ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Both the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon and the Freedom First Down by Downtown music festival are returning to downtown Roanoke this weekend, marking the Star City’s first large, in-person events since the start of the pandemic.
According to the Roanoke Outside Foundation, more than 2,700 racers will line up in 50-person waves at the starting line on Jefferson Street on Saturday, April 17, with the waves continuing for an hour and a half until all the racers have crossed the start line in order to guarantee they remain socially distanced throughout the 26.2-mile course.
However, organizers say this is just one of many changes required for the race to meet Gov. Ralph Northam’s guidelines and the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) requirements for hosting an in-person event.
“We are excited to bring the first large-scale event back to Roanoke since the pandemic. We wanted to make sure we set the gold standard for how in-person events can be done in a low-risk way so we all can start moving closer to normal. Studies have shown outdoor and endurance events to be safe even in a COVID environment,” said Julia Boas, events director at the Roanoke Outside Foundation.
Despite the additional safety protocol and late notice about the permit approval, the Roanoke Outside Foundation says the race has attracted runners from 40 states and five countries to America’s Toughest Road Races.
According to the foundation, the distances still include a full marathon, half marathon, 10K, team relay, 1 mile fun run, and the notorious 52.4-mile double marathon.
In addition, organizers say the “Sunday morning shake out known as the Slow-K, which is typically walked with a cup of coffee and donuts,” will be back at River’s Edge on Sunday, April 18.
“There won’t be as many participants as a normal year, but we are excited to see so many people ready to get out and enjoy the outdoors in our beautiful surroundings,” said race director Molly Bullington.
Because of the 30 percent capacity limit on outdoor venues amid the pandemic, spectators will not be allowed in Elmwood Park. Furthermore, there will be changes to the runner experience for post-race food and the race expo based on the governor’s mandates. You can check out a complete list of the modifications on the Blue Ridge Marathon website.
“It’s an honor to support an event that has become a staple in Roanoke and showcases the region in a way that we can all be proud of,” said Foot Levelers CEO Kent S. Greenawalt. “The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon shows our community at its best – from the scenic mountains to the hard-working people, from the great culture to the outstanding business opportunities.”
Registration for all race distances — including the Sunday Slow-K — is set to close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13, so follow this link to register.
Meanwhile, the race weekend is set to kick off on Thursday, April 15 with the Down by Downtown music festival, featuring 13 shows at outdoor venues and breweries around Roanoke over the course of four days.
You can check out the Down by Downtown list of performances and venues by clicking here.
Other festivities included in the race weekend are the Race Expo at the Berglund Center from noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 16, as well as the post-race celebration at Elmwood Park. Tickets for that celebration will remain on sale until 2 p.m. on Saturday, unless they sell out.