Runners to circle through history at Discover Downtown Columbia 5K

"I can imagine that many of the people on the run haven't even been on those paths."

Community members will be running through the past, present and future as they weave around Columbia's iconic landmarks, popular hot spots and up-and-coming structures during the second annual Discover Downtown Columbia 5K and Fun Run on Sunday.

Sponsored by the Downtown Columbia Partnership and Howard County Library System, the course is designed to run through or near well-known landmarks, allowing participants to experience Columbia's history, including the Plaza at the mall, the Metropolitan Columbia, Symphony Woods, the Crescent, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Toby's Dinner Theatre, downtown Columbia lakefront and Lake Kittamaqundi, the People Tree and the Hug, as well as restaurants Sushi Sono, Petit Louis Bistro, Clyde's of Columbia, Tomato Palace and Whole Foods Market.

Barbara Nicklas, executive director of Downtown Columbia Partnership, said the original idea for the race was sparked during a board meeting a couple years ago with the hopes of sharing Columbia's story with the community. As a new page is added every year, Nicklas knew the run was a perfect opportunity to share the never-ending story.

"As you come through Symphony Woods and Merriweather and you come down certain paths, I can imagine that many of the people on the run haven't even been on those paths and don't even know some of these areas," Nicklas said. "This is the first run that is going around the full path of Lake Kittamaqundi, so I'm sure there are many people who have never run around the lake."

Like the ongoing development, Nicklas said another path alteration leads runners through Merriweather's backstage loading dock and across the main stage for one final goodbye before renovations begin.

"I, frankly, was pleasantly surprised that they're allowing us to run on the stage," she said. "That is totally new and no one has ever done that. The Merriweather folks are very excited about it, too."

Three bands will also be spread throughout the beginning, middle and end of the course, Nicklas added, including performances by the Sons of Pirates, Heads Up and Fren-Z. Whole Foods will serve food at the end of the race with a beer garden hosted by Clyde's.

Greg Fitchitt, vice president of development for the Howard Hughes Corporation and chair of the partnership, said he has signed up to run once again after joining a couple of hundred runners in last year's October race. Since the downtown master plan was passed five years ago, Fitchitt said, the "ambitious plan to reform" the area will contribute to new features.

"If you run the race every year, you'll be able to see new things as the downtown changes," Fitchitt said. "The idea is that every year we'll have almost the same route with new amenities, buildings and surroundings."

Also an avid runner, Fitchitt said the 5K is the perfect combination of work and play as he helps bring the downtown plan to life.

"I've been a runner for a long time. I don't run quite as much as I used to because it gets harder to go on two- or three-hour training runs when you have little kids," he laughed. "But there are a lot of great traditions in Columbia. It's pretty cool."

Ellicott City resident Paul Skalny, 48, said his name is listed on this year's roster as well. Having lived in the area off and on for 15 years, Skalny later started a law firm, Davis, Agnor, Rapaport and Skalny, in downtown Columbia along Wincopin Circle.

"I drive through Columbia multiple times a day and I've become one with all those [landmarks]; I see them on a regular basis," Skalny said. "I started to do these kinds of runs because of the interaction with the community. It's an opportunity to connect with different people within the Howard County community and share with them what we all share, which is a love for our community, giving back and appreciating the community in which we live."

Christie Lassen, director of public relations with Howard County Library System, said the course will pass the library's central branch, making it "a very nice fit" with the library system's history as the 75th anniversary approaches next month.

Lassen said the library system is a significant piece of Columbia's history. As part of the system's anniversary, a time capsule will be created during a ceremony in October. Selected county sixth- and seventh-graders the students will become "guardians" of the time capsule, burying questions they've answered in 2015 along with their predicted answers in 25 years.

Traditions like this and the 5K are how Columbia Archivist Barbara Kellner strives to collect bits and pieces of the area's rich history.

"We have a very good collection of documents, photographs, video and audio recordings, artwork," Kellner said. "We have a great history. The most important thing to me about Columbia is more the vision and the very positive outlook on how people are best served in the community."

When runners take their marks on Sunday, Nicklas said they will become a part of downtown.

"Everything we're running through, we're really running through the future," she said. "All the parking lots at the mall will eventually be developed. We're running through [these areas]. As people run passed these, we're not able to tell them the story, but the idea is this: As we do these runs every year, they're going to see the future unfold."

To register, go to discoverdowntown5k.com. Registration fees are $35 for the 5K and $10 for the 1-mile Fun Run.

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