Winding its way through downtown, Valley 4th race offers a little normalcy

Charles Bowman runs the Valley 4th 5k carrying an American Flag.

Photos and article by Chase Downey, contributor

In the second year without official fireworks display or city-sanctioned celebrations downtown, the return of the Valley 4th Run on Saturday anchored this year’s July 4th festivities in Harrisonburg.

The Valley 4th Run served as one of the first times for many residents to enjoy a city-wide event with the community.

“It’s so fun to be around people again. It makes it so much easier to run when you have people there. It makes it a team thing, it’s so much fun,” participant Harriet King said after running in the Valley 4th 5k. 

Taylor Wenger, left, and Cody Troyer run together in the Valley 4th 5k on Saturday.

The run was VA Momentum’s 5th in-person run since the pandemic began but by far the largest, with an increase in participants from an average of 200 per race to about 900 on Saturday.

Between 600-700 participants ran the downtown course Saturday morning, while others who registered could run on their own elsewhere — a kind of distanced distance running.  

From front to back: Ray Riner, Leonie Riner, and Paul Riner hand out frozen ice pops near the starting line.

The event, which featured 1.5 mile, 5k, and 10k routes, was organized by VA Momentum and sponsored by Riner Rentals. The races allowed participants to start at any time between 8 and 11 a.m. as long as they finished by 11 a.m. in what is called a “dispersed start” as a way to minimize potential virus exposure among participants. 

Paige Vass, a volunteer for VA Momentum, cheers on runners.

With loosening restrictions following Virginia’s State of Emergency ending on July 1, VA Momentum Co-founder Kevin Gibson said, “it was easier to start as strict as possible and then loosen those [policies].”

JR Snow, left, prepares to sing the National Anthem at the Valley 4th Run while VA Momentum co-founder Kevin Gibson serves as emcee.
Major Deanna R. Reed and Kevin Gibson speak to the crowd at the Valley 4th Run.

Gibson said VA Momentum decided to no longer require body temperature checks for participants but elected to keep the dispersed start model to respect participants concerned about being in large crowds.

From left to right: Stephanie Higgs, Lilly Herrell, Karen Herrell, Chloe Higgs and Katie Herrell prepare to race in the Valley 4th 5k.

The decision to use a dispersed start had been made with the city in January. Gibson also said VA Momentum intends to go back to a mass start for its November Turkey Trot race, although he said a virtual option for races will most likely remain an option moving forward. 

“We wanted to be 100% sure that we could produce a safe event,” Gibson said. “It was a true partnership with the Fire Department, Police Department, City Council, and Parks and Recreation Department… and we were very thankful.”

Anna Bricker, left, and Heather Keens pose for a photo at the Valley 4th Run.

“It feels great,” said Charles Bowman, a participant in the 5k. “This past year has been pretty challenging, but life goes on. It’s great to be out with everyone and have the community back together.”

Bowman, decked out in an American flag outfit while carrying the flag, was among the many participants of all ages who brought style to the race. Some ran in hats, some brought four-legged friends, some pushed strollers and one man even chose to race in roller skates.

Here are images from Saturday’s event:

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