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Varmint Half Marathon offers insight on resumption of road racing

Tanner Cook • Jul 6, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Summer road racing has been a pastime for the region’s residents for many years.

One of the main events on the calendar is the Crazy 8s 8K in Kingsport, which was scheduled to run on July 11 on the streets of the Model City.

But this year has been anything but typical because of the coronavirus pandemic, and restrictions related to the virus wiped out most of the road races both locally and nationally.

However, there is a little bit of hope on the horizon.

On June 13, the Varmint Half Marathon in Burke’s Garden, Virginia, took place safely under social distancing guidelines and some slight modifications to pre- and post-race procedures.

“On that day, we were just one of two companies in the Chronotrack system to put on an event that day,” We Run Events co-owner Hank Brown said. “There was us and a Spartan race in Florida that went off that day.”

Brown said putting on an event such as a road race can be done, even if it does mean some minor modifications to how things were done before.

“In my mind, it was actually fairly easy,” he said. “It’s the perfect outdoor activity and people are champing at the bit to get back to running a race. We can do it with designed wave starts, and the race spreads out naturally with the faster runners being out front and everyone else falling in behind.”

Brown said he gets why local officials are being cautious, especially with the recent spike of positive cases in the area.

“I can understand being cautious, but some of these organizations that we work with depend on these races as one of their big fundraisers of the year,” he said.

“We were very encouraged by what we did at the Varmint and we thought racing was going to start to come back, but there’s not been much luck so far.”

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Burke’s Garden in Tazewell County is one of the most isolated places in the commonwealth of Virginia, somewhat lessening the likelihood of virus transmission. A good portion of the people who live in the community are Amish and don’t have cars.

The Varmint did employ the usual pre-race procedure of packet pickup, but Brown said he made sure this process went off without a hitch.

“What we did was we made it possible to only go in one way and out another in the gym up there,” he said. “When you came in, the first thing you did was pick up a bib and that bib was assigned to your name.

“Then the T-shirt and the medal were in a disposable bag. All this was to limit as much contact as possible, and we even had special masks made with the Varmint logo for the workers and runners to wear.”

The start of the race looked like an assembly line rather than what often appears to be a mass stampede, with runners taking to the roads about every 90 seconds or so.

“The start was actually pretty ingenious,” Brown said. “There were three staging areas with six people starting at a time, and then the next group moved up and so on. We got through the whole start in about eight minutes, which I thought was pretty good.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the race director, Charity Hurst. She’s a principal and her organizational skills came into play that Saturday and she was like a general up there directing people to move up into the next staging area.”

Brown said running in groups of more than four was highly discouraged along the course and that after the race, people were deterred from congregating in large groups.

“Our awards ceremony was completely mobile,” Brown said. “There were laptops there where you could check your time and place and if you won an award, you could pick it up.”

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK

“There’s a video of the start and we posted it to our Facebook page,” Brown said. “I shared that video with some of the people at Chronotrack and I had race directors contact me from all over the world asking how we did it.

“I liked that the TSSAA ruled that cross country could continue in the fall as planned. I would tend to think that road racing could as well with modifications.

“The only real problem area is the start, and we’ve found a way for races to proceed safely without making many drastic changes,” he said.

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