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Half-marathon returning to Lehigh Valley as part of new Bethlehem Running Festival

A man speaks at a podium, in front of a banner reading "Bethlehem Running Festival"
Ryan Gaylor
Bethlehem Running Festival is announce at Bethlehem City Hall on Jan. 19, 2023.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Bethlehem will be host for a new two-day running festival this year — the first in the city since 2019, city officials announced Thursday.

  • The new Bethlehem Running Festival will take place Oct. 21-22
  • It will include a 5k race, a 10k and half-marathon
  • It will be the first time the city has hosted a major running festival since the Runner's World's event in 2019

The new Bethlehem Running Festival, scheduled for Oct. 21-22, will include a 5k race, a 10k and a half-marathon.
It will be the city’s first major running festival since Runner's World's event in 2019.

Mayor William Reynolds joined Lehigh Valley resident Bart Yasso — known to many as “the mayor of running” — at City Hall Thursday to announce the festival.

“This is going to be another one of those things that is going to have a tremendous economic and cultural impact on our city,” Reynolds said. “People are going to come from all over the country and understand what makes our community so special.”

Reynolds said he plans to run all three races come October, as he did during the first Runner’s World festival in 2012.

Yasso, a renowned distance runner who grew up near Bethlehem, designed the course for the races.

“It’s by design a course to take in that you really get a feel of the city,” Yasso said. “You go through some quaint neighborhoods, go through some historic neighborhoods — we really take in all of the city.

"The start and finish along the SteelStacks is so historic and unique. Of course, it will be challenging.”

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the 5K run will start at 7:30 a.m., followed by the 10K at 9 a.m. The American Cancer Society will hold its Making Strides Against Cancer walk later Saturday morning.

On Sunday, the Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute Half Marathon will begin at 8 a.m. Lehigh Valley Health Network is the festival's title sponsor.

Race organizer Michael Ragozzino said Bethlehem provides an ideal setting for the festival.

"It has everything runners want in a weekend running getaway — great courses, shopping, dining, history and charm," he said in a news release.

Yasso previously oversaw the city’s Runner’s World half-marathon and festival during his time as the magazine’s “chief running officer.”

That race and the festival surrounding it for eight years brought thousands of runners and additional spectators to Bethlehem's SteelStacks campus.

According to media reports, the inaugural Runner's World event in 2012 drew more than 6,200 participants in its three races — also a 5K, 10K and half-marathon. It hit its peak in 2013 with 8,105 entrants.

That festival later added a trail run, but by 2019, participation had fallen to 4,217 runners in the four events.

In February 2020, that race’s organizers announced they were partnering with St. Luke’s Via marathon instead of holding their own, spelling the end for the festival.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Via marathon was not held in 2021 and 2022. The website for that event has not been updated for information on 2023.

Yasso has competed in more than 1,200 races on all seven continents over his three decades serving as the public face of "Runner’s World." He may be best known for creating the “Yasso 800” workout for marathoners, and was inducted into Running USA’s Hall of Champions in 2007.

Joining as sponsors will be Aardvark Sports Shop in Bethlehem and LehighValleyNews.com, as the lead media sponsor, organizers said.