St. Patrick's Day Run Fest truly a family event
Each year, hundreds of runners, many of them sporting green, hit the streets of Hagerstown for the St. Patrick’s Day Run Fest. Sponsored by the Washington County Recreation and Fitness Department and the City of Hagerstown, the event benefits Washington County Community Free Clinic. This year’s event will be Saturday, March 14, beginning at 7 a.m.
The festival is billed as a fitness extravaganza for families, with events suited to a variety ages and ability levels. Rob Holsinger, Washington County recreation supervisor, said there will be a one-mile “Shamwalk,” a 5K run, an 8K run and a half marathon with a USA Track and Field-certified course. All the races start on South Potomac Street near The Maryland Theatre. Each will be chip-timed except for the Shamwalk.
“One thing we are trying to emphasize this year is that this is a family-oriented event. We anticipate that families will participate in the one-mile or 5K run or walk. We don’t want it to be seen as just an event for competitive runners, but something that families can do as well.”
There will be custom awards for 5K, 8K and half marathon overall male and female winners, and for male and female age group winners. The festival features an After Party downtown with a DJ and music. Participants will receive an event T-shirt and a ticket for a beverage at 28 South or Bulls & Bears.
About 800 people have participated in the event in past years. Organizers are hoping for closer to 1,000 this year. It is intended to kick off the spring and summer seasons promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.
“It’s the first run of the year,” Holsinger said. “We encourage people to dress up, to wear green and to get in the spirit of the day.”
A leprechaun’s legacy
Tom Hoover of Hagerstown has been a volunteer at the event for many years. His son, Quinn, worked for the recreation department and dressed as a leprechaun cheering on runners at the 2012 event. He was 17 at the time.
“It’s literally one of the last things Quinn ever did,” Tom Hoover said.
Quinn worked at the festival that day, helped with a church spaghetti feed afterward, then went out with a girl that evening. Before he arrived home, he was involved in a fatal car crash.
The following year, the recreation department invited Tom and his wife Sonja Hoover to the event and made a donation to the Quinn Alex Hoover Legacy Scholarship Fund that was set up in honor of Quinn.
“Then the following year, they invited us back and I said, ‘I’ll come back, but only if I can be a leprechaun,’” Tom Hoover said. “(Recreation director) Jaime Dick, said, ‘Haha. OK, but I don’t know if that outfit will fit you.’ I told him, ‘Trust me, I am not wearing that cheesy outfit you have. I’m bringing my own.’”
Hoover, a living history enthusiast, had a coat custom-tailored for the event by an 18th-century sutler. He combined the coat with a modern vest, 18th-century breeches and actual brass-buckle shoes.
“The shoes are hard on my feet. They have leather bottoms. But everybody loves my brass-buckle shoes,” he said. “Last year after the race, I put running shoes on. People said, ‘Oh, look. A leprechaun with running shoes on.’”
Hoover has become known at the event as the “colossal leprechaun.”
“There are not a lot of 6-foot, 250-pound leprechauns around. Those are pretty rare,” he said.
Quinn used to grow a beard during “no shave November” and his dad did it along with him.
Just before the running festival each year, he has his family’s hairstylist dye his beard a fiery red-orange.
Hoover, who is a McSherry on his mother’s side, visited Ireland along with Sonja, Quinn and their son Levi, in 2010 and found the home of his ancestors. He cherishes those moments celebrating his Irish heritage with his family and has returned again since.
His first year as a leprechaun, he bought plastic, gold coins to give to children.
“I tell little jokes. I harass people in a fun, Irish sort of way. I have a good time. It’s bittersweet,” he said.
There is one woman who is around 80 years old and participates in the event each year. Hoover has made a tradition of walking across the finish line with her. In 2019, he stopped in a local establishment to use the restroom and almost broke tradition.
“I was in there and someone yelled, ‘Here she comes!’” I busted out the door and over the rail, almost killed myself, but I got out there to walk with her,” he said.
Last year, Hoover contacted a bagpipe player to play at the event. It was a popular addition that will be back this year. He and his sons have a long history with the Boy Scouts, and on Saturday, Hoover’s Troop 0002 will do color guard for the national anthem.
“We just keep getting more and more involved,” he said. “It’s just a good time for the community to get together and celebrate the holiday, being healthy and running. Everybody becomes Irish for the day.”
Top photo: Runners in a previous St Patrick’s Day Run Fest warm up by dancing on South Potomac Street. This year’s race event will be held on Saturday, March 14. (Herald-Mail file photo)