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After a 'virtual' year, the Richmond Marathon returns to its usual course this Saturday morning
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After a 'virtual' year, the Richmond Marathon returns to its usual course this Saturday morning

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Runners began their 26.2-mile trek during the Richmond Marathon in November 2019.

Last year, Jon Lugbill ran the Richmond Marathon for the first time in 22 years. He hasn’t had the opportunity to run it before, since he’s been the race director since 1998.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the marathon to relocate and take place over multiple weeks, he was able to.

It wasn’t on the streets of downtown Richmond. He didn’t run past VCU’s campus or through the Fan, but that didn’t matter. Lugbill said being able to participate in the event was “an added bonus.”

The marathon and its shorter races — the half marathon and 8K — were held over a 16-day span on the Capital Trail in 2020 with 5,500 people taking part during the time the course was open.

“We were able to kind of keep our word with our runners,” Lugbill said of last year’s race. “I think we’ve built up a lot of trust with our runners to kind of do what we said we’re going to do, and do it in a way that also kept them healthy and kept us healthy.”

On Saturday morning, the road races return to the heart of Richmond on the course that’s become a tradition. The marathon’s starting line has returned to Grace Street and the finish is back at Brown’s Island by the James River.

“Our staff might have a few tears, some of our volunteers maybe, because we’re happy to be doing what we do,” Lugbill said.

This year, there will be an expected 14,500 runners in the marathon, down from 19,000 in 2019. The decline in attendance is to be expected as other marathons around the country, including the Boston and Chicago marathons, had fewer runners than in previous years — Lugbill said Richmond’s decline in participation is less than other events.

Though the marathon is back in its usual setting, there are still a few things that will look different than in previous years. There won’t be prize money for the top finishers, and the annual race expo will be held outdoors at the Richmond Raceway.

“I think the No. 1 thing is people know more about how to stay safe being outdoors,” Lugbill said. “People know more about how COVID-19 spreads, and so being outdoors is a huge factor in reducing spread.”

The race also raised the minimum age of volunteers for this year’s event to 12, because that is the youngest age that can be fully vaccinated at the moment. All volunteers handing out water along the race course will be wearing masks as well in an effort to avoid transmission of the virus.

They will also space out the finisher’s corral at the end of the race, still handing out blankets and medals, just not in a confined space as usual.

The day begins with the 8K on Saturday at 7 a.m., and continues with the half marathon start at 7:30 and finally the marathon start at 7:45 a.m.

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