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On Your Marks: Bethlehem Running Festival reveals scenic routes for race courses

Bethlehem Runners at SteelStacks
Jim Deegan
A group run at the SteelStacks on June 14, 2023.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Organizers of the Bethlehem Running Festival on Wednesday unveiled routes that will take runners through the SteelStacks campus, along Monocacy Creek, across the Lehigh River and through the city’s neighborhoods come October.

The festival, scheduled Oct. 21-22, will be the city’s first major multi-day running event since the Runner’s World Half and Festival in 2019.

In addition to 5-kilometer, 10-kilometer and half-marathon events, it will include a fundraising walk for the American Cancer Society.

  • Organizers of the Bethlehem Running festival announced the route each race will cover in October
  • The festival will include 5K, 10K, and half-marathon events, plus a fundraiser walk for the American Cancer society
  • Bethlehem native Bart Yasso, also known as the "Mayor of Running," designed each route to show off his favorite parts of the city
  • A preview of the run was held on Wednesday night, with runners volunteering to practice the paths

Bethlehem native Bart Yasso, a former chief running officer at Runner’s World magazine also known as the unofficial “mayor of running,” designed each course.

Bart Yasso introducing the courses
Julian Abraham
Bart Yasso speaking to the crowd as he introduced the courses at a preview run.

“It's just such a joy that I can design these courses right here in Bethlehem, my hometown, and really showcase the city,” Yasso said.

“Whether it's a quaint neighborhood or running along the Monocacy Creek or the Colonial Industrial Area, Main Street — it has everything. That's what I love about it.”

“If I was going to do a run from SteelStacks this is where I would go”
Bart Yasso, Bethlehem Running Festival course designer

Yasso said he enjoyed getting to show off an area he has such personal connections to, such as the start and finish lines at SteelStacks in the shadow of the hulking blast furnaces. Yasso's father and both grandfathers worked for Bethlehem Steel.

Race organizers were scheduled to lead a pair of preview runs Wednesday evening: one on the 5K course and another showing off parts of the two other races.


At Wednesday night's preview, runner's split into two groups: One for "static stretches" — long, yoga-like poses — and the other for "dynamic stretches," — more active stretches participants could do while running, such as walking on their heels to stretch the calves.

Neil Shapiro
Julian Abraham
Neil Shapiro (left) leads a group through dynamic stretches.

Leading the dynamic stretches was Neil Shapiro, a physical therapist now working as a rehab clinical specialist for the Lehigh Valley Health Network (which is a sponsor of the festival).

Shapiro led a group of a dozen runners through the stretches, some called funny things such as "butt-kicks," in which the runners exaggerate the motion of the legs to do what the name of the stretch implies.

Shapiro said that's by design.

"I always tell people, we're on 'Candid Camera' so we have to make it look a little funny," he said with a chuckle.

Shapiro was there, primarily, to promote the Lehigh Valley Health Network and their athletic clnic, but primarily because he's a runner.

"I'm here as a run-lover," he said.

Course details

Each race in the festival will start from South Bethlehem’s SteelStacks and head west, crossing the Lehigh River over the Fahy Bridge. All three races also will end on the campus.

The 5K course circles around City Hall and returns to the South Side over the Fahy Bridge.

Bethlehem Running festival routes
Bethlehem Running Festival
The routes for Bethlehem Running Festival's 5k and 10k races

Yasso said the route includes some of his favorite parts and views of the city.

“There’s nothing ever that steep for that long, but there's just relentless little climbs. As long as you have the right attitude, you can run a fast time on a challenging course. You just have to train on some hills, and you'll be fine.”
Bart Yasso

“If I was going to do a run from SteelStacks, this is where I would go,” he said. “To have it be a race on a course you would do every day if you could, that's what makes it special to me.”

The 10K race will cross the Lehigh and follow the Monocacy Creek, first north along Conestoga Street, then back south down Main Street through Historic Bethlehem.

Runners looking over new run courses in Bethlehem
Julian Abraham
At Wednesday's preview event, a few runners look over the map of the course they are about to try out.

It then will snake northeast to Broad and Market streets, and back south across the Fahy Bridge to the finish line.

The half marathon course turns left after the Fahy Bridge and continues through West Bethlehem along the Lehigh River. Runners will head north to Eaton Avenue, then east past the Bethlehem Golf Club and Monocacy Park.

The course then follows the Monocacy Creek back south. After running through the historic downtown area, participants will go east along Market Street and south across the Minsi Trail Bridge to finish back at SteelStacks.

Back in Bethlehem

The half marathon course in particular will challenge runners with its 800 feet of elevation gain, Yasso said.

Bethlehem Running Festival 2
Courtesy of Bethlehem Running Festival
The route for the Bethlehem Running Festival's half-marathon route

“There’s nothing ever that steep for that long, but there's just relentless little climbs,” he said. “As long as you have the right attitude, you can run a fast time on a challenging course. You just have to train on some hills, and you'll be fine.”

Bart Yasso
Julian Abraham
Bart Yasso leads the preview run on his bike.

He said hills are unavoidable in Bethlehem, but the two shorter events are less strenuous.

Yasso previously oversaw the Runner’s World half-marathon and festival in Bethlehem. It brought thousands of runners and spectators to Bethlehem and had more than 8,000 entrants at its peak in 2013.

Race director Michael Ragozzino of the RUNegades Running Club said the courses have something for everyone.

"The courses Bart designed are really a treat for runners of all skill levels," he said. "And, of course, we finish with a fantastic celebration for a great cause at the SteelStacks."

EDITOR'S NOTE: LehighValleyNews.com is the primary media sponsor of the Bethlehem Running Festival.