Saturday’s inaugural Shenandoah Half Marathon expected to draw 4,000 to Luray

Page News and Courier

LURAY ― Winding roads, scenic views and challenging terrain will draw thousands to the Valley this weekend, when 1,500 pairs of running shoes hit the backroads of Page County.

Saturday's Shenandoah Half Marathon is expected to draw nearly 4,000 visitors, including 1,500 runners from 42 states and two countries, according to an official race guide.

“Our area's just so conducive to these types of activities,” said Luray's Parks and Recreation Director Pat O'Brien. “We're really becoming known as a four-season, outdoor adventure destination.”

Since launching in 2013, Vacation Races' National Park Half Marathon Series, has grown to include a dozen destinations throughout the country. This weekend's Shenandoah Half Marathon serves as the series' latest addition. Other 2017 newcomers include The Glacier Half Marathon in East Glacier Park Village, Mont., and the Joshua Tree Half Marathon in California.

Talks for Luray's inclusion began last year, when Vacation Races, a company founded in 2012 by Salem Stanley, began looking for ways to add events east of the Mississippi River. Stanley first visited Luray and met with town officials in May 2016.

“We want do these races in beautiful areas, either in a park or right beside it,” Stanley told the Page News at the time. “We want to sort of extend this beyond running, to make it more about the national parks.”

Event organizers did just that, by launching new incentives for runners to take in the beauty of an area before and after races. Racers in Saturday's half marathon, for instance, will be given three club hikes and a trifecta challenge to be completed within 72 hours of crossing the finish line.

Shenandoah Half Marathon club hikes include Old Rag, Overall Run Falls and Little Devils Stairs, while the trifecta challenge requires participants to visit Skyline Drive, the Appalachian Trail and Dark Hollow Falls.

After establishing the Shenandoah Half Marathon, event organizers created additional multi-race challenges, including the “Bobcat Double” ― back-to-back weekend races including the Shenandoah Half and the Great Smoky Mountains Half, which is slated for Sept. 9 in Townsend, Tenn. The Shenandoah Half Marathon additionally serves as one of three races comprising the “Appalachian Triple.”

Most of the races don't actually take runners through National Park Service land. The chief goal of the park service is preservation. Event organizers work to continue that goal through cup-free racing, meaning runners will fill up special pouches or water bottles at aid stations. “Zero waste” stations are also set up at the events, and include bins labeled “compostables,” “recyclables” and “everything else.”

“Every visitor is a steward and has a responsibility to protect the area for future generations,” event organizers said in a letter to participants.

Saturday's race kicks off at 7 a.m. at the Hawksbill Recreation Park in Stanley. The 13.1-mile course will continue to Ida, Farmview, Brookstone and Morning Star roads before concluding at Lake Arrowhead. The course's elevation will begin at 1,045 feet and climb to 1,377 feet.

Roads will remain open to traffic during the race, but drivers should expect some delays and use caution, particularly around Lake Arrowhead, said O'Brien.

Spectators are asked to gather at the lake during the race and are not permitted at the starting line. The lake will also serve as the event's designated parking area, with shuttles available for runners.

Participants will have four hours to complete the course, though an awards ceremony is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. at the lake.

With most participants expected to arrive on Thursday, said O'Brien, the outdoor event will serve as the second major draw to the area in two weeks. More than 800 athletes and hundreds of spectators gathered at Lake Arrowhead on Aug. 19 and 20 during the annual Luray Triathlon.

“The triathlon is really big, but this is huge,” said O'Brien. “This will be the most participation we've ever had during a town-affiliated [sporting] event.”

According to race organizers, marathon participants and spectators are projected to infuse $3 million into the Valley this weekend through lodging, food and shopping.

“We're just so lucky that we have things like the Shenandoah National Park, the Shenandoah River, the Caverns ― there's a multitude of things for visitors to do while they are in the area,” O'Brien said. “It should be a nice economic boost for our community.”

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