Paul Coats wearing a large, floppy hat.

From under that lid, Coats welcomes about 1,000 runners to Colburn Park for the Lebanon Recreation and Parks Department’s annual Shamrock Shuffle 5K. It’s timed for around St. Patrick’s Day, and when held on schedule, the event is viewed by many in the running community as the unofficial start of the outdoor race season, Mother Nature notwithstanding.

Coats had to cancel last year’s Shuffle because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lately, however, he and other organizers of community-level road races have begun tentatively planning to run their events again — with ongoing pandemic restrictions in mind.

The longtime Lebanon Rec director expects to have at least a limited field of athletes at both the Red, White and Blue 6.2 on July 4 as well as the rescheduled Shuffle, which is slated for July 31.

“We pretty much knew that March was not going to be a go for us,” Coats said last week. “Even though the state has allowed for races to go on under certain restrictions, even with those guidelines, the city wasn’t comfortable with bringing 1,000 people to our streets.”

Nonetheless, it’s an encouraging sign for those who enjoy putting one foot in front of the other in fresh air rather than on a treadmill.

“As a club, it’s all about events and group things,” said Canaan’s Jim Burnett, the president of the Upper Valley Running Club. “We haven’t been able to do our Saturday runs. We haven’t done our Tuesday night workouts. We haven’t been able to hold social events, either.

“We’ve used Strava and other social media to post our runs for the days or our workouts, and we keep in touch that way. But people are really anxious.”

The likelihood of bringing runners together has slowly grown with increased vaccinations and decreased coronavirus cases. It hasn’t brought an avalanche of race dates, however.

The highlight event of the Upper Valley running calendar, the Covered Bridges Half Marathon, is holding a virtual race for its return next month after last year’s cancellation. Other fixtures have taken another year off.

Some are continuing to straddle the in-person/virtual line. BarnArts executive director Linda Treash will welcome runners to the Barnard-based arts organization’s Race Around the Lake at Silver Lake State Park on May 23, but a virtual option remains.

Treash said Vermont’s 150-person limit on gatherings didn’t prevent it from holding other events last year, and even with the state’s planned increase to 300 people set for Saturday, she’s not anticipating a full field of competitors for the race’s 5K and 10K divisions. But she’ll be ready.

“I’m not sure if we’ll allow spectators; we’ll see what happens with number and how the park feels about it,” Treash said last week. “It’s kind of a real community celebration. We’re excited to offer it to people. With so many other races canceled … we’re delighted to offer this to the community of runners. We get a fair number who walk the 5K, and it’s a real celebration of Vermont and the outdoors. We’re delighted.”

The UVRC still has plans for an Upper Valley Running Series, just not as lengthy as usual. Where the normal slate includes up to eight events, the 2021 version will likely be around three to five, according to organizer Geoff Dunbar.

“We’re feeling pretty positive,” Dunbar said. “All the research we’ve seen says that outdoor activities are pretty low-risk. I guess there might be concern about mass starts and finishes, but we don’t tend to have giant races here.”

The Shamrock Shuffle 5K is one of the larger ones; Coats is considering staggered or wave starts for both of his July events. Treash said the 5K and 10K divisions for her race will begin at separate times to help with distancing.

Seeing Bedford, N.H.-based Millennium Running continue with its N.H. Grand Prix Series in southern New Hampshire during the pandemic has shown it’s possible to run safe races for those who wish to participate, Burnett added.

“There’s nothing like a race, especially a team race or club series, to get you motivated to get back out there and start doing some workouts,” Bennett said. “I can tell you that at the last N.H. Grand Prix Series Zoom meeting we had, we all were more than ready to get vaccinated and get back out there on the roads and trails.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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