JACKSON TWP. It has been a staple of the summer – and the local running scene – for more than two decades. But in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Night Glow 5K race's fate for its 2020 edition is uncertain.
Race founder Kevin Walsh, also the head cross country coach at Jackson High School, says he's in a holding pattern in terms of staging the race, which happens each June as part of the township's larger community celebration.
"The race currently is on hold, as it is part of the Community Celebration, which according to my knowledge ,has not made an official decision to cancel or host the event this year," Walsh said. "If the festival is canceled, the race will also be canceled."
The race, which typically draws between 1,500 and 2,000 runners to a course that begins in front of the high school and winds through nearby neighborhoods before returning to North Park and passing through the festival itself, is known for the glow sticks and flourescent-colored clothing runners often wear to brighten up the course after dark.
Should it be canceled, Walsh said, entry fees for those who have already signed up will either be refunded or, if the runner wants, be applied to next year's race. This would be the 23rd edition of the race, with the event being held every year without fail since its inception.
"I started the race in 1998 as part of the Star Spangled Banner Celebration and we have never had to cancel or even delay the start of the race despite some years of dealing with weather issues," Walsh said.
Ironically, running overall has seen an uptick during the COVID-19 crisis, largely because it's one of the few sports or fitness-related activities people can do without any equipment and while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
As the crisis has unfolded and various races have been canceled or postponed, Walsh has seen a positive response from the running community.
"Everyone has been very supportive and level headed when it has come to the cancellations of races. Runners collectively have been very understanding about the need to keep everyone safe during this difficult time despite being disappointed in losing out on participating in races," Walsh said. "On a positive note, running has been a great physical and mental break from the daily stress we are all facing. Thanks to social media, runners have been able to stay connected with their training thanks to apps such as Garmin Connect and Strava and of course, Facebook."
One drawback in the process has been the inability of running groups to get together for their regular runs. Smaller numbers, sometimes just two or three runners, often get out for a mini-group run, but the feeling of having a couple dozen running buddies hitting the road or trail together is on hold for the foreseeable future.
The idea of postponing the Night Glow 5K to later in the year is a possibility Walsh says he'd like to have, but because the race is tied to the Community Celebration, that's not an option. Since the race is the main fundraiser for the Jackson cross country program, losing it would be disappointing.
In fact, the lead pack at the race is usually filled with current or former Jackson cross country team members. If the pandemic and resulting bans on large gatherings and public events remain in their current state, those runners and the rest of the local running community will have to continue connecting through social media and perhaps put on some glow sticks and do their own solo 5K in their neighborhood the day of the event.
Still, Walsh said that everyone with whom he's communicated about the possible cancellation of the race has been positive and understanding.
"I have been blown away by the support of the running community," Walsh said. "I have not had one negative communication about the strong possibility of the race being canceled. I have had communications with many who have expressed disappointment with missing out on the event, but they all have acknowledged they completely understand the decision."
It's a decision organizers of the race and community celebration hope they don't have to make, but realize is more of a likelihood with each passing day.