ON COVER: Natalia Machuca shows how the Knife Hands run: with strong form, a lot of fun and great support from her friends. RunWashington photo by Rich Woods
EDITOR’S NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . OFF THE BEATEN PATH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MILITARY RUNNING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . HOW TO RUN MARINE CORPS . . . . . . . . RUNNING WITH YOUR PALS . . . . . . . . . . UPCOMING RACES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BUSINESS IN THE BACK OF THE PACK . DON’T COUNT OUT THE STROLLERS . . SO YOU WANT TO DO AN ULTRA ... . . . RUNNING STREAKS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . CELEBRATE RUNNING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Don’t Count out the Strollers How to Run Marine Corps
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Publisher Kathy Dalby RunWashington Media LLC Editor in Chief Charlie Ban firstname.lastname@example.org Senior Editor Dickson Mercer email@example.com copy Editor Katie Bolton
Photo by Patrick Murphy
I wonder how far I ran during the Marine Corps Marathon in 2008. It was my first, and I didn’t heed the warnings about getting the starting line early. I showed five minutes before the start, behind 25,000 people. I remember moving around more laterally than straight ahead going up Lee Highway and Reservoir Road, and I didn’t really have room to run comfortably until mile 10. I’m going to guess I logged 27.5 miles, at the very least. By now, you’ve learned RunWashington is rarely a prescriptive magazine. I’ll gladly defer to other magazines to handle that while we focus or pages on the D.C. area, but I’m telling you, you can probably cut a decent amount of time off of your marathon finishes if you take Dickson Mercer’s words to heart and run the tangents. You don’t have to change your training, you don’t have to change your diet, but you will run faster. Easily. Growing up running in Pittsburgh, I had a lot of respect for Rich Wright, coach at rival Baldwin High School. He was so generous in his support for every runner, he volunteered at countless races, he put up with Larry Quinn. It wasn’t until later that I had heard about his running streak — every day since 1990 — he was so matter-offact about it. Andrew Gates took a look at some of D.C.’s runners who are maintaining streaks, their motivations, the extremes they go to so they can stay on track. I think I made it a few months once in 2014 before one day, I wanted a dinner on my way home from work more than I wanted to run. For some runners, that’s not even a choice. Ashley Rodriguez looks into the world of racing with a stroller. I pushed my mom’s young neighbor, Trey, in his stroller immediately after finishing a 5k in 2010. I nearly lost him on the way down a hill (thank goodness for those leashes for your wrist), heard him yell for me to go faster, and I spent the next hour hunched over as a result of my bad form while pushing him. It gave me a lot of respect, and sympathy, for people who bring their kids along for runs or races, pushing those contraptions like Sisyphus. One other thing about that first Marine Corps. As far back as I started, my friend Greg Byrnes was even farther back because his Metro train had been offloaded. I thought then that it was pretty rotten luck. Now we’re all dealing with the yearlong SafeTrack restrictions, which are keeping the system from opening early to get runners to the Pentagon for the marathon start. In spite of all of these challenges, I think the marathon management has done as good of a job as can be expected. They’re keeping the start open longer, adjusting the course to move the 14th Street Bridge as early as possible and offering more shuttles to the start. This easily could have been a disaster, but I feel confident they’ll pull it off. See you out there, Charlie Contributors Andrew Gates (Runners on a Roll) is the author and self-publisher of science fiction novels Iris a Rise of the Immortal Warrior. He works at Potomac River Running. Rich Woods (cover, In Defense of the Tortoise, Running With Your Pals, Runners on a Roll) is a photographer and filmmaker who studied both film and photography at Howard University. www.richwoodsfoto.com.
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CREATIVE / production AZER CREATIVE www.azercreative.com Sales Director Denise Farley firstname.lastname@example.org 703-855-8145 Customer Service email@example.com branding ORANGEHAT LLC The entire contents of RunWashington are copyright ©2016 by RunWashington Media, LLC. All rights reserved, and may not be reproduced in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written permission of the publisher. Unsolicited manuscripts, photographs, results, or other materials are welcome but are not returnable and are preferred via electronic communication to charlie@ runwashington.com. Please inform yourself of applicable copyright and privacy laws before submitting for publication; if we decide to publish your submitted material we conduct no such checks and you alone will ultimately be responsible for any violations of any laws including infringement and copyright. Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the publisher, advertiser, or sponsors. Back issues are available for $5.00 for each copy to cover postage and handling. RunWashington is published four times yearly by RunWashington Media LLC, 4544 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22304. Complimentary copies are mailed to subscribers, area businesses and events. Be advised that running is a strenuous sport and you should seek the guidance of a medical professional before beginning an exercise regimen.
The Palisades Trolley Trail WINTER 2016/2017 | RUNWASHINGTON.COM | RUNWASHINGTON | 5
By C har l ie B an
The Glen Echo Trolley. Photo courtesy of the John C. Bromley collection
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Hidden between the Palisades neighborhood and Canal Road, a carpet of grass awaits. The long-gone Glen Echo Trolley Line, which ran between the eponymous amusement park and Georgetown, offers roughly three miles of off-pavement running with a view. Most of that view is of the C&O Canal Towpath and the Capital Crescent Trail, an embarrassment of riches running east and west. Burleith resident Cabell Willis appreciates the area trails’ nuances and has a soft spot for the the Palisades Trolley Trail, or “power lines,” as he calls it. “The towpath is fine but it gets old,” he said. “The Capital Crescent is crowded. But I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else running power lines. “It’s not frequented and I don’t know why. It’s a great spot.” He makes a point to run it weekly, sometimes three times a week. “One of the reasons I came to D.C. was the access to trails,” Willis said. “But I didn’t find it until I had lived there for a year. I fell in love with it right away.” The easiest way to reach it is the west end, off of Galena Place, between Sherier Place and Dorsett Place. A narrow path leads to a bridge over Arizona Avenue, then leads to the Palisades Playground. Heading east, you’ll cross Chain Bridge Road and head to the left, then look to your right for a rocky trail.. When you see a large tree with a hollow base, you can turn left and climb to MacArthur Boulevard and the bottom of the Battery Kemble Trail, or hang right and head down the hill, past a small bridge and over a few rocks across a creek. I’d stay off that little bridge. You’ll pop out on Reservoir Road, look both ways and cross, heading to the left up the hill but looking for the trail to pick up again. It’s pretty technical for a few seconds, but then you emerge on a long grassy stretch along the Georgetown Reservoir. You’ll wind up on Potomac Avenue, and one way or another, you have to turn left onto Q Street. To continue on a little more of the trail, turn right onto Clark Place and, before heading too far downhill, scramble up a faint path up the hill to the left. The District Department of Transportation has the right of way under consideration for improvements that could include paving, though some neighbors oppose trail improvements.
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MARK CUCUZZELLA gets down to the real basics while talking to a Two Rivers Treads customer. PHOTO BY NADAV NEUHAUS
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By Laura Scaduto Mark Cucuzzella’s highest hopes for running don’t involve him breaking the tape at a marathon. Or posting amazing sales figures at his West Virginia running store, Two Rivers Treads. He wants every military service member to be able to run injury-free. Recent military data showed that between 25 percent and 45 percent of soldiers suffer a musculoskeletal injury in the course of a year, despite supervision over their training. This shocked and upset Cucuzzella. “About six years ago, the military increased the aerobic requirement, making it an indirect cause of injury,” he said. With no standard for military running footwear, soldiers can train and test in whatever shoe they please. Most often, Cucuzzella says, these 18-year-olds reach for a stability shoe because they think this will reduce their chance of injury, where he has seen just the opposite. Cucuzzella, now a lieutenant colonel in the U.S Air Force Reserve, also serves on the faculty of the West Virginia University School of Medicine and, as far as footwear goes, is an avowed minimalist. While running for the University of Virginia, Cucuzzella had his fair share of injuries. While he was focusing on setting his marathon PR, an impressive 2:24, his body began to show warning signs that the wear and tear of his running habits was taking its toll. He developed arthritis, his big toe joints fused and he was plagued with painful bunions. When he had surgery in 2000 to remove the bunions, he heard the words that every runner dreads — “You cannot run anymore.” In true runner form, Cucuzzella took these words with a grain of salt, and he is proud to admit, he didn’t stop running and those old college injuries were his last. Combining his medical knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics with a penchant for research, Cucuzzella believes that what human beings have been doing for
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thousands of years — moving with no shoes and connecting with the ground — set the standard for safe and healthy running. He has been working hard to get all runners into the right footwear for a long time. He eschews any running shoes that bulk up the heel and is a huge proponent of zero-drop shoes. To get his message out to more people, in 2010, Cucuzzella opened Two Rivers Treads, the nation’s first minimalist shoe store, in Shepherdstown. At the shop, Cucuzzella and his staff teach movement, assess customers for foot strength and function and sell what’s right for the customer, not just what’s popular on the market. “I’m a doc and I wouldn’t sell soda even if people wanted it,” Cucuzzella said. With emphasis on healing runners and keeping them injury-free, Cucuzzella explains that he’s not running the store as a place of business, but rather a place of necessity. His goal is to teach running form and injury prevention. “Running is your means so you don’t hurt yourself,” said Cucuzzella. “Take it from the perspective of a soldier. Running isn’t their job, but they have to pass the [fitness] test. To deploy is their job. We think running causes injuries, but done right, running should make you injury resilient.” Two Rivers Treads is Cucuzzella’s outreach to the community to advocate for good running form and injury prevention, but his passion remains taking these messages to his beloved U.S. Air Force. Cucuzzella’s aim for the Air Force is to see that all soldiers have a shoe that will “do no harm.” He referred to an American College of Sports Medicine article published two years ago that details the best make-up of a good running shoe — no drop, light, flexible and not too soft. These are exactly the characteristics that Cucuzzella promotes in his shop, in his videos and in his own incredibly successful running career. At the time statistics about injuries sustained during military fitness training were being released, Cucuzzella was in the
Air Force Reserve, giving presentations on healthy running. He was approached by an exercise physiologist who asked him if he’d like to build something for the Air Force, given the alarming rates of injury that were being documented. Much to his delight, Cucuzzella got a six-month sabbatical to write, film and build the modules on healthy running and injury prevention that are now on his website. The modules are broken into three components, including an overview of principles of aerobic development, a module for providers of Physical Training Leads, and finally, a module for runners to teach specific mechanics. In the same 2010-2011 timeframe, Cucuzzella visited about 30 Air Force bases to give two-day seminars. He was able to deliver this vital information first-hand to the source he wants to have it the most. Cucuzzella’s work has already trickled into the uniformed services’ basic training, and he couldn’t be more excited. In April of 2016, there was a policy change to the aerobic training portion of the military Physical Fitness Test. Dynamic training was adopted with functional movements and they have changed the demands of the training runs. “Rather than running for time during training, we have turned that model upside down and have made it self-paced, just able to talk and breathe comfortably,” Cucuzzella said. “The focus is on easier running and aerobic development.” With a combination of proper training technique and footwear, Cucuzzella believes the military can drastically reduce the number of injuries sustained by soldiers. When he is not advocating for better military practices, he remains a competitive runner, winning the Air Force Marathon right before his 45th birthday and at 50, he is a mainstay in the top echelon of Marine Corps Marathon finishers. He’ll be running it for the 24th time Oct. 30.
Mark Cucuzzella nears the finish line of the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon, his 23rd finish at that race. Photo by Cheryl Young
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Running the Straight and Narrow
Running in a large pack can help you run faster, but it may force you to run longer, like these 2015 Marine Corps Marathon runners. RUNWASHINGTON PHOTO BY STEVE LAICO
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By D ic kson Mercer As I write this, Marine Corps Marathon training is reaching its zenith. The calendar holds just a few more weeks for hard training. And by the time you read this, you’ll be tapering. It could even be race week, your thoughts shifting to smaller details. It used to be about how far and fast you’d run on Sunday. Now it’s about little things on race day like how to hold your gels and what shoes to wear. It’s about the defining question of the 41st People’s Marathon: Uber or Lyft? But I’m still hung up on a detail from last year, a detail that, when the howitzer fired, was as far away from my mind as the finish line: tangents. It’s a post-GPS watch realization for me — and my run last year at MCM proved it — that I do a very poor job minimizing the distance I cover on the course. In other words I’m realizing how important it is to study more than where the hills are and where they aren’t. After all the time invested in training, I should also be studying the turns and curves, amassing the knowledge — or at least the awareness — of how to only run 26.2 miles. I think it’s one of the craziest, most overlooked realities that marathoners contend with: that the marathon, this absurdly long
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Bob Thurston draws a tangent line where he can on maps of courses he certifies. Here’s how a runner could best tackle the Marine Corps Marathon course in 2015. His 2016 course map, with additions in Arlington County and a shorter trip on Rock Creek Parkway, was not available at press time.
race, at a minimum, is 26.2 miles. In reality most of us run longer than that, leaving precious seconds — even minutes — out on the asphalt. When a course is designed according to USA Track and Field guidelines — making it eligible to be a Boston Marathon qualifier, say — it has to be measured along the shortest possible route that a runner could follow. Picture yourself looking out at a long road ahead of you. The course would appear to be everything inside the cones and natural barriers on the road. Except the course is really a straight line. It’s like a track lane unfurling ahead of you; sometimes, even, the sidewalk is the track equivalent of the rail. Think about the distance you’re adding if you are in the middle or even on the opposite side of the road. If you watched the Olympic marathons this summer or raced the recent Chicago Marathon, you might have noticed a line on the course that wasn’t for cars or bikes. It was
there to remove the guesswork involved in running the shortest route. At MCM, though, as is the case with most races, the line is invisible and you need to determine where it is. Why am I obsessing so much about this? Well, for me, as I get older, running a personal best in the marathon will require something of a perfect run; running roughly 0.3 extra miles, as I did last year, isn’t exactly helping my cause. But I’m also thinking about Barbara Benson, 45, of Springfield. Racing under her maiden name, Gallagher, Benson missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon by 1 second, yet her iPhone data shows she covered more than 27 miles! Certainly with just a little more precision navigating the course she could have punched her ticket. That said, it’s also important that we understand what our GPS data is really telling us.
Racing in the GPS era For this story we asked readers to send us MCM GPS data to see if running longer than 26.2 miles was a common experience. As it happened, Benson had the longest measurement, though everyone who wrote to us had GPS readouts of at least 26.5 miles. However, some of the responses purported suspicion that the course was longer than advertised. One runner wrote to me saying that the 2013 MCM course was nearly half a mile long, foiling a personal best. I wrote back, hinting at my view: “That’s what I had too on my watch (in 2015). Do you have any thoughts on what makes it tough to run the tangents right at MCM? I noticed the extra distance I ran seemed to be in the first eight miles when the roads are really wide.” And back came a resistant reply: “I think the course is just plain long by half a mile. This was the first year they changed the course and I think it was mismeasured. I can understand a tenth of a mile or two but almost half a mile difference tells me it is too long.” This is why your favorite toy — your GPS watch — can be a nightmare for race directors.
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For as quickly as runners upload their race data and comb through it, in come the emails crying, “long course.” The thing is, GPS watches are not perfect at measuring distance. They are impressively accurate, but all it takes is one close look at where your watch thinks you ran, zooming in on the map, to see the flaws. Mine, for instance, thinks I ran in the Potomac River en route to the Key Bridge. And while there are some impressive algorithms that help smooth these types of issues out, your watch, especially in a race as long as the marathon, typically overestimates how far you ran. That said, sometimes a long GPS reading is a clue that the course really was long. RunWashington contributor Maggie Lloyd experienced this in June at the Sunburst Marathon, in South Bend, Ind. But this is a rare case. If it’s a USATF-certified course and your GPS data indicates you ran long, tangents are the much more likely enemy. This is an argument that becomes a lot more persuasive when you look into everything that goes into making sure a course is accurately measured by our region’s USATF-approved course certifier Bob Thurston. He has certified MCM, through all its changes and tweaks, since 1983. A race director who wants to get a course certified begins with two options. They can work with a USATF-certified course measurer to lay down a proposed route, or they can just try to measure it themselves and work up a map. Thurston is the one who confirms that the proposed course is legit. His job, in a sense, is to put the course to the test: finalizing start and finish positions, pinpointing mile markers, and ultimately producing a highly detailed hand-drawn map. In certifying a course, Thurston’s work begins by creating what is known in the trade as a certified calibration course. This is measured with a steel tape — a tape measure — and it needs to be measured twice and be at least 300 meters long. After the calibration course is laid down, Thurston gets on his bicycle, attached to which is his most essential tool: his Jones Counter. It’s like an odometer, but much more accurate. This device counts the revolutions of the wheel and, as you ride, “keeps turning over numbers,” Thurston says. Thurston will ride his calibration course at least four times. He takes those counts and uses them to determine how many counts on the Jones Counter equal a kilometer or mile. With this calculation, and the knowledge that his bike and Jones Counter are working as they should, he then goes out and rides the course, measuring it at least twice following
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the shortest possible route. It’s a requirement that there can only be a very small difference between the two measurements. So, as you can see, Thurston’s method — the work of the certifier — is pretty scrupulous. Where mistakes do happen, though, is when the course is being set up. Thurston, like all certifiers, will provide race organizers with very detailed instructions for how to set up the course according to his certified design. It’s then up them to execute it. In South Bend, when Lloyd and thousands of marathoners were positive that they had run .4 miles extra, the race director initially sent out an email laying out the tangent argument that’s in this article. He then had to backtrack and apologize after discovering that the course actually had run long due to a setup error. But before you wonder if this could happen at MCM, keep the following in mind. One, MCM is literally executed as a military operation. On top of that, Thurston rides the course early race morning to make sure everything is marked right. Another thing: Typically I think it tends to be obvious when a course is short. But when a course is long, one flag is that, if you’re keying off the mile markers, you should have one exceptionally long mile in there. Meanwhile, afterward, it probably won’t be a few of your friends wondering if the course was long. It’s more likely to be a mutiny spreading like wildfire across your social media feeds.
The midpack problem You know, I have no excuse for running long. I lined up last year in the first few rows and ran most of the race solo. I can’t recall a point where it would have made more sense to ignore the tangents to save energy by drafting in a pack. And my path was certainly never impeded. But if you are a midpack runner, or even a quarterpack runner, here’s where it gets tricky, as described by Thurston on the podcast Pace the Nation: “Most people,” he said, “are not able — even if they were thinking about it — they’re not able to run the same course that we have to measure. Like, if you’re a front runner, maybe you could, but you’re more likely to follow the vehicle in front of you or whoever is leading. You might, but you’re going to have to go to all the tangents … [But] if you’re in the middle of the pack, [the tangent] is not available because you’d have to run over people; you’d get knocked down.” Early in her race, Benson, rather than
following tangents, was focused on finding clear pathways through the crowds as she passed people. She was basically zigzagging across the road, not at all running in a straight line. Mark Lent averaged just under 10-minute miles last year for his official race time while recording 26.9 miles on his watch. He blamed the added distance on “corral climbers ... people not respecting the starting corrals.” Lent lined up in the 4:15-4:30 corral, a proper reflection of his finishing time. But “The early miles,” he wrote, “were congested with many runners who were running slower than the corral they lined up in, which is a common experience in every race I’ve participated.” By seven miles, the crowds started clearing up for Lent. By mile 10, he was surrounded by people running the same pace as him. He had broken free. Good tangent running could have at least helped him for the rest of the race.
How it’s done To gather some tips on how to run tangents correctly, I called Jim Dahlem of Chevy Chase. Dahlem’s watch, when he crossed the MCM finish line last year, read 26.36. Personally, I’d be thrilled with that, but Dahlem wasn’t pleased. “I’m a tangent person,” he said. “I never run longer than I have to.” Dahlem’s tangent obsession goes back to his native St. Louis. New to racing, he got involved with a 5k in his neighborhood, and the job of measuring the course went to him. Dahlem went to work laying out a course. He did some biking, jogging, used Google Maps. It was pretty casual. But then the course certifier came in and showed him how it’s done. “Once they described it me” — that you had to measure the shortest route — “it made sense,” he said. “But before then I had never even thought about it.” Here’s some advice, then, from someone who now thinks about this stuff all the time. Say you make a sharp right hand turn and see that the next turn is left. “A lot of people will go immediately to the opposite side of the road instead of angling across from the corner to the corner,” Dahlem explained. You want to run diagonally across the street. What about wide roads with twists and turns on the MCM course like Spout Run and Rock Creek Parkway? “You really need to watch the tangent and try to run from the inside curve and angle
across to the next inside curve. You’ve got to really run against the way most people are running,” Dahlem said. He added: “It would be a straight line from the inside of one curve to the inside of the other. But then around each curve you would be hugging towards the inside. Every one of those turns you can lose distance.” Dahlem admitted that it’s tough to memorize all the turns in the marathon. “The key at that point,” he said, “is just looking ahead and seeing if I can see whether the runners are curving left or right at the intersection, and then, once I see that, start angling towards that corner.” I also called the MCM course certifier himself, Thurston, who offered this advice: “Pay attention,” he said. “Look at the course, and as you go certain places, depending on the conditions, you might want to break off from the crowd and save some steps. Can you get over to the curb without a lot of effort? A lot of this depends on the width of the road and the amount of turning. If it’s a big, wide road and it turns more than a few degrees, you’re going to save a lot by going to that shortest available side.” Pretend, Thurston said, that you are on a road that has really high curves and trying to stretch a string from the start to finish. “That’s pretty much where you want to run.”
Do your homework What has helped me even more than Dahlem’s and Thurston’s explanations has been going directly to the source. If you go to the USATF website, you can find Thurston listed in a database of course certifiers. There, you can look through all the maps and accompanying coded paperwork that he has produced throughout the years for everything from local road miles to marathons. When I pulled up Thurston’s MCM map from last year, I noticed, looking closely, that he includes the route you should run in his drawing. That allowed me to see where I went wrong — for example, hugging the left of the Lee Highway hill when I should have been angling over to the right; or all the times I was on the wrong side of the road or staying too long in the middle. Here’s an assignment, then. Before race day, don’t just look at the official MCM course map; find Thurston’s. Get your cheat sheet and see if you can bring your GPS reading down on this year’s Safetrack-adjusted course closer to 26.2. That should be the goal. And the incentive, if anything else, is that you can celebrate your finish that much sooner.
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The Capitol Hill Distance Project breezes toward Hains Point. RunWashington photo by Charlie Ban
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By Charlie Ban Friday mornings are a little easier to wake up for, even though they’re usually the earliest. If I’m smart, I slept in running clothes, and I’ll just have to tie my shoes before I head out the door and let my legs tumble down Connecticut Avenue toward the Mall. Midway, I’ll wonder if I remembered to leave a pair of socks, or even pants at the office, for when I finish up, but by the time I reach the corner where I meet my friends, it doesn’t matter. Life is on hold for the next hour, while we round the tip of Hains Point, deep in discussion peppered with hysterics. Breezy will have crossed the Tidal Basin bridge on the sidewalk, infuriating Murph. When we pass the marina on the other side of the channel, I’ll wedge in a reference to Eddie Murphy, simply because I did that once in January 2014. If there’s an agenda announced ahead of time, we will follow it, touching on topics including Jake Klim’s predicted finishing time at the Marine Corps Marathon, Lily King, Doc Ellis’s no-hitter on LSD, the regional differences between a jabrone and a jagoff, Olympic pageantry and much, much more. If asked to speculate about the success we’ve enjoyed in road races, Breezy will attribute it to “running 8:00 pace every Friday around Haines Point.” You can tell he is saying it the same way he misspells it. As much as I run alone, and enjoy it, these Friday mornings sustain my life as a runner. I’m not the only person who loves running with his friends. The names, the locations, the rituals may be different, but the experience is the same. It’s the base from which you live your life as a runner, and you’re different when you’re with them.
Real Cut-Ups Natalia Machuca couldn’t let her friend Emily get in a van with a bunch of strangers in 2013. “She really wanted to run Ragnar, but she
didn’t know anybody on the team she found,” Machuca said. “I told her no, we’ll make a team.” That was the assembly of a group much deeper than the gag name they have adopted. Picture this: Daniel Craig is running away from an explosion. His knees are up, his eyes dead ahead. But check out his hands: flat as a blade. He’s trying to cut wind resistance, but professional runner Phoebe Wright once critiqued his form by saying it was wasting energy. But even so, he has his knife hands out, and so too does Natalia’s crew — the Knife Hands. “It was an intimidating name to scare the competition, but also contrast with how much fun we have,” she said. And it’s true. While I have, to date, only personally met one member of Knife Hands, I’ve been a longtime fan of their Instagram account, @goknifehands. They take their theme to extremes, peppering hilarious photos and videos with hashtags like #webeallknife and #knifelife. The knife hands come out in wedding photos. They carry a cutout of a team member’s head on a popsicle stick because she moved to Germany right before the last relay. “People just run their hearts out,” she said. “As long as I’m running on the edge of death, I’m running the right pace.” But it’s more than the act of running. “It’s an escape from not annoying our significant others,” she said. “Sometimes all I want to do is talk about running but I have to bring it back a little bit. I don’t have to do that with them.” Their activities have stretched far beyond just being a relay team. Most of them knew each other as far back as 2012, through Potomac River Running store runs. Now they meet up for track workouts, but more than that, they share their lives. “I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I am not stupid grateful for this group being a part of my life,” Machuca said. “Besides having the accountability of running together, we all support each other beyond our running pursuits.”
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Jackie Ogden, Humberto Villalon and Katherine Rusk exhibit ideal Knife Hand form. RunWashington photo by Rich Woods
Machuca works in health development for USAID. “My whole purpose in life is to not have kids die from preventative diseases,” she said. “That can be draining. But if I can get out to the track with them, I can come back to work a different person, just from seeing the people who support me. A lot of us are in tough jobs, so it’s our safe space, that’s where you recharge.” Like many groups of friends, the Knife Hands maintain a running conversation via group texts. And again, the subject matter strays beyond running. “Shelton (Bellamy) had a recipe question: dark or light brown sugar for cookies. He had two answers not even a minute after he sent the text,” she said. The group has grown large enough that they have a “bench” for relays. That led to their merger with the Super Freaks for the D.C. Ragnar — creating the Super Freaky Knife Hands. They cleaned up. But it’s not just trophies, plaques and scaring opponents into submission. “The friendships are strong, and personally, not something I expected to get from joining a running group. I joined because I felt it would be safer to run with others and I would have more accountability with a group, and I wasn’t expecting lifelong friends out of it.”
More than the Row When Pacers closed its Pentagon Row
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store in 2015 to prepare to open a store in the Navy Yard, management invited the loyal group of Pentagon Row fun runners to join them there. “They were very supportive and wanted to keep us involved, but we couldn’t leave the neighborhood,” said Jane Levy. “We kept it together because everyone wanted to run together.” “It’s not just running that we do together,” said Karthik Krothapalli. “It’s a social family. Everyone celebrates everyone — birthdays, achievements, special occasions. For me personally, with my family being in a different country (India), these people are my family. They’re so important to me and sometimes my mom will get a little mad because as far as I am concerned, they are my family.” Running is just a part of it, what brought them all together, but the group has become more, an anchor for people. “D.C. is so transient. People are here so temporarily, you live and you work and you’re trying to find something else,” Levy said. “They find us and they have a group that understands one aspect of who they want to be.” Even after Pacers moved, the group still met near its former storefront. Though many of the group members live in nearby apartment buildings, its ranks have grown geographically. Levy estimates that half of the group doesn’t know a time when the Pentagon Row store was open, so it truly feels grassroots.
“I joined because I felt it would be safer to run with others and I would have more accountability with a group. I wasn’t expecting lifelong friends out of it.” - N atalia M ach uca
Jacquie Holder met the group a year ago when she and her daughter darted into the Dupont Circle Shake Shack while the runners were refueling. She lives in Woodbridge and is a regular participant. “I just remember how welcoming they were,” she said. “I was a three-mile runner, slow. Now I’m going to run a marathon. This is a big deal. I’m 51 years old!” Miles Snowdon ran into the group while waiting for his sister’s soccer game at Long Branch Park in Crystal City. At 13, he’s the youngest member of the group, but he has become one of the fastest. “He lives in Lorton and he insists that his parents drive him up here to run with us,” Krothapalli said. “It’s an awful lot of trust they put in us to send their son off to run with a bunch of adults through D.C. but it shows you how close the group is.” And as is frequent, the emotion that goes along with those relationships can conflict with what is otherwise good sense. Krothapalli had fielded job offers in different cities, at higher pay, in areas with much lower costs of living. Jobs he would enjoy. But so far, he’s turned two down, simply because he doesn’t want to leave the Pentagon Row group.
If it’s Friday, it’s CHDP I actually find myself a little disappointed Friday afternoons, because it’s close to the
longest time until I run with my pals again. I see them later; sometimes on a weekend I’ll be with all of the people I ran with a day before. But it’s not the same. Friday morning is special, and it’s as though we exist in another time and place. Our name, the Capitol Hill Distance Project, is a parody of a parody, poking fun at our friends from the laughable North Bethesda Distance Project (which isn’t even really a place, honestly), which saw itself as a D.C. alternative to the Oregon Project professional training group. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, only as seriously as you would consider wearing hats bearing the likeness of a lanky senior editor of a regional running magazine, his gams stretching out past the silhouette of the U.S. Capitol. There’s the shorthand that comes from having so many conversations about the same topic. It’s the same story as you’d find with the Cardozo Crawlers, the Mike Broderick Boston Group, the Big Rig Track Club, but at the same time, it’s different. It seems like everyone has this, somewhere. Every week, I’ll have sunk to a point of alienation, wondering what I’m doing in this city. And there they’ll be, their shadows cast long along the Mall against the sun rising over the Hill. I know, for at least an hour, I will be with the people who remind me who I am, and where I want to be.
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DAY OF THE DOG: RUN, WALK OR JOG 5K
VETERAN’S DAY “RUN ELEVEN” 11K
BLUE MOON NORFOLK HARBOR HALF
MARATHON AND CHARTWAY 5K
DC HALF AND HALF MARATHON WASHINGTON, DC JACK T. FARRAR “FILL THE SHOES” 5K ALEXANDRIA, VA BATTLEFIELD HALF MARATHON WINCHESTER, VA COSTUME CAPER 5K RUN/WALK AND 1 MILE KIDS RUN ARLINGTON, VA LOUDOUN COUNTY 5K FOR THE HOMELESS ASHBURN, VA
NOV. 6 LOUDOUN 10K TRAIL RACE
NOV. 12 RAMPACE 5K
FREEZE YOUR GIZZARD 5K
GLOBAL STRIDES 5K
SPEND YOURSELF® 5K RUN/3K RUN
5K TO END HIV
FALLS CHURCH, VA
BEARDPUNZEL - THE BEARDED PRINCESS
VETERAN’S DAY XC 5K
5K & 10K
CRANBERRY CRAWL 5K/10K
WASHINGTON, DC WORLD TOILET DAY 5K WASHINGTON, DC
VETERAN’S DAY 10K
JENNIFER BUSH-LAWSON FOUNDATION
KING OF THE ROAD 5K
LOUDOUN 10K TRAIL RACE
VETERAN’S DAY 5K
ANNAPOLIS RUNNING CLASSIC
LUNGEVITY BREATHE DEEP DC – 5K WALK
MAKING A DIFFERENCE 5K
BREAKAWAY FITNESS 5K
ROUND ROBINSON 5K
PAWS TO CURE CANCER 5K
NATIONAL RACE TO END WOMEN’S CANCER CANDY CANE CITY 5K
RUN UNDER THE LIGHTS
CHEVY CHASE, MD
BATTLE OF THE BLUE AND GREEN
MMRF TEAM FOR CURES 5K
FALL BACKYARD BURN 5M/10M TRAIL
OUTER BANKS MARATHON/SOUTH FRIED
RUNNING SERIES-RACE #3
CHICKEN HALF MARATHON
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C.
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ALEXANDRIA TURKEY TROT 5 MILER ALEXANDRIA, VA FAIRFAX TURKEY TROT FAIRFAX, VA ASHBURN FARM THANKSGIVING DAY
JINGLE BELL RUN
CHASING CUPCAKES 5K, 10K, 13.1, 26.2
JINGLE BELL JOG 5K ARLINGTON, VA
ASHBURN, VA VIRGINIA RUN TURKEY TROT
UGLY SWEATER 5K & 10K
TURKEY TROT FOR PARKINSON’S 5K
JINGLE ALL THE WAY 5K
CHRISTMAS CAPER 5K/10K
PRINCE WILLIAM TURKEY TROT
RUN WITH SANTA 5K
TURKEY DAY 5K
SENECA SLOPES 9K
2016 DCRRC BREAD RUN 10K GLEN ECHO, MD
GIVING THANKS 5K VIENNA, VA
MARCH FOR MARROW DC 5K
FAIRFAX TURKEY TROT 4 MILER
FAIRFAX FOUR MILER
GREAT CHOCOLATE RACE
RINGING IN HOPE 5K/10K ASHBURN , VA
NOV. 26 HUG A RUNNER 5K
2016 GAR WILLIAMS HALF MARATHON
NEW YEAR’S DAY 5K
NOVA JINGLE BELL JOG 5K
NEW YEAR’S DAY 5K
FAIRFAX , VA
PRECTIONS AND RESOLUTIONS 5K
FALL BACKYARD BURN 5M/10M TRAIL
RUNNING SERIES-RACE #4
FIRST DOWN 5K AND COMBINE
FAIRFAX STATION, VA
JINGLE BELL JOG
NOV. 30 WORLD TOILET DAY 5K WASHINGTON, DC
Upcoming races is not a comprehensive listing of road races, but are chosen for their proximity to the Washington, D.C. area. Listings are based largely on information provided by race directors on the free online race calendar at www.runwashington.com. Race directors should be advised to add their races to the calendar as soon as possible to aid inclusion in this lisiting. It is wise to confirm event details with organizers before registering for an event. Date and times are subject to change. If you would like to have your race being run between November and February listed in our next print edition, please add it to our online calendar by Oct. 1.
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“Just because we’re slow doesn’t mean we don’t have goals, we still want to PR. It matters to us and we’re doing our best too.” - Vale ri e S ilen s ky
RunWashington photo by Rich Woods
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By Mollie Zapata Most runners will never win a race. They’ll never make the front page of the results; they’ll never qualify for Boston. Sometimes they’re last, or close to it. But they run, and they keep showing up. They’re “back-of-the-packers,” meaning simply, “whatever distance, or whatever race you’re running, you’re at the very end.” As the volume of runners has almost doubled over the past 10 years, the number of backof-the-packers has followed. The increase in charity running, local running clubs and surge in “X Weeks to a Marathon” training plans has fueled this growth. While many people run their first race at the back of the pack and then eventually move up in the standings, some runners identify as lifetime back-of-the-packers. Bethesda’s Steve Ferguson is one, and he explains his “commitment” to slow running as an unintentional “reflection on my athletic ability… maybe I’ll be reincarnated as a fast runner.” Ferguson exemplifies that as a backof-the-packer, “You can’t take yourself too seriously” and “you have to, by definition, have a good sense of humor.” He jokingly describes his race strategy as “the model of start out slow and fizzle out altogether.”
Benefits at the back of the pack Ferguson, who runs five or six marathons per year plus a couple halves, had major heart surgery a few years ago and leads a group for the Montgomery County Road Runners. He’s a strong advocate of the back-of-the-pack approach to running. “People are starting to realize that if you’re going to race competitively you only have a few years, but if you’re looking for something sustainable you can have this for your whole lifetime,” he says. He sees it as a “lifestyle thing,” not a “competitive thing,” and points out that he has “nothing to worry about in the world, so I really don’t have to worry about where I finish in a race.” Ferguson runs for the mental and physical benefits, and runs races for the camaraderie and sight-seeing. “It’s fun, it’s social; you can actually talk to people,” he says.
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He points out that seeing a city while slowly running is very different from what you might notice on a competitive run or when speeding by in a car. For Ferguson running is all about the experience — “90 percent of the population doesn’t get off the couch, so I figure as long as I’m getting out there I’m doing pretty well,” he says — and being a back-of-the-packer is just a necessary part of his experience. “It is what it is, so you have to enjoy the moment.” Arlingtonian Ted Hobart has finished toward the back of the pack in 79 marathons. “After the first time I came last place,” he says, “I was like, ok I’ve done that, now I can keep going.” He echoes Ferguson’s points about the back-of-the-pack culture. “It’s a unique group and we have a great time,” he says. “It’s a lot of camaraderie and wonderful conversations.” Ted made it clear that when he says he’s at the back of the pack, he means “the waaaaaay back of the pack. Not four or five or six hours; we’re talking seven plus hours marathons.” Every outing is a “race for survival,” he says. “You can’t let the sweeper pass you because if they do, you’re done. There’s no way you can catch up since you’re going so slow. You’d better know the route because directional signs may be taken down.” He’s asked locals on the street what way the runners were going earlier to find the route — and he carries his own water and supplies because he never knows if aid stations will still be manned by the time he gets there. Though most back-of-the-packers have a positive attitude about their experiences, there are challenges beyond logistics that they face. Valerie Silensky takes on running as a challenge “because no matter how much I do it I still suck at it.” She runs races for the sense of accomplishment and community, but notes that “it can be really lonely and discouraging.” While people in the front and middle of the pack experience races full of cheering crowds and ample support, back-of-the-packers often have to stay motivated long after the crowds are gone and the volunteers have left their stations. “Back of the pack, to me, means dedication,” she says. “It means not getting crowds, not getting a finish line, often not getting respect from fellow runners. But despite all that, we’re still out there doing it.”
However, she says that the D.C. area is uniquely supportive of slower runners. After racing all over the country, Silensky notes that most races here make you feel like you’re a part of the community regardless of your pace and make concessions enabling runners of all speeds to participate. “Just because we’re slow doesn’t mean we don’t have goals, we still want to PR,” she wants race directors and faster runners to know. “It matters to us and we’re doing our best too.”
Preparing the Race for the Runners Just as back-of-the-pack runners have to think about things that many other runners don’t, race directors must also consider backof-the-packer needs as they plan logistics and coordinate volunteers for their races. Local race organizer Jay Wind sympathizes with the needs of back-of-the-packers. “Everyone deserves a chance to have their marathon,” he says. To make this possible, he organizes multiple heats, thus allowing the 6-hour marathon people to start early and provide an opportunity for them to run and finish. He also secures two shifts of volunteers to make sure the course and aid stations are adequately covered while runners are still on the course. As a sometimes-back-of-the-packer himself — one of his claims to fame was that he was recently on the very last page of the Boston Marathon results — Wind understands that group’s needs; however he is also pragmatic about the precautions that race directors must take. For example, especially at the back of the pack there might be health-related issues that might cause someone to be particularly vulnerable, so all volunteers must be trained in first aid. Additionally, coordinating communications between race directors and volunteers — and simply figuring out mid-race who is the last runner — is a constant challenge. He emphasizes the need for the runners themselves to be self aware. “If someone starts in the wrong start, that means everyone has to wait for that person, since we can’t shut everything down until the last runner comes in,” he said. “I know what it’s like, but you have to start early enough so you don’t cause undue hardship on the aid stations and race organization.” Wind has noticed significant growth in the back of the pack over the last few years, and advocates for the importance of race directors to be conscious of the unique needs of that group. Hobart agrees, emphasizing the issue of posted finish time limits in the running world. Slow runners have to check the time limits in advance to ensure that they’re able to complete the race in the allotted interval. “If a race advertises a certain amount of time, it’s critical to know if that time limit starts when a runner crosses the starting line, or when the gun goes off for elite runners,”
Hobart says. For example, he ran the San Francisco Marathon and it took over an hour just to get to the start line. Luckily in that instance the clock started ticking when he crossed the start line, but in many races that’s not the case, and that one-hour difference can be the make-or-break on whether a back-of-thepacker is allowed to finish a race. Even when back-of-the-packers do finish a race, there is often not much left for them. “Races advertise free massages, food, Gatorade in the finish area,” Hobart says, “but in reality you may have 3,000 people in the race, and they gave all the bananas to the first 200 people.” Hundreds of people were behind him when he ran the New York Marathon, but when he got to the finish area everything was being taken down. In contrast, he fondly recalls one race director in North Dakota who saved pizza for the last group of runners. “That pretty much never happens, and after you’ve run a whole marathon someone saving pizza for you makes a huge difference.” He goes on, “Anyone who runs knows that it’s the little things that you really appreciate.”
Why do they do it? Non-runners and speedy runners alike may wonder, why do they do it? “I do it for the fun, for the social elements, for health. Just doing it is enough!” Ferguson says. At one race, Hobart recalls elites—“people with natural talent”— saying I can’t imagine being out there for six hours! But he responds that he’s “thankful to have workable legs and a great heart and be able to go out and do these races.” People ask him all the time if he finds it gets easier the more he runs. “Maybe it does for some people,” he says, “but for me, nope, it never gets easier.” Silensky notes that no matter how slow you are, there are both local and online running communities and Facebook groups that can become your teammates. She started running with Black Girls Run in DC, now runs with the November Project, and usually meets up with online teammates in starting corrals at races outside of this area. Even if they can’t run together in the race she appreciates the camaraderie and support. “Some people feel like they can’t race and be accepted unless they’re a certain pace per mile,” she laments, “but [Black Girls Run] just want people out there moving forward and I love that.” Though he’s not competitive in the traditional sense, Hobart appreciates the value of racing. “Even if I’m feeling really awful, I start sprinting at the end. It’s not a fast sprint, but it feels great when I cross the finish line.” He tells first-time marathoners: “When you get to the end, don’t look down at your watch and calculate your pace. When you cross the line put your hands up in the air and get that picture.”
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“People are starting to realize that if you’re going to race competitively you only have a few years, but if you’re looking for something sustainable, you can have this for your whole lifetime.” - Steve Ferg uson
Steve Ferguson leads his back of the pack group on a 20-mile run. RunWashington photo by Marleen van den Nest
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Don’t Sleep on Runners with Strollers
ADAM SCHWABER pushes his daughter JULIA up Wilson Boulevard at the end of the Four Courts Four Miler. “Julia kept asking me why I was slow and told me to go faster,” he said. “I don’t usually take her out on training runs, but for races that my wife and I both want to run, I usually bring Julia along in the stroller.” PHOTO BY BRIAN W. KNIGHT/SWIM BIKE RUN
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BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ Let’s get something out of the way early: There’s nothing wrong with being passed by a runner pushing a stroller. When Alexandria’s Matias Palavecino breezes by with Leo or Chloe in their BOB, know its an Ironman world championships qualifier getting in a little resistance work. He and young Leo trounced the competition several times at the Patent and Trademark Office Society Innovation 5k. At last year’s Alexandria Turkey Trot 5 Miler, he finished fourth in his age group with a time of 28:43 and earned himself a firstplace finish in the stroller category. Meanwhile, former Alexandria resident Emily Potter did most of her training for the Olympic Marathon Trials while pushing a double stroller. So just because they’re running for two, or three, that’s no reason to discount them or — race directors, listen up — relegate them to the back. “Just because someone has a stroller doesn’t mean they’re going to be a slow runner,” said Virginia Martinez, a mom of two who lives in Alexandria. “They’re wanting to race just as hard.” Earlier this month, Martinez finished the Crawlin’ Crab Half Marathon. Like with many races, they were required to start in the back of the pack. “We were pushing about a 9:30 pace, so basically the whole race we were just passing people. I don’t think we ever caught up to our pace group,” she said. “Some people cheered for us as we went by. With other people you
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could tell it was kind of demoralizing for them to be passed by a stroller.” A member of the “Alexandria/Arlington, Va. Moms RUN This Town” Facebook group shared her thoughts on queuing up at the starting line with a stroller. “Though race directors tell you start in the back, collectively, we all feel it’s safer and more fair that we start with our predicted pace group,” she wrote. “The typical experience (and this was true for me) seems to be that you listen to that instruction in your first race, run over a bunch of walkers in the first mile, and never start in the back again!” Whether that’s literally or figuratively run over, David Coia, of Arlington, still opts for races that don’t allow strollers. And you can’t blame him. He started off 2016 at the New Year’s Day Predictions and Resolutions 5k this year, then was clipped from behind by a runner with a stroller just about 200 yards into the start of the race. “Like a cartoon, I went straight down, my right shoulder first, into the paved path — and literally rolled a couple times into the grass,” Coia said. “Being clipped from behind, there’s no warning. I couldn’t see it coming. I couldn’t prepare for it.” Unable to finish the race and in immense pain, Coia waited for EMTs to arrive. He spent the rest of the day in the emergency room. The diagnosis? A separated shoulder. “It was a life-changing event,” said Coia, who had finished the Marine Corps Marathon a few months prior and several 10ks and 5ks in between. “I was running regularly and I was weightlifting regularly. Of course I couldn’t weightlift anymore. I had to stop that for a
considerable amount of time. And to this day I’m still having trouble getting back into it because my shoulder’s still sore.” While Coia doesn’t seem to hold a grudge against all stroller runners, he does think there’s no place for strollers at certain events. “When they’re just working out, I think it’s a wonderful thing. I saw a woman on my running path pushing a stroller, walking her dog, feeding her dog, taking care of her child — it was a very impressive thing. I respect that. I can understand why they do that,” he said. “But I think it’s extremely selfish of them to run in crowded races. Especially given that it’s apparently difficult to control those strollers. I don’t know how this guy (at the race) ended up so close to me.” Victoria Sievers, of Arlington, thinks some races throughout the year — like Turkey Trots — attract participants who don’t run very often and therefore aren’t well versed in the usual rules of the road. “People may not be familiar with someone running behind them yelling, ‘Stroller up!’” explained Sievers, who has two sons, ages three and one. Sievers recalls running the Alexandria Turkey Trot where she maintained a 9:00 pace with her stroller — but spent most of the time “trying to dodge and weave” while getting little support from other participants. “There’s a level of vitriol from other runners that really turns me off from running in races with a stroller,” she said. But she appreciates why some races don’t allow them. “It’s a safety issue. It adds another layer for the planners,” she explained. “But I know for a lot of moms who have a spouse who is
deployed or works a non-traditional schedule job, racing becomes impossible if they can’t take the stroller with them.” “If I wanted to get a run in, I’d have to be out there with the kids,” Martinez said. “You do what you have to do.” A runner since high school, Martinez said that for a long time the only way she could get her daughter to nap was if she put her in the stroller and went out for a run. For Sievers, being able to take her son on a run with her first thing in the morning meant she didn’t have to pump before she left the house or worry about leaving milk for a bottle. “I could stay out as long as I needed to,” she said. Many moms, like Laura O’Hara, feel incorporating their kids into their running routine has had a positive impact both on themselves and their children. “I enjoy racing with the stroller because it gives me a new competitive outlet at a time in my life when I do not have the time or energy to return to my previous fitness and it allows me to share the experience with my daughter and that’s extremely gratifying,” O’Hara said. “She already loves the road racing atmosphere — she refers to every sporting event as a ‘race’ and participants are all ‘runners.’” Martinez’s daughter, now almost four years old, has grown to love her mom’s running days. “She loves it. She’ll say some days, ‘Are we going for a run today?’ or if it’s a rest day she’ll say, ‘Sigh… It’s a rest day?’” she said. “She had an experience in a race environment and she had a really good time. She was holding her sign and her cowbell. She really loved it.”
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PATRICK VAUGHN at the 2016 Bull Run Run. PHOTO BY KIRK MASTERSON
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BY KATIE BOLTON You probably know an ultrarunner, and not just the ones you read about in Born to Run. The sport has grown significantly in recent years as more marathoners ask what’s beyond 26.2 miles. In D.C., ultrarunners hide in plain sight, working for the government, opening donut shops, or practicing law. They infiltrate your road marathons, casually enjoying a bagel while you’re trying to stomach another gel. They’re your colleagues, your neighbors, your friends. And if you’ve been thinking about taking on these more extreme distances and conditions, they’re your best resource for getting into the sport.
The ultra club With some 635 members, 20 events and three major races per year, the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club is the hub of ultrarunning in the D.C. region. “We’ve been here right from the start, sort of being a driving force to have events and runs that appeal to everybody,” said club president Alan Gowan. The club has grown in the last few years as younger runners join the sport, and the club has adjusted to fit members’ interests. That includes partnering with the D.C. Capital Striders on a weekly trail run in Great Falls Park. Striders President Rick Amernick has come to admire ultrarunners’ tendency to mentor one another. “A lot of (Striders who) had never thought of doing an ultramarathon caught the bug because you’re running with people that sign up for these races, 50k, 50 miles, even 100 miles,” he said. “Some of our runners have completed those races over the last several years strictly because they were encouraged by the runners who they saw on a regular basis [who] said, ‘Hey, why don’t we train together?’” Lauren Masterson, president of the Washington Running Club, came out to Great Falls while training for her first 50 miler this year. She turned to ultrarunning as a way to stress less about her road marathon times, but she still felt timid before her first run. “All these people are gonna be so hardcore and they’re gonna be jumping off rocks and just blazing through these trails,” she remembered worrying. “And a lot of them are,” she added, “but they are so welcoming. They have this great Facebook page where people post questions and you’ll get like 10 responses and it’s just been so informative.” “It’s a real close-knit group,” agreed Tom Corris, a 15-year VHTRC member, “and it’s cliche to say that we’re all family but yeah, we’re pretty damn close to it.”
More cowbell, please In April, at the finish line of VHTRC’s Bull Run Run 50-mile race, runners rounded the final turn, greeted by the clatter of a cowbell. Kids toddled alongside their fathers to the
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LARRY MILLER PHOTO BY KIRK MASTERSON
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finish, where race director Alisa Springman greeted them with a high five, handshake or hug. Volunteers tugged perforated timing stubs off of race bibs and handed out t-shirts. Two-liter bottles of soda lined a picnic table in the finisher’s chute, but the good grub was up a hill in the Chow Hall, where members of VHTRC dished out chili, brewed coffee and shot the breeze. “You don’t want to disappoint anyone,” said Springman, who has run the race herself 10 times but was directing it for the first time with her husband. “You know what your experience has been like as a runner and it seems seamless, so you want to provide that for the same reasons, so other runners experience that.” For 350 runners, she recruited a team of 150 volunteers to support the race in rain and even an unseasonal burst of snow. Like many others, she called the community “tight-knit” and “family.” In a race like the Bull Run Run, she relies on volunteers to make the event run smoothly, but she also relies on the runners to watch out for one another. “You don’t have to spend weeks and months and days and years with a person on the trail to get to know them very well,” she noted. “Oftentimes, an hour or two on the trail where you’re really open and connected to things emotionally, you share a lot more and you feel much more connected than you would otherwise.” This isn’t just talk for her, either; Springman and her husband met at a trail race. “It took off from there!” she said.
The D.C. Scene Most people don’t think of major urban areas when they imagine trail or ultrarunning, but the D.C. region does not lack for training routes. In Rock Creek Park, more than 30 miles of paved and unpaved trails wind between commercial and residential neighborhoods of Northwest D.C. Great Falls has another 15 miles in Virginia, and across the river, the C&O Canal Towpath runs past miles of detours on its way to Cumberland. In a relatively short drive, you can reach the Shenandoah or Massanutten mountains, Harper’s Ferry or parts of Pennsylvania. “You would never know that there’s opportunity for trail running here,” said Larry Huffman, who found VHTRC in early 2010 and ran a 50k within the year. Huffman lives in Tyson’s Corner, the rapidly urbanizing suburb just two miles from Great Falls. He runs to the Wednesday night workouts. Although our mountains are a bit less majestic than the west coast’s, decorated marathoner and ultrarunner Michael Wardian sees a lot of upsides to living here. “It’s not ideal to live in a major metropolitan area if you want to be really successful (running) in the mountains,” he said. “But it’s possible. You just have to work a little harder.” Wardian has been known to train with his treadmill at its maximum incline to prepare
for races out west, although he regrets that he can’t mimic the brutal descents that follow those climbs. Like many of us, he stays here to be close to friends and family and the D.C. food scene. When he travels for races, which he does often, he can choose from three airports and virtually every carrier, making his trips more flexible and cost-effective. His friends in Montana don’t have that luxury. “I feel like it’s worth that kind of tradeoff to be able to get all the perks that we have living in a place like this,” he said. Wardian has raced around the world and has seen a lot of terrain, but he settled pretty quickly on the destination most like home: Costa Rica, where in 2014, he won the 225k Coastal Challenge Expedition race through the rainforest. “The climbs aren’t super big and the trails are super duper similar to the U.S. That was really neat. I felt really comfortable on those trails,” he said. Most notably, the climate is “kind of like our summer heat. It’s like soupy, hot, humid, which is great for me but a lot of other people from different climates like the Northwest or West Coast kind of suffered. That was something that made me feel at home.” Endlessly optimistic, Wardian has found an upside to some of the worst traits of D.C.’s weather. VHTRC member Josh Howe of Chantilly gushed about the Instagram photos of a friend who recently moved to Colorado, but he has no plans to leave just yet. “It may be expensive to live here,” he said. “Traffic may suck awfully bad, but we have some pretty awesome trails around here. Within an hour you can be in the mountains.”
The ultra effect Even if an ultramarathon doesn’t spark your sense of adventure, ultrarunners generally agree that thinking or training like them can make a difference at shorter distances thanks to the improved endurance, nutrition habits and mental toughness that come from their training regimens. “You can use that speed that you get in a 5k, 10k, half-marathons, marathons to be able to have a quicker turnover and be a more efficient runner in (ultramarathons),” said Wardian, who turns up for shorter races around the city when he’s in town. “Then you can use that strength and power and discipline that you have from doing the longer stuff to be even that much of a stronger, more competent runner in shorter stuff. I think there’s a nice balance.” Ultrarunners also develop an ability to eat real food on the run and a highly articulated sense of their nutritional needs. When Josh Lasky started training for his first ultra, he would buy a Chipotle burrito and try to eat it during the workout. “Bit by bit, bite by bite,” he said, “you take that burrito down.” With his stomach acclimated, he can sustain himself on slow-burning whole foods for most
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of his races, then get a boost from sugar and caffeine to power him to the finish. “Nutrition is paramount in getting through these things,” Masterson said, who trains mostly on nutritional drinks but likes to grab some potato chips and soda during races. “I’ve seen grilled cheese,” she said of the aid stations, “They have little sandwiches, salted potatoes, french fries; it’s like a junk food fest and it’s awesome.” If you do decide to take it on, ultrarunning can shake up everything you know about yourself as a runner. “Whatever you run on the roads really doesn’t matter,” Masterson said. Between technical skills, extreme conditions, and the sheer duration of the event, ultrarunning requires a totally new approach to training and racing. You cannot go fast and gut it out. Your GPS probably won’t work; even if it does, your mile splits will be at the whim of the next hill. Your supplies will disappear, your headlamp will die, or your feet will blister; something will go wrong despite your best planning. You will feel soaring highs and profound lows and you will learn to eat when you start crying. If you’re capable, you will keep going, pushing on to find out what physical or emotional boundary you can crack next. This is not a sport people do for fun in the moment; if anything, they do it to feel the pain, to endure it, and to find out who they are on the other side of it. “(Ultrarunning) brings you to a place of resourcefulness and being uncomfortable in a way that you’re not in your normal, everyday life, where you’re very pampered and everything is accessible and problems are relatively mild and quickly solved,” Springman said. “So a little existential, but there’s something kind of primitive about that, I think, to just get back to something more basic, where the only thing you have to focus on is moving forward and all the other noise and distraction is gone.” Lasky has a philosophical take that he’s mulled over the course of many miles. “I think the reason why ultrarunners do what they do is because they don’t have the ability to imagine it and they’re not satisfied with the imagination alone...” he said. “It requires a willingness to come face to face with your own mortality, your own limitations, your own strength.” Lasky took up the sport after several years caring for his disabled father as well as a lengthy recovery from a broken ankle. For him, ultrarunning is a test of his limitations and a display of gratitude for his own mobility. “You’re gonna be in your head a lot,” Amernick said, “I feel like crap, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He recalls his first 50-mile race last year; at mile 40, he blurted out to a volunteer, “Why do people do this?!” At the finish line, he announced, “I’m never going to do this again!” Within a few hours, he was asking, “When’s the next one?” “And that’s what happens,” he said. “That’s what happens. This experience has
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basically embraced you. You don’t realize it at the time but maybe a day later, a week later, you can look back and go: “Oh my god, that was amazing.”
Ultras Near You February Frozen Heart 50k Callaway, Md Hashawha Hills 50k Westminster, Md
March Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon & 50k Damascus, Md
April Bull Run Run Clifton, Va North Face Endurance Challenge Sterling, Va C&O Canal 100 Manidokan, MD
June OSS/CIA 50 Mile Night Run Triangle, Va
July Rosaryville Trail Runs Upper Marlboro, Md
August Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50k King George, Va
October Patapsco Valley 50k Baltimore, Md Quad State Quad Buster Pen Mar, Pa
November POTOMAC HERITAGE TRAIL 50k WASHINGTON, DC JFK 50 Mile Boonesboro, Md Stone Mill 50 Mile Poolesville, Md Rosaryville Veterans Day 50k Upper Marlboro, Md
December Redeye 50k Triangle, Va
This is not a sport people do for fun in the moment; if anything, they do it to feel the pain, to endure it, and to find out who they are on the other side of it.
Photo by Kirk Masterson
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LAURA JACK at Howard University, where she is vice president for development and alumni relations. RUNWASHINGTON PHOTO BY RICH WOODS
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By A n d rew G ates Laura Jack remembers what she wasn’t doing on Aug. 29, 2011. She wasn’t running. Jack can never forget that because the next day was the start of a running streak that has yet to end. She’s on a roll. Her running streak has stretched beyond five years, and if it’s in her power, has no end in sight. Jack started running in 2003 as a form of therapy after her father, a sprinter, died. “I read an article about streakers and started my streak to see if I could do one year,” she said. “One year turned into two, and then into three. Now that I have hit five years, I can’t imagine stopping. It has become a regular part of my routine, like brushing my teeth or washing my face.”
She’s not alone, though she’s a relative newcomer to the approach. Englishman Ron Hill has been running daily for 52 years, starting in 1964, the year he ran in his first Olympics and broke his first world record. Many streakers, though not all, maintain records with the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA), which sets the standard of completing one mile per day on any terrain, treadmill included. Kensington runner Jim Hage’s name isn’t on there, but he’s been going since 1982. Jack’s job as vice president for development and alumni relations at Howard University puts her on the road a lot, making things difficult. A delayed flight forced her to miss a scheduled evening run and nearly broke her streak. When her plane, originally scheduled to arrive in D.C. at 7 p.m., did not land until close
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to midnight, she had to find a way to get it in. “When we landed, it was after 11:30, so I knew I wouldn’t make it home (in time),” she said. “I headed upstairs to the U.S. Airways lounge, thinking I could convince them I was not crazy and to let me run in the lounge. It was closed, so I put my bags down, and ran up and back in front of the lounge until I made one mile.” Reston resident John Byrne’s almost-22year streak nearly came to an end recently in Puerto Rico, when he broke his right arm. “I spent hours in (the) ER,” he said. “Doctors said no exercise and I said, ‘That is not an option.’ So (I) slowly ran on a treadmill for about seven days. A few of the longest streaks are held by women. “I hope to join that elite group one day,” Jack said. The USRSA was founded in 2000 by Dawn and John Strumsky from Millersville, Md. They have since retired, but the organization remains strong and growing. Mark Washburne, president of the USRSA, has run at least three miles a day since December 1989, and his job involves maintaining data on recognized streakers. He views this responsibility as another history project, preserving these records for future generations. He said more and more runners are starting their streaks each year. Not only is the USRSA list growing in overall number, but also in diversity. Washburne sees more women joining the list than ever before. The list has historically been dominated by male runners. Jack hopes to be one of the women in it for the long haul. She’s noticed they’re relatively scarce, though their ranks are growing. Streaking, of course, comes with its own set of challenges. Runners know it can be helpful to take a day off from time to time, especially when dealing with injuries. Washburne passed out during the Richmond Marathon and was immediately hospitalized. He went out and ran four miles the next day, which was nothing, he said, compared to one guy who ran through the hospital halls with his IV. That might sound crazy to some, but for Washburn, it’s not surprising. He said runners have to adapt to maintain their streak. “We change the question from, ‘Will we run?’ to ‘How do we fit it into the day?’” Strumsky wrote that simply adjusting distance and intensity should allow a runner’s body to recover while still being able to run each day. He recommends running on a regular basis for at least six months before starting a streak, and he highlights the need for record keeping. “Maintenance of a running log or training diary to record your activities will provide you with a record of where you’ve already been,” he said. “It will also serve as a roadmap to where you are going. There is no way to build improvement into your program if you have no means of measuring your past efforts.”
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Confidence from looking back on a long streak has been a boon to D.C.’s streakers. Running has now become a huge part of Jack’s life. It’s as much of a routine as getting dressed in the morning. She said there’s more to it than just getting a run in. “I think the biggest takeaway is that we are stronger than we think,” she said. “Ten years ago, if you would ask me if I thought I could do this, I would say no way. I’m not the strongest person, I’m not the fastest person, I’m not the fittest. But I am strong in my own right. I would say find what you love, whether it is running or something else, and go for it with all your heart.” For Byrne, streaking is about more than just getting in the miles. It’s about getting in the right mentality. “A streak obviously demands a certain amount of organization and planning. It has taught me that I can use that skill in other pursuits,” he said. Springfield’s Ben Emmons agreed that running every day puts him in a good state of mind. “No matter how busy you are, you have time to do anything you make a priority,” he said. “Running can cure bad moods.” He used to see running as a punishment, not a privilege. But reaching 321 pounds in 2007 told him he was living on borrowed time. He started with short, slow distances, even prioritizing downhill runs when he could. As time went on, he quickly discovered his love for running and began pushing himself more and more in the sport. He upped his mileage and speed until he was competing in 20-plus mile races across the world. “After visiting Paris and braving the freezing temperatures, ice and snow, and then Scotland running the Seven Hills Challenge solo, I decided I should just keep running every day for the upcoming year.” That was December 2008. Since then, his streak has become part of his life. “One of the more memorable days of my streak was on the day of my father’s funeral. I remember running, praying, and crying all at the same time … that run helped me process so much. Days with runs like this have made me realize that the trick isn’t keeping the streak going during tough times, but rather that the streak keeps me going through tough times.” The beauty of streaking is that anyone can do it. There are no qualifying times, no lengthy distances to complete, nor entry fees. Whether you’re an elite runner or a beginner, everyone has an equal opportunity to start streaking. Emmons gets it. “Sometime between when I started streaking and now, I realized running isn’t something you have to do, it is something you get to do,” he said. “It is a gift. Now I run because I can.” Though maintaining a streak comes with its own set of risks and efforts, the streakers themselves seem to think it’s worth it. “I never encourage people to start run streaking,” Emmons said, “but I have never met anyone who regretted it once they started.”
Dustin (left) and Hunter Jutras run the 2015 Army Ten-Miler. Photo courtesy of Jutras family
By Charlie Ban The Jutras family has been running the Army Ten-Miler since 2003. In that time, the team composition has changed, and so has the reason they run. Pierre and Julia ran with their eldest son, Dillon, and their daughter Heather. They took a year off and came back in 2005, only without Private First Class Dillon Jutras, who had enlisted in the Army and was serving in Iraq. Dillon died from combat injuries less than three weeks after that race. He was 20. But in 2006, Pierre and Julia were back on the course, and a family tradition was born. In 2010, their 15-year-old son, Dustin, joined in. Two years later, Hunter, their youngest, turned 15 and joined his family’s tradition. “I was too young before, but I went to support them,” Hunter said. “And it wasn’t just people in the race, we had family and friends come and support the runners.” That support crew gets up early with the runners and heads into D.C. on the Metro to cheer during miles six and seven near the Agriculture Department. They’re clad in t-shirts with Dillon’s face on them. “They cheer for everyone, the veterans, the wounded warriors,” Hunter said. “A lot of people run the race for a different reason.”
Though Dillon didn’t run cross country while at Edison High School, he enjoyed running and soccer. His younger brothers went on to compete for Robinson and both are on the George Mason University team together. Coach Andrew Gerard lets them run, but made it clear that Dustin, who is competing for the Patriots this year, should not show up too high in the results. He did as he was told and stuck to 6:51 miles. Hunter is redshirting, and had a little more leeway in running 54:30 to finish in the top 50. “He was a great role model,” Hunter said of Dillon. “He was a lot of fun, but he was always serious about wanting to be in the military and serve his country.” They played a lot of sports and video games together, typical brother stuff. “He was just a fun person to be with.” After the race, the two dozen-strong group visits Dillon’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. The community is important, the memories they keep alive and the solace they find in each other. Hunter also draws inspiration from the family and friends who don’t identify as runners but participate anyway. “Plenty of them aren’t typical runners, like me or my friends, but they’ll come up from North Carolina or South Carolina and run 10 miles with us.”
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