Dub-C 4 Miler kids' race
Dub-C 4 Miler kids race circa 2018

In honor of Global Running Day, which is today (fittingly, it’s also National Donut Day), I wanted to take a look at the West Chester running scene and how it has changed over the years. When I started this site more than five years ago – still a baby blog of random local musings, – I was so moved by the sheer volume of racers coming past our Union Street house that I felt the need to capture that scene in a post: 5 Iconic West Chester Races. 

That West Chester, however, is no more. In April, the Borough hosted three races. In May, I found one. Even the town’s big signature events haven’t been immune to these buckling trends. Of the five races I profiled, only two are being held today – and one of those, Brian’s Run is just holding on. “It’s kind of on its last leg,” says Henderson Track Coach and Brian’s Run veteran Kevin Kelly. 

Also, dead or gone are the Dub C 4-Miler, quietly killed by the Borough. “We had to fight each year to finish on Gay Street,” says Kevin. Eventually, the fight wasn’t worth it, and the race was canceled. The Color Run in Everhart Park was moved to Exton last year. The Jingle Run also died last year, a casualty of the downsized West Chester Christmas Parade. Only the Unite For Her 5K continues to turn the street pink each September. 

In some ways the trajectory of West Chester’s racing scene can be tracked through the evolution of West Chester’s once biggest and most prestigious race, Brian’s Run. If you don’t know the story, Brian’s Run started as a one-time event to help raise money for Brian Bratcher, a Henderson football player, who was paralyzed during a practice scrimmage. This was in 1978. The race soon took on a life of its own. The famously challenging 10K route was acclaimed by Philadelphia and Runner’s World magazines. At its height in the early 1980s, more than 4000 people were showing up to run. 

“A lot of big-name runners from the region would compete,” says Kevin. “Runners and fans would be in the street by the West Chester University stadium where it ended.” 

But by last year the race had been downsized to a 5k and moved out of the borough and over to Rustin. Less than 200 runners participated. So what happened? It seems a number of factors were at work. 

Going it solorunning habits have changed since the pandemic

Community support. During its height, Brian’s Run had profound support from both the Borough and West Chester University including free access to resources. Over time that changed. WCU stopped supporting the event and began charging for the use of the stadium lots. The race was downsized to a 5-miler and moved to Henderson but the Borough has also changed its race policies, increasing fees and requiring police presence on the route which can be costly. The Borough also limits race routes available to a couple of pre-approved loops. These restrictions are especially limiting to any race over a 5K.  

Increased competition. When Brian’s Run began it was one of the few races run that late in the season. Now a quick search turns up more than 20 December races in the Philadelphia area. It is feasible all those pre-pandemic races led to race fatigue, one that no one is yet ready to revisit. 

A new breed of runners. The pandemic, it seems, may have also changed the runner. While it helped to raise the profile of running, it kind of killed the race. As this research found, pandemic runners are more motivated by health – and less by competition – than their predecessors and many prefer the COVID invention, the virtual 5K. “In 2020, we transitioned the race to a virtual setup as did numerous other organizations,” said Catherine Clauhs, organizer of the Crime Victim’s Center’s Race Against Violence. The long-running race was virtual again this year. “The virtual platform was extremely successful and the feedback we received from it caused us to continue the race virtually and extend it through the month of May.”

In the end, it all adds up to fewer bibbed runners in the streets come Saturday morning.

“The races are all the same, the people are not showing,” says Kevin. That is not to say that people aren’t running. No, West Chester still has a vibrant running community – if you know when to look.  

“It’s a really good running community if you are there before sunrise. In the morning, there are a lot of groups out there,” says Kevin, who runs his own group practice on the Henderson track each Tuesday and Friday morning at around 5:30 a.m. Then another group of 25 or so meets outside the Bryn Mawr Running Company on High Street on Monday and Wednesday mornings (5:45 a.m. if you’re so inclined.)

Regardless of form, it seems there is no stopping running in West Chester. Really, who needs a 5K when you have friends to pace with? 

Almost as if in defiance of this post, I was swarmed by 5K racers on their way to the finish line this weekend.

For fun or for competition, Kevin posts weekly workouts to the Chester County Racing Services website. You can also find the group run info there.


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Published, June 2, 2023

This story is part of a longer weekly West Chester newsletter. Curious what else is going on? You can find the full issue here and the latest newsletter here. Even easier? Subscribe here to get the future issues delivered directly to your inbox.

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