BCRR Winter Series overcomes challenges to reach finish line

The Pantalone family (from left, Matthew, Mason, Holly, Michael) run in last Sunday's BCRR Winter Series Half-Marathon. (Photo by Nelida Valentin)
      No one said it was going to be easy but man, the running gods certainly threw a bunch of nasty stuff at the Bucks County Roadrunners Club’s Winter Series this time around.
      To the organization’s credit, bad weather and challenging health restrictions failed to stop the Series from continuing its streak which goes back to 1978.
      Thanks to Series director John O’Brien and his hard-working crew, six of the eight scheduled races went off as planned.
      This despite the residue of several snowstorms which made the trails in hilly Newtown’s Tyler State Park even more adventurous than usual.
      On top of that, those who did run were required to follow health guidelines such as wearing masks in contact areas, keeping socially distanced and eschewing such activities as post-race food spreads, fires, etc.
      Even a flood blocking the Neshaminy Creek causeway last Sunday in the Series half-marathon finale failed to deter these hearty runners. They simply detoured the 13.1-mile course to a different section of the park and kept on truckin’.
      At the start back in December, the schedule was delayed a week to make sure safety guidelines were in place
      “It was a crazy season,’’ said O’Brien.  “We worked with Tyler Park to come up with a COVID mitigation plan which included delaying that start of the series, reducing the number of people who could run, eliminating the post-race food and the fire since they encourage everyone to hang out in close proximity.’’
      One measure which was probably overdue was the introduction of chip timing to reduce the occasions for runners and staff to be in close proximity.
      Coach Jimmy Balmer and Bucks County Triathlon Club’s Anthony Accardo deserve credit for pushing forward that agenda.
      As O’Brien pointed out, this allowed for small heats (waves) at the start to maintain proper distancing. Even if a runner was the last one to cross the starting line, his correct elapsed time was officially recorded.
      No doubt there was quite an appetite for live racing, even though there was no true “scoring’’ and no post-season banquet will be happening.
      “People were looking forward to getting back to races, even with smaller groups,’’ O’Brien said. “People were just anxious to get out and run with other people and interact, even from a distance — it was a step closer to returning to normal.’’
      At times, it almost looked like a masquerade party. Long-time friends were sometimes giving each other double-takes.
      “Our first race was the Covered Bridge 5K,’’ O’Brien said. “We had to modify the course slightly to allow for social distancing but it was a great way to start with the same race we start with every year.
      “We were back, it was tough to recognize everyone at first with masks on, but we got used it.’’
      Snow did force the cancellation of two popular races, the Polar Bear 8-Miler and the Terrible Tyler 15K. But long-distance runners did get to run the half-marathon at the end.
.     Luckily, enough snow had melted to hold a modified Honest Abe 4.6-Miler a couple weeks ago, followed by the half-marathon.
      Veteran BCRR official Joe Boyce, who directed the Wild Card race, said O’Brien and staff deserve much credit. There’s a hope this December that the Winter Series can return to its normal 11-race calendar without as many pandemic restrictions.
      “John O’Brien and the club did yeoman’s work in pulling off this season’s Winter Series,’’ Boyce said. “In addition to all the safety features for COVID, such as masks, yearlong bibs, staggered waves, no food, no drink, and no mingling, the last month Mother Nature piled on with snow, ice and torrential rain.
      “Not to worry, John and his team zigged and zagged to the finish line, culminating in a leg-throbbing half-marathon on an altered course, since the causeway was flooded. Just when you think a race can’t get any more challenging, the club found a way. It was only fitting that a tough year ended with its toughest race.’’
      O’Brien’s staff achieved its goal of getting runners back to a familiar setting during a trying winter season.
      “Even without the food or the fire and having to bring your own water, runners were happy it was a chance to social interact, even from a distance,’’ O’Brien said.  “The feedback was great.’’
      Race calendar
      Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup 4-Miler, 10 a.m., Washington Crossing Historic Park. Contact www.runsignup.com
      Saturday, March 13
      Looney Leprechaun 10K Trail Run, 8 a.m., Tyler State Park, Newtown. Contact www.runsignup.com
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About Wayne Fish 2471 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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