Preparing for the season ahead, runners conquer Greenbelt

Winds up to 30 miles per hour, snow flurries in 30 degrees, rolling hills and plenty of warm chili — it’s all in preparation for springtime races and a long-time tradition for the DC Road Runners Club. At the 52nd annual Washington’s Birthday Marathon and Relay, the club brought in more than 500 runners to race on some of Greenbelt’s most challenging roads in an effort to get the athletes primed for the season ahead.

“You don’t get the intensity if you train on your own that you do in a race,” said overall marathon winner Miles Aitken, 29, of Washington D.C.

Aitken, who won with a time of 3:08:43, said he planned to come back next year. “It was a great course and well organized,” he said. Though his specialty race is 5K, Aitken was using the DCRRC GW Marathon to train for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon USA in March.

Aitken wasn’t alone. Many runners who braved the gusts of wind and rolling hills were getting ramped up for springtime races.

Not all runners had to complete the entire 26.2 miles to lace up their racing shoes. In addition to the full marathon competition, the DCRRC also hosted a relay for runners who wanted to race a shorter distance. With more than 100 relay teams, Ben Richter, vice president of races for the DCRRC, said the relay teams made-up roughly half of the race participants. Richter said the relays tend to get more people involved.

Emily Buzzell, 27 of Washington, was the first of three runners to compete in the co-ed “Team Dojo” squad. Her team finished first in the co-ed relay series with a time of 2:52:20. Buzzell said the relay gave her something to run for.

“I turned a corner after the fifth mile mark and ran into a 30-mile-per-hour wind,” Buzzell said. “I was exhausted and everything hurt but didn’t want to slow down because my team was counting on me.”

Buzzell’s other motivating factor to race in mid-February is the Boston Marathon. “Everything’s geared toward Boston,” she said.

“Relays are good activities to help you be accountable for other bigger goals,” said Buzzell’s teammate, Kit Wells, 36 of Damascus, Md.

In addition to appreciating the atmosphere of teamwork, Wells enjoyed the course, which passed a federal agricultural research facility. One of the Greenbelt country streets was even named “Poultry Road.”

“It’s the closest thing I’ve come to experiencing anything dealing with poultry research,” Wells said. “It’s nice that the same footprint can be used for healthful recreational. That’s a good mix,” Wells said.

Among other relay teams and running clubs competing throughout the race, the American Hispanic Running Club had a strong showing in support at the finish. When talking about their favorite part of the course, many of the club’s runners said the finish. The club, which is trying to bring more Hispanic members to the running community, took first in the Masters Male Relay team with a time of 3:15:35. The group is preparing for the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon in March and the Parks Half Marathon in September.

For Jane Lanford, 47 of Fairbanks, Alaska, the course was a refreshing way to experience the east coast.

“I have this impression of the east coast as entirely built up,” Lanford said as she tried to warm her hands—even after she had been inside for an hour.  “It was very nice to be out in the country. I really enjoyed that.”

Lanford traveled all the way from Fairbanks, Alaska, where she trains outside all year long. She finished first in the woman’s masters at 3:54:04 and hit her goal: to break four hours. The Washington’s Birthday Marathon marked the 15th race in which Lanford broke four hours. This is part of her goal to run 50 marathons in less than four hours.

“I’m not getting any younger so I might as well do them now the best I can,” Lanford said.

Amanda An, 25 of Ellicott City, touted her Howard County roots and said she liked the hills.

“I actually like them better than the flat courses,” An said. An was the first female finisher with a time of 3:35:02. She got her start in 2008 when she ran her first marathon. The  race marked An’s 17th marathon.

“Once you get mixed up in the running community and get talking to other runners and their achievements—then you start questioning your own abilities and what you can give,” An said. “It really motivates you to try to push your own limits.”

An ran the marathon in preparation for her second 100-miler, the Boston Marathon and brought her one step closer to reaching her goal of completing at least 50 races a year—part of the 50-plus group.

It seemed that most runners had used the Washington Marathon as a training ground for their big up-and-coming race, but it was also clear this race was just as important as the big ones. Whether it was one more race closer to the 50 mark or another race allowing teammates to grow stronger, the Washington’s Birthday Marathon allowed many runners to get back in the groove of racing and dust off their racing flats.

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