What is usually one of the busiest road racing days of the year in Maine will be mostly quiet this Fourth of July, but there will be one live race.

The new Liberty 5K Trail Run at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester will represent Maine’s return to live running events since the coronavirus pandemic began causing the cancellation of races and other endurance events, while others moved to dates later this year or switched to virtual formats.

The Liberty 5K, with a maximum field of 240 runners, will be a no-frills race. No spectators or support people will be allowed. There will be no water stops or postrace food, and awards will be mailed.

Race organizer Eric Cobb, co-owner of Back 40 Events, and his son Will Cobb believe even without the amenities, runners will be itching to race. As of Wednesday, 28 runners had paid the $25 registration fee. No race-day registrations will be allowed.

In a typical year, more than 5,000 runners take part in Fourth of July races in southern and central Maine. This year, all the usual races have either been canceled (such as the L.L. Bean 10K in Freeport and the Bath Heritage Days 5 Miler) or have switched to a virtual event (including Bridgton 4 on the Fourth, the York Four on the 4th, the Goose Rocks Beach Association 5K in Kennebunkport and the Friends on the 4th 5K in Winthrop).

The Liberty 5K runners will be divided into six waves at 30-minute intervals, each with a maximum of 40 runners, to be sure that even with race staff on hand, the gathering stays within Maine’s 50-person limit. Combined results for all six waves will be based on chip time. Participants are being asked to arrive shortly before their wave and leave as soon as they’re finished. Masks aren’t required, but runners are encouraged to wear a mask while waiting for their wave to start.

“We wrestled with this a long time,” said Will Cobb. “How could we make this happen? We figured we keep waves under 50 and we landed on the idea that there is enough of an appetite for live racing that people would be willing to sacrifice an official award ceremony.”

Bob Dunfey, the race director for the Maine Marathon (still scheduled for Oct. 4), said he will be interested to see what happens at the Liberty 5K, both in terms of race logistics and support from the running community. Dunfey and Gary Allen, race director of the MDI Marathon (Oct. 18), have submitted proposed guidelines on how road races can safely resume to state officials.

“My optimism is good because I feel we’re an outdoor activity and the high-risk areas are indoor activities,” Dunfey said. “We have written guidelines, and the social components will be there because they’re almost as important as the competition. Most people are recreational runners and they’re there for social purposes. I just hope the health officials that review (the guidelines) understand that.”

The Maine Marathon, Half Marathon and Marathon Relay, which had about 3,300 total participants last year, must acquire municipal permits from Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth.

Because Pineland Farms is a privately owned, multi-use facility, the Liberty 5K did not need a permit. Pineland’s extensive trail system, used for Nordic skiing in the winter, is currently open for hiking and biking. Back 40 Events, which specializes in trail runs and ultra-distance events, has worked with Pineland in the past and hopes to use the venue for its Last Man Standing endurance race on Sept. 5-6.

“It’s an amazing place to run,” Eric Cobb said. “Every year when we hold our events there, people rave about how beautiful the trails are and how well maintained they are.”

Like other race organizers, Back 40 Events has had to cancel races and switch others to a virtual format. The Cobbs think their new race can serve as a template of how running events can adhere to Maine’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“I’m hoping and encouraged that we can pull this off safely and within the guidelines, and if we can, then maybe we can take it to a town and get a permit and do a live road race in the town,” Eric Cobb said. “That’s the goal, to get back to as much normalcy as we can.”

Will Cobb added, “Now we’re hoping the runners show up and cooperate with this weird way of doing business.”


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