Federal shutdown forces race postponements

The front pack leads the way down the George Washington Memorial Parkway early in the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. Without a National Park Service permit, all of which were rescinded during the government shutdown, the race was forced into postponement. Photo: Clay Shaw
The front pack leads the way down the George Washington Memorial Parkway early in the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. Without a National Park Service permit, all of which were rescinded during the government shutdown, the race was forced into postponement. Photo: Clay Shaw

The federal government shutdown had been light on runners for two days, but Wednesday night saw a flurry of decisions that impacted weekend racing schedules, with the postponement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon and the Run! Geek! Run! 8k. The Ragnar Relay will see a few legs altered, but the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon late this month claim they will not be affected, according to race officials who have not provided any details.

Though runners have largely had their run of National Park Service land since Tuesday morning, with vehicle traffic closed on Rock Creek Park’s Beach Drive and most of East Potomac Park’s Hains Point. The problem, however, is the provision in the shutdown the rescinds special events permits, necessary for holding races.

Wilson Bridge Half Race Director Steve Nearman made the call to postpone the race until Nov. 10 Wednesday night. More than eight miles of the course follows the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a National Park.

“The race crew had been working all along as though we were having the race as planned, but I started looking at alternatives,” he said. “I looked at every Sunday and found one that wouldn’t have a Redskins game or a conflicting event. We pretty much had one opportunity between now and Christmas.”

Nearman knew before Labor Day that his race was in jeopardy of being affected by a potential government shutdown.

“It was a short month for Congress to get its resolution together and the Syria situation took attention from that,” he said. “Sunday, I knew this wasn’t going to end well, but you have to live in hope things can be worked out.

“I had to balance giving talks a chance, because I didn’t want to make a decision too early and wind up being able to hold the race. If there’s anything I’ve learned from friends in the business who dealt with the New York and Boston marathons this year, you don’t want to wait too long, so I decided tonight (Wednesday) that we’d give people a little time to change their weekend plans.

Postponing the race meant many runners will now be scrambling to find a pre-Marine Corps Marathon tuneup race. Marine Corps, and the Army Ten-Miler, are on track to be held.

Amanda Spoden of Virginia was undeterred by the postponement. “My plan is to keep training for the Nov. 10 race and make the most of the situation,” she said. “I’m viewing it as five more weeks to increase my PR.”

“The hardest part has been managing expectations,” Nearman said. “A lot of people don’t realize the race was on park service land, they thought it was Alexandria roads, so there was an education component to our communications, but we’ve tried to stay proactive on Facebook because our fans and runners are loyal but want information.”

Spoden appreciated that, and said the race committee’s openness about the situation has motivated her more.

Run!Geek!Run!, an 8k starting in West Potomac Park and heading into East Potomac Park Saturday morning, is tentatively scheduled to be run Nov. 16. Saturday’s Heel-to-Heel 5k, scheduled for the C&O Canal Towpath in Washington has been postponed to an undetermined date, and the Take a Sick Day and Run a 5k scheduled for Friday on the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown has been cancelled.

The Ragnar Relay, running 200 miles between Cumberland, Md. and the National Harbor, will still go off Friday morning as planned, but the three legs of the race that run along the C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland will be skipped, and part of one leg will be rerouted.

Race Director Milo Willaims said the runners assigned to the three legs that will be skipped will likely make up the distance by running other legs, concurrently with their teammates.

The federal budget morass had already impacted the Wilson Bridge Half, with sequestration-forced budget cuts reducing the grant from the National Industries for the Blind to bring runners to the race, which serves as the NIB half marathon championship.

The shutdown will also affect the DC Running Club’s Take a Sick Day and Run a 5k Friday on the Capital Crescent Trail.

Several area races are scheduled for the following weekend on NPS land. Boo! Run for Life 10k Race Director Brian O’Neill is hopeful that the situation does not impact the next weekend’s races, citing the possibility of a continuing resolution that funds the National Parks Service. One such resolution was tabled in the House.

“Even if such a resolution is not passed, an alternative determination could be made,” he wrote.

Other races next weekend on NPS land include:

  • Oct 12: Stokes School 5k – West Potomac Park
  • Oct 12: Mount Vernon Trail Race 5 – Fort Hunt Park
  • Oct 13: Monster Mask 5k – C&O Canal Towpath

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