DES MOINES, Iowa — After going virtual in 2020 because of the pandemic, hundreds of runners kicked off Drake Relays week with the return of the road races.
“There is just a vibe in the starting gates. People are so happy to be back in person, so it’s been just a joy after a year of not doing anything in person. You could just feel the vibe,” said Father Keven Emge of Ottumwa.
Nearly 800 runners with staggered start times for social distancing competed in either the 5k or half marathon races Saturday morning. Groups of 50 were sent out in waves to limit crowding during the race, which sent athletes throughout Drake University’s surrounding neighborhoods. Cheering fans provided motivation along the streets and the races finished on the iconic Blue Oval inside Drake Stadium.
Father Emge said, “Just powerful anytime you get into this massive stadium. You’ve been on concrete all day, so getting on that soft foam is just wonderful. It’s just a joy no matter how tired you are. Once you get on the oval, it is a happy occasion.”
Masks were mandatory for runners before the start of the race and after finishing. Ann Hegstrom of DeSoto said, “I was very glad to look at all the restrictions they had. They were very careful when we lined up and careful about telling us when to take our masks off and that felt very safe for me.”
Despite the various tweaks to align with COVID-19 protocols, runners were beyond thrilled to feel a touch of normalcy. “It was fantastic. The weather was great. The crowd support was wonderful and the most important part is there are lots of dogs along the route,” said Hegstrom.
Father Emge added, “We are getting there. This being live, in person and in a race is just a huge step. It just signifies that we are getting back to this and just a joy.”