The 2020 York White Rose Run: How We Pulled Off a Pandemic Race!

New Views: York’s White Rose Run offers a slightly new course for 2020.

By Karen Hendricks for the York Road Runners Club

Many of us crave a sense of “normalcy” amid 2020’s challenging times. And for runners, that meant a “normal” live race. Behind-the-scenes, organizers of the York White Rose Run went to extraordinary measures to offer both a live and virtual race—the 43rd annual—on September 26, 2020. While it wasn’t exactly “normal,” they  committed to giving the running community a safe live race experience that was as close to normal as we could get in 2020.

Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell

Race Directors, husband and wife Karen Mitchell and Clay Shaw answered runners’ top questions about the 43rd Annual York White Rose Run (YWRR), held on September 26, 2020. Their answers provide insight into the tall task of putting on a race amid a pandemic:

Describe the tasks before the White Rose Run Committee in 2020:

The 15 members, all with specific jobs, were extremely important and helpful in developing a plan designed to keep everyone safe—runners, volunteers, and the community. We are following all CDC and PA Department of Health guidelines by limiting the race field to 250, modifying everything from the start area, water station, pre- and post-race activities. We have even worked as a committee without in-person meetings!

Back in March, nobody knew what the future was going to be like. But when our part of the state went green, it dawned on the local Shoe House 5-Miler that maybe they could have their July 4th race, then East Berlin had their Summerfest 5K in July. So, we had those local examples to go on, to develop a safe, live race format.

At the same time, is chock-full of resources for race directors, and they’ve expanded this year to include all kinds of helpful information about virtual runs. We strongly believe in offering participants both a live and virtual option this year.

What were some of the specific race modifications for 2020?

In order for 250 people to start at the same time, socially distanced six feet apart, the start line was moved up, half a block. We had the entire space between Market and Philadelphia Streets, and we put dots on the road for runners to start on. (We even did some homework, by going to see a race in Maryland with chutes at the start, staged in waves. We’ve also been following race practices around the country to get ideas and inspiration—to see what we can apply to White Rose.)

At the YWRR water stop, runners could pick up small water bottles, unopened, set out by our volunteers—who will be wearing both masks and gloves. Runners will pass the water stop twice, and we’ll have it set up on both sides of the street, for additional social distancing.

Cityscape: Runners will enjoy the new perspectives offered by the new section of the Heritage Rail Trail.

If we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, we’d be talking about the YWRR as one of the region’s oldest running traditions, celebrating its 43rd year in 2020. I understand runners coming for the in-person race are in for a treat—a new twist on the course?

After a shorter loop of city streets—which includes Farquhar Park—the course takes runners to the newly-opened section of the Heritage Rail Trail. It’s beautiful—with gardens, a gorgeous little bridge, and a view of the city skyline including the York Revolution Ballpark. Runners may even spot bald eagles, blue herons and other birds! And the exciting city finish line on N. Beaver Street remains the same.

2019 Check Presentation to Not One More, York Chapter

Who benefits from the race?

We feel strongly that the charity our race is backing is a really important cause. For the second straight year, proceeds benefit the nonprofit Not One More, dedicated to raising awareness and ending opioid abuse addiction. If we didn’t do the race, they would get nothing.

Last year the race generated $5,000 to their cause ($1,996 through runners’ generosity and an additional $3,034 of race proceeds donated by the York Road Runners Club). This year, nonprofits are feeling the pandemic pinch, as donations are down, so we feel even more compelled to help.

And an unexpected benefit may come out of this year’s plans! We hope to reach people nationwide who believe in fighting opioid addiction, through our virtual race option. Runners anywhere can now participate and run their own version of the York White Rose Run, to benefit Not One More!

2019 team trophy winners: Flying Feet

Will runners be able to celebrate, post-race?

The post-race event isn’t a party this year, but we are thrilled that our friends at the White Rose Bar & Grill are still generously providing a beer and sandwich to every runner! Masks are required, pre- and post-race (except for eating, of course). And there will be a short awards ceremony, with runners picking up age groups awards at a table. We are trying to plan, right down to every safety-conscious detail.

What does the YWRR mean to the community? We asked Jeremiah Anderson, co-owner of the White Rose Restaurant Group including the White Rose Bar & Grill:

It gets a lot of people doing something active, but together. And good positive things happen as a result—it’s a way to give back to the community and it’s healthy exercise. There are tons of 5Ks. Half marathons are too much for some people. But the 5-mile distance is very approachable.

We love being at the start/finish. It’s not necessarily an event we make money on—we donate the sandwiches for afterwards—but it brings people to downtown York and we hope once they realize what a great place York is, that they come back and patronize our downtown businesses.

Race Directors Karen and Clay are absolutely fantastic. They do things out of their heart—you can tell that just by talking to them. It’s a pleasure working with them and we’re so lucky to have special people like them in our community here in York.

Fun in the Streets: Last year’s YWRR

What does the local running community think of the adjustments made for 2020? Longtime area runner Joe Church, 68, of Dover feels confident for its success and safety:

It’s a well-organized race and has a good feel to it. This will be my third time running it. When I heard they were going to do both versions—live and virtual—I thought I’d better sign up early, because I think a lot of people will be interested in doing a real race.

I’m not concerned to any great extent—I’m careful to wear a mask when I’m around people. I always have one around my neck while I’m running, in case I need it.

I know Karen and Clay pretty well—I know their background, they always do a great job, and I wanted to be supportive of the event.

The YWRR has an energy to it. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of people are there to focus on having a good run. Of the couple hundred races I’ve been part of, I’ve felt that energy at the YWRR, more than other races.

2020 perks: While runners at the live race receive a free beer and sandwich, the first 150 virtual runners will receive this beautiful neck gaiter.

What’s it like to serve on a race-planning committee in 2020? The challenges are many, says Karen Lam-Duckett of the YWRR Committee, but she also sees opportunities:

A lot of people are in different places with the pandemic. We respect those who feel very cautious. Others are not so cautious, and there are lots of people in between those two extremes. So we think having the live race, and also offering the virtual race covers the wide spectrum of runners and is a great compromise.

Having a virtual race is a great option because live races can only reach local runners, but with a virtual race, it opens us up to nationwide participation. It’s been an interesting perspective, so I’d like to see us continue to offer both, in years to come.

Sign up for the York White Rose Run here: Live race limited to 250 runners / Virtual participation is limitless!

Flying through York, at the 2019 White Rose Run