The Cowtown returned with COVID changes. But for the runners, it felt like a regular race

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Runners lined up at the start, wearing running bibs and gear or, for some, cow outfits.

Some stretched as Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was running in the half-marathon relay race, welcomed them back to the Cowtown, a group of races usually held in February but pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the national anthem, the runners were off with event volunteers cheering them on with tambourines, cowbells and maracas.

Saturday’s Cowtown felt almost like a regular running event. Almost.

This year the race offerings were limited, the routes were different, runners stayed at least six feet apart until they crossed the starting line, which stretched through what organizers called a maze, the runners started at staggered times, and all participants were required to wear masks until they crossed the starting line.

The biggest change: the full marathon was held virtually, with runners participating in-person having options to run the 5K, 10K, half marathon and relay.

Around 5,200 people from 43 states finished their races, with 6,500 registered.

Heidi Swartz, director of the Cowtown, said the changes may have seemed odd to runners but they were necessary to hold the race in-person. It was important for the community but it was also important for the cause they promote.

“We use the money from entry fees to provide running shoes and socks to children in need and, this year, we partnered with the Tarrant Area Food Bank, providing children at the schools we visit with pantry food items to take home to family,” Swartz said. “Every runner who participates either virtually or in person is helping that happen.”

The virtual runners had the option to run alone or in groups and used an app to track their time and distance. Participants around the U.S. and internationally have already competed, but more could compete soon.

In Paris, 16 people ran races last week, and more from around the world are expected to participate, Swartz said.

Blayne Johnson, who trained for the race with the Cowtown Trailblazers, said that after crossing the starting line it felt like any other race.

“The course obviously a little different, but the training wasn’t too different,” Johnson said. “At first you’re kind of like, How is this going to work? But then you’re out on the course and everyone is running and there’s people out there, you finish and there are tons of people there,” Johnson said.

While there were no spectators at the start, volunteers and event staff cheered the racers on and spectators watched in small groups throughout the course.

The changes at the start were noted, though. Because of social distancing efforts, participants walked farther and waited longer than normal.

“You’ve all had to walk about five miles just to get to this starting line, so most of you should be well warmed up,” one announcer deadpanned.

But Lori Buschbacher, a runner from Springtown, said the changes didn’t seem to have a big impact on the way the event felt and she was glad they were taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

She was competing in the 10K for the first time but had run 5Ks a few years ago. Her goal for the day was just to have a good time and make it across the finish line.

“All that matters is that we finish,” Buschbacher said. “It’s good to see a huge crowd come out and support it even though it’s different.”

Kids 5Ks were hosted at local schools this year instead of at the main event. They were given shoes and, through the partnership with Tarrant Area Food Bank, nutritious food to take home for the whole family.

Unofficial results

5K men: 1, Cristian Garcia (Dallas), 16:30. 2, Matt Campbell (Dallas), 16:36. 3, Raul Guerrero (Springtown), 16:54

5K women: 1, Lauren Clevenger (Prosper), 20:09. 2, Esperanza Lopez (Fort Worth) 20:11. 3, Daniel Garcia Rodriguez (Fort Worth), 21:12

10K men: 1, Gabriel Zambrano (Fort Worth), 33:24. 2, Richard Garcia (Fort Worth), 38:13. 3, Bryan Wales (Mansfield), 38:41

10K women: 1, Ingrid Mollenkopf (Dallas), 36:51. 2, Tara Gaddis (Fort Worth), 36:56. 3, Shari Hallum (Marietta, Okla.), 44:01

Half marathon men: 1, Josh Heimbach (Fort Worth), 1:12:59. 2, Joseph Darda (Newport Beach, Calif.) 1:13:10. 3, Brent Williams (Cypress), 1:17:06.

Half marathon women: 1, Elizabeth Northern (Fort Worth), 1:21:00. 2, Luciana Bartholomew (Aledo), 1:25:52. 3, Brooke Slayman (Iowa City, Iowa), 1:28:09.