34°Snow

by Andrew Gates February 12, 2018 at 8:47 am 0

Brian Schmidt finishing the Step Sisters’ Ribbon Run 5K. Photo: Jessica Monte 

It’s as inspiring as it is a little naughty.

T-shirts that say “Run like Schmidt,” worn by dozens of runners at Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn.

Parents love it, though. The shirts aren’t as self deprecating as you think, because Brian Schmidt, the school’s cross country and track coach, is running again despite a traumatic injury a few years ago. He had been an avid road racer and ultramarathoner, and before Rock Ridge opened, had coached at Dominion and W.T. Woodson.

“I’ve been running since 1983 and when something gets taken away from you that you’ve been doing for 34 years, it’s very difficult to come to grips with it,” he said.

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by Andrew Gates October 23, 2017 at 11:56 am 0

Runners approach the 10 mile mark in the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon. Photo: Charlie Ban

Runners approach the 10 mile mark in the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon. Photo: Charlie Ban

For some runners, it’s a first marathon. Others treat it as a homecoming of sorts. There were 20,303 different stories that involved crossing the finish line of the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon.

Antonio Osadalosada, 57, from Sacramento, Calif. was one of those runners.

This was Osadalosada’s second time running the Marine Corps Marathon. He also ran the year before. His goal this year was to improve on his MCM time from last year, which he did by six minutes.

“It was a perfect running day in my opinion,” he said with a smile across his face.

 

 As a visitor to the area, Osadalosada only plans to stay for the weekend. He heads back to California on Monday and is staying at his daughter’s home in D.C. while here. When asked if his daughter has ever considered the sport of marathon running, she replied “maybe one day.”

Unlike his daughter, Osadalosada is not new to the sport of marathon running. He has run numerous major races including Boston, but says he prefers the Marine Corps Marathon to all others.

“It’s well organized. There are more volunteers. The [start and finish] is close to the metro,” he said.

Though he admits the race is not without its set of difficulties, citing the bridge at the end as the hardest part.

Kathryn Dworak, 36, from Camp Pendleton, Calif. also traveled far to be there.

When the Marine Corps Marathon is in town, you’re bound to run into a Marine at some point. Dworak, a marine stationed in Camp Pendleton, is not new to the marathon. This is her seventh time running with her fellow marines. “All Marines should run it at least once,” she said.

It was Dworak’s fourth marathon this year, and she had no intention of racing it. Her goal was simply to enjoy the experience. “Whatever time it is, it doesn’t matter,” she said. Dworak loves the sights of the city, calling it “beautiful and gorgeous”.

Her other marathons this year have taken her across the globe, as she competed in races like the Great Wall Marathon and the Great Barrier Reef Marathon earlier in 2017.

“It was a little warm,” she admits, but for Dworak, that was not an issue. She trained for the race in Okinawa, Japan, and was used to the hot weather, calling DC “cool by comparison”.

Dworak says the hardest part was the first three miles, where she had to fight for space. “It’s too congested [at the start], but once it spaces out, it’s better.”

Like both Osadalosada and Dworak, this was not the first time competing in the Marine Corps Marathon for Reuben Parks, 46, from Spring, Texas. He also ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015.

Coming from Texas, Parks is just here for the weekend, staying in Alexandria.

Parks had a rocky start while here. He found this year’s expo at National Harbor to be a bit underwhelming. “It was a little light this year,” he says, expecting a bit more out of the annual event. But thankfully the underwhelming expo did not detract from his race day experience.

“[The marathon] was good,” he says as he catches his breath. “It ended up being hot.”

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by Andrew Gates September 11, 2017 at 9:44 am 0

Chris Kelly helps fit a customer during his last shift at 7516 Leesburg Pike before his Potomac River Running store moves to Vienna. RunWashington photo by Dustin Whitlow

Chris Kelly helps fit a customer during his last shift at 7516 Leesburg Pike before his Potomac River Running store moves to Vienna. RunWashington photo by Dustin Whitlow

Location, Location, Location

“We’re moving,” reads a massive sign in the storefront window at 7516 Leesburg Pike near Tysons Corner.

To the passerby headed to do some grocery shopping, it may seem like any other storefront. But this location, home of one of the the longest continuous-running specialty running stores in the D.C. area, has held a special place in the running community since 1991.  That’s not to say it hasn’t changed over the years–it began as Fleet Feet Sports, then Metro Run and Walk and, finally, Potomac River Running.

It all started with Lea Gallardo, who opened the store as Fleet Feet Sports.

She describes that Lea, the new Fleet Feet owner 26 years ago, as “the slowest runner in Northern Virginia.” Yet she had been involved with the Reston Runners, Reston Triathlon and Reston Bike Club since the ’80s.

“I had a very entrepreneurial spirit and when an existing Fleet Feet in Reston came up for sale in 1990, I negotiated to buy it,” she said. “That didn’t work out, but it put me in touch with the Fleet Feet franchise company and that’s where that connection came from.”

In 2001, Gallardo’s 10-year contract with Fleet Feet expired and she changed the name to Metro Run and Walk, partly in an effort to appeal to a broader market.

“The big change in running had begun in the mid ’90s,” she said. “It wasn’t just for young, skinny guys anymore.  Thanks to the new charity events, everyone could participate in running.  And then, many folks, including myself, began to see the extreme benefits in walking.  In changing the name,  we needed to embrace everyone.  I also wanted a universal type name because I knew my brother was thinking about opening [a franchise] in South Bend, Ind.”

Chris Kelly has been with the store for most of its journey. “I was actually the first paying customer in 1991,” he said. “They had very personalized service. I became a customer for life. And when I retired from my full-time job, I told Lea that I wanted to work in her store.”

Kelly has worked there for the last 15 years and has become an integral part of the store.

“We like to say he came with the store,” said Derek Holdsworth, a colleague of Kelly’s at Potomac River Running.

Before working with Gallardo, Kelly was a software developer who worked on Wall Street, at the Pentagon and in downtown D.C. “It was really fast paced, exciting,” he recalls. “The thing I liked most about [those jobs] was if you failed, they fired you, when you succeed, they pay you well.”

“Having that type of stress was tailor-made for running. I can’t tell you how many times we’d be sitting at our desks at 3 a.m. downtown and we had to get our systems up,” he recalls. “And someone would say, ‘Hey, let’s go for a run!’ and most times, the solution would come right to us.”

Kelly ended his career in software development in 2000 but did not seek out a new job right away. “I waited a little over a year. I was very young. I was 54. I was paid very well and I just didn’t feel like jumping into [a new job].”

Kelly started working for Metro Run and Walk in February of 2002 and found it easy to transition into another performance-based work environment.

“That same type of attitude was a perfect fit for working with Metro Run and Walk because the whole idea was: get the person the right shoe for them. Don’t oversell, make sure to get the right shoe and really dwell on that,” he said. “It was an easy transition for me to do that.”

In an age when running specialty stores were in short supply, Metro Run and Walk was a hot destination for those seeking quality running gear.

“Anyone who wanted to go to a running specialty store anywhere from Winchester [to D.C.] had to drive all the way in,” recalls Ray Pugsley, co-owner of Potomac River Running. “It was so crowded. It was like a deli. People had to pick a number and wait their turn.”

“Supposedly we were the fourth largest running store in the country,” Kelly said. “Part of that idea was you stayed with your customer from start to finish. That was what Lea wanted us all to do … On a Saturday, the most I ever counted was 30 people waiting in line to get their gait analyzed. We had eight to nine people on staff at a time.” Today the store normally schedules two or three staff members at a time.

“As with all success, what happened then was there were a lot more running stores. Pacers, and others, all started taking a part of the pie,” Kelly said. “Success breeds other people wanting a piece of the action.”

Potomac River Running, founded in 2003, was one of those other stores.

“[Potomac River Running] ended up there because we purchased Metro Run and Walk from Lea Gallardo,” Pugsley said. “She approached us sometime in early 2009. She was ready to retire and move on and she was hoping to keep the store going … She wanted to see that it continues. She didn’t want it to just shut down … Based on our [company’s] geography and our existing business, she thought we could represent that space well. We bought the store in June 2009.”

Pugsley was excited to include the store as part of his company. “Certainly that location was historically a great location because it’s right in between the Beltway and 66 and Route 7,” he said. “On paper, it’s a really good location. We were really excited to be in that spot that has such a history.”

Shortly after moving in, Pugsley renovated the space. “We redid the store and modernized it,” he explains. “The counter used to be in the middle of the store. Then we redid the store and moved the counter where it is [near the entrance]. And the treadmills used to be in the middle of the store and they’re not in the middle of the store now.”

It’s been that way ever since.

Kelly says it was easy to make the transition from working with Gallardo to working with Pugsley. “Now Potomac River Running is a wonderful place to work,” he said. He is especially fond of the company’s name. “I always thought it was appropriate for me to work there because I’ve always been running on the C&O Canal by the river for the past 26 years. I’ve been with these guys now for about the past seven and a half years.”

Having worked in running specialty for the past 15 years, Kelly has noticed some significant changes in the type of customer who comes through the door.

“I think that’s the biggest change I’ve noticed over time across the running store career is that now the runners are the minority for our customers,” he explains. “I would say 15 years ago, 99.9% [of customers] were runners. And then over time, Lea [renamed it] Metro Run and Walk.”

He says the simple name change helped bring in new clientele. “We had a lot of women who walked. It was incredible. And they spent a lot of money on clothes,” he said. “So we had an avid walking community and an avid running community.”

“Running has diminished ever so small every year,” he said. “Last night I had four customers who were actual runners and I was so jacked. Today I’ve had two customers [who were runners].”

But 7516 Leesburg Pike closed its doors for good in August of this year, ending the storefront’s 26-year legacy. A new Potomac River Running location will take its place only four miles away, at the corner of Center Street and Maple Avenue in Vienna.

When asked what he thinks about the store moving, Kelly laughs. “From a selfish standpoint, I live about five minutes from the (Tysons) store,” he says. “But most of the customers that I’ve dealt with in the last month and a half, I’d say about 90 percent of customers who ask us about the move are pleased. I was very surprised by that.”

Pugsley, however, is not surprised. “We feel that the majority of our customer base wasn’t living right in the direct, close proximity of the store, that the majority of our customer base treated our store as a destination. And therefore, moving closer to Vienna is moving closer to the bulk of our customer base,” he said. “We were never getting people just walking over from their house. Everyone who came to shop was driving from somewhere else.”

Gallardo, now living in Florida, could see the change coming years ago.

“At that time, Tysons Station was a run-down strip center where businesses came and went on a regular basis,” she said. “That shopping center was located at one of the most incredible crossroads in the country –  Route 66, Route 7 and Route 495.  For years we had the center to ourselves;  our customers could park and test out shoes all over the parking lot.  Half the stores were empty.  And that was the ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment.  Along came Trader Joe’s and [that] changed everything.”

With that change comes the reality that Kelly has a new commute for the first time in 15 years.

“I guess I’m old enough now to come to terms with the fact that all things change,” Kelly said. “We hate it, but they change. There’s nothing I can do about it, so go with the flow.”

by Andrew Gates May 15, 2017 at 10:05 am 2 Comments

A Roosevelt Island parkrun crowd meets up in February 2017. Photo: Joy Asico

A Roosevelt Island parkrun crowd meets up in February 2017. Photo: Joy Asico

It’s Saturday morning on Fletcher’s Cove. A crowd of runners huddle together on the C&O Canal Towpath, ready to start their watches and run. At first glance, this may look like just a normal 5k, but on closer inspection, something is off. There are dogs in the crowd… children… strollers… No one is wearing numbers, there is no timing clock, no one is firing a starting gun.

Only a few miles away, a similar crowd gathers on the wooded trails of Theodore Roosevelt Island. Another gathers on the paved path of College Park’s Paint Branch Trail.

It’s something different: it’s a parkrun, a weekly running event growing in popularity around the world. In just one year, three parkrun events have started in the D.C. area alone.

“Don’t call it a race,” said Darrell Stanaford, head of parkrun USA and event director at Roosevelt Island. “It’s a ‘timed run.’ We have a lot of people doing their first 5k. It’s free, it’s easy.”

That’s right, a free 5k. To register for an event, it’s as easy as going online, typing in your name and clicking print.  Participants receive personalized barcodes, which allow them free access to any parkrun in the world. Times are posted online within just a few hours of the run, sooner even than many paid races. To keep it free, events are entirely volunteer-led.

It all began in England. There are now more than 40 parkruns in the metropolitan area of London alone. These are among more than 1,000 around the world.

The first run had 13 participants. Now, every Saturday, more than 200,000 runners and volunteers turn up at parkruns in 17 countries.

Yet parkrun is still fairly new to the DC area, and, were it not for Henry Wigglesworth, might not be here at all.

Wigglesworth has enjoyed running for a long time, though his preferred distance has changed over the years. “The older I get, the shorter distances I like to run,” he said. “I really like the mile. I like track races.” In 2014, he won his age group in New York’s highly competitive Fifth Avenue Mile.

Wigglesworth was on a trip to England in June of 2015 when he casually asked his friend if he knew of any runs nearby. His friend told him about a low-key event called parkrun. No entry fees. No prizes. Mostly families and casual runners. It didn’t sound like the type of event he was used to, but Wigglesworth decided to give it a shot, not anticipating much competition from its 200 participants. But when the run began, four or five fast guys took off right in front of him, leaving him in the dust.

With such a vast range of runners, it was so different from anything Wigglesworth had seen in the United States. His first thought, “wouldn’t it be great to start one of these in D.C.?”

And he did.

When Wigglesworth returned to the United States later that summer, he was introduced to Darrell Stanaford through a mutual friend. Both were interested in starting a parkrun together.

“Once I met Darrell, I thought, okay, this really could happen.”

Stanaford was not new to parkrun. While living in Moscow, Stanaford grew sick of sticking to the treadmill and yearned for more places to run. So he got involved with parkrun in Gorky Park. When he returned to the United States, however, he wanted to stay involved with the parkrun community.

“Anyone can start a parkrun,” Stanaford said, though it’s not as easy as drawing a starting line and saying “go.” There are some necessary requirements. To begin a parkrun, you need a park permit, a team of volunteers and a one-time startup fee for equipment. To acquire all of this was no easy feat.

In August of 2015, Andres Falconer joined the team, along with Diarmuid Coughlan.  

Falconer, who had lived in London, had been running parkrun for years. “It was second nature,” he says, “so I obviously missed parkrun a great deal when I left the UK and I was longing for the opportunity to run it again.” When he arrived in D.C., Falconer emailed Paul SintonHewitt, the UK-based founder of parkrun, asking if there were any events in the area. Sinton-Hewitt responded, putting Falconer in touch with Wigglesworth and Stanaford.

The team got together and held regular meetings at the Pret in Union Station. “It was like our office,” Wigglesworth says. They discussed things like getting permits from the park service, raising the money and best location, eventually settling on the C&O Canal Towpath for their first event.

The inaugural race was held Jan. 9, 2016. It was attended by 160 participants, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Andrea Zukowski and Colin Phillips, a couple from College Park, were also among those participants.

Like many who discover parkrun, Zukowski and Phillips were first introduced to it during their annual trip to England. “You practically trip over a parkrun in England,” Zukowski jokes. “This is what happens if you get enough parkruns in an area. If you’re traveling, you can just look at a map and say ‘where is the nearest parkrun to me?’”

“Every year we went to England, we would come home and say ‘man, we really need a parkrun in College Park,’” Zukowski said. “I was a late runner myself and I can appreciate what a transformative experience [running] can have on someone’s life.” So she went online and did the research, but thought it would be too difficult to raise the money and find volunteers.

During the inaugural parkrun in Fletcher’s Cove, Zukowski and Phillips spoke with Wigglesworth and Falconer about starting a run of their own in College Park. That meeting gave them the confidence they needed. “The very next Saturday, we knew where we were going to have it,” Zukowski says.

Roosevelt Island came next, Aug. 25, and College Park on Oct. 15. There are also plans for a new parkrun on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, beginning in late March or early April. Each run has its own unique vibe and attracts a slightly different crowd, though there is a sense of commonality among them all.

While parkrun attracts all types of people, those looking for a fast run should not feel deterred. Parkruns are not without competition. The current course record at Fletcher’s Cove is 15:45.

Many runners and volunteers attend regularly and form friendships. Participants of the College Park parkrun meet weekly for coffee afterwards at a local shop not too far from the finish line.

“If you start a parkrun, you know what you’re going to be doing Saturday mornings for a while,” Stanaford says with a smile as he planted turnaround signs across the course at Roosevelt Island.

In order to help others across the country begin their own parkruns, Wigglesworth and Stanaford formed parkrun USA, a nonprofit designed to promote parkruns across the country. Stanaford is the head of the organization.

Wigglesworth says parkrun is not out to take over the running market, but to grow it. “We are not competing with local races. We actually view ourselves as adding ourselves to the running community,” he said. “I know from my own experiences, it’s fun to enter a big race and have a lot of competition and get a free t-shirt… Sometimes it’s worth paying the money for it… If you think of running races as a pie, parkrun is not taking a sliver out of that pie, we’re just making the pie bigger.”

The could mean attracting lower-income runners who don’t have $35-plus dollars to spend on a race.

“Parkrun is really about more people running,” Falconer said. “We’ve done parkruns with 160 people; we’ve done parkruns with 9 people. If there’s one runner and one volunteer, we’re doing it. The numbers really don’t matter.”

by Andrew Gates March 20, 2017 at 10:39 am 2 Comments

Claire Carmody, Cimone Safilian, Daniel Ritter and Christina McGrath. Photo: Joy Asico

Claire Carmody, Cimone Safilian, Daniel Ritter and Christina McGrath. Photo: Joy Asico

As the years and the miles add up, when you’ve seen the same trail hundreds of times, it can be hard to remember your first impression of running in D.C. But untold numbers of new runners move here each month, and their perceptions of the area, compared to where they lived before, are still fresh. Meet five of DC’s newest runners and their perspectives on running in the area.

 

Christina McGrath

For some, coming to D.C. can mean losing the treadmill and running outside. After finishing at Johns Hopkins, Christina McGrath was looking for fresh start in a new city. She set her sights on the D.C. area and moved to Arlington in May for a gap year while she applies to medical school.

Her 6,000-person hometown of Rowley, Mass. was not a hotbed for running.

“I wouldn’t really say there is a huge running scene there,” says McGrath. “It wasn’t until college that I really started to love [running].”

She started running as a way to deal with stress in college, and she signed up for the 2013 Nike Women’s Half Marathon and grew to love the sport. But she did not love training in the streets of Baltimore.

“Running in Baltimore wasn’t great because it’s dangerous,” she said.

So she did the majority of her training on the treadmill, with very little of her mileage outside.

McGrath finds that she feels a lot safer running in D.C. “Running on the trails, you never feel like you’re in danger and you never worry about cars and you always pass other runners, which is great.”

Now she is an avid outdoor runner. Her favorite places to run include the Custis Trail, Key Bridge and the National Mall. She ran the Marine Corps Marathon, where she set a new PR and qualified for Boston.

The biggest downside for her is the hot and humid summer weather. Apart from that, McGrath has a lot of other positive things to say about running in the area, citing the beautiful sights, the cool fall weather and the abundance of other runners.

“It seems like it’s a very active place, whether running or cycling or [doing] fitness in general. It’s an exciting place to live.”

 

 

Daniel Ritter

Like McGrath, Daniel Ritter did not grow up in a running community. He moved to D.C. from Springfield, Ohio to attend American University.

He started running track in high school, and he placed seventh in the state in the mile. He even competed against now-Olympic bronze medalist, Clayton Murphy, back when Murphy was just a high school senior.

Though his hometown had a competitive high school running scene, Ritter did not see a lot of opportunity to run at other levels.

“Running is not a big deal in Ohio once you graduate high school,” he says. “Springfield is not a running community at all. If I’m running in a neighborhood, I only see one or two casual joggers.”

After moving to D.C., Ritter was surprised by the high number of runners out on a given day. “The first week I was here, I found a bike trail and passed hundreds of people in the ten minutes I was there,” he said.

He finds that the abundance of runners also leads to a more accepting community of non-runners. “Running communities are very welcoming in general, but here, people who aren’t runners or aren’t currently running are very nice. At home I would get cat-called in short shorts or running without a shirt, but here I haven’t gotten anything at all, which surprises me,” he said. “I feel like D.C. just in general is more welcoming, drivers too.”

Ritter’s favorite place to run is Rock Creek Park, though he also enjoys the Battery Kemble Trail, the Glover Archbold Trail and Foxhall Road. Though he has only run one race in the D.C. so far, he looks forward to racing more.

“I’m really excited to be part of the racing scene here. I ran the Navy Mile and really enjoyed that. I’m excited to run some of the keynote races like Cherry Blossom.”

Mostly, Ritter is just excited to be part of a more competitive post-high school scene. “Here you can go to any decent-sized 5k and have a lot of competition. It’s good to really push races and not do it all solo. You can’t do that back home.”

 

Hannah Preston

Though she may be a newcomer to the area, post-collegiate professional runner Hannah Preston is no newcomer to running.

Preston is a city girl at heart. Originally from Chicago and more recently from Nashville, she moved to Alexandria in August when her husband took a new job.

Preston finds a lot of similarities between Nashville and D.C. With strong running schools like Belmont and Vanderbilt, the  competition back home was always strong. “Nashville is a very fit city,” she said. “Lots of bikers and runners.” Nashville has good trails and places to run, though Preston says D.C. is still better.

“In general, there’s a lot more people out [in D.C.] and it’s a lot more scenic for sure,” she said. “I’ve run in a lot of areas where cars get mad at you, but that’s not the case in D.C. People are very accustomed to pedestrians and runners. It’s a good community to run in. [It’s] safe.”

Preston also appreciates that her runs are not limited to roads or concrete. “For me, the biggest convenience is the access to soft surface. And it’s scenic. You get to run on soft surface by the Tidal Basin and the Mall. So there’s a lot there.”

As a professional runner, Preston does not always choose her running route on a given day. Workout days and longer runs are planned for her by her coach in Fairfax. Those runs mainly take her to Burke Lake, Lake Fairfax or the Manassas Battlefield. “Even a quick drive out into the suburbs like Reston, Fairfax and Burke, there are so many soft surfaces, especially compared to Nashville. That wasn’t something I’d expected at all.”

On the days she can choose her own route, Preston prefers to run on the C&O Canal or the Mall. She also tries to run the Mount Vernon Trail at least once per week just to get some flatter mileage.

The one thing Preston misses most about running back home is the abundance of loop trails. “I find that a lot of my favorite trails, the ones that are loops, are quite a bit out in the suburbs,” she said. Many of the local trails like the Mall or Mount Vernon are all out-and-backs.

Preston’s first race in the area was the Parks 10k, which she won. She primarily races the 10k for now, though she hopes to transition into longer distances.

 

Claire Carmody

Claire Carmody may be new to Arlington, but she is not new to Virginia. Having lived in Richmond her whole life, Carmody moved to the D.C. area in August to start George Mason’s master’s program in social work.

Running in Richmond involved sticking mostly to parks or neighborhoods. Carmody says she rarely ran in the city.

Carmody competes in a variety of half and full marathon distances and works a local barre studio. She is not training for anything right now but plans to do a half marathon and 10 miler in the spring.

When first arriving in D.C., Carmody says she was surprised by the beautiful scenery. “There’s a lot more to see when you’re running.”

She also was surprised by the number of runners out on any given day. “No matter what time of day you go, there’s always someone going there,” she says. “I feel like it’s very runner friendly [here]. Cars are pretty cognizant of the fact that there are runners.Even bikers are well aware. That was not the case in Richmond.”

Her favorite places to run include the Mount Vernon Trail, the Tidal Basin and Georgetown. She prefers out-and-back routes and uses monuments as turnaround points.

The biggest cons, she says, are the traffic and the pavement, especially in her neighborhood around Rosslyn. “Going to Georgetown is hard through Rosslyn, especially if you’re trying to do interval training, and the pavement feels like it’s killing your shins.”

 

Cimone Safilian

Some runners are more serious than others. Cimone Safilian runs casually to stay in shape. She’s not training for anything, not planning to set any records and describes herself as a “leisurely” runner.

Originally from Detroit, Safilian moved to Arlington in August to earn her master’s degree in psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which has a campus in downtown D.C.

Though she enjoys running outside, it was hard for Safilian to find running groups and trails in Detroit. She finds that this is not the case in D.C.

“I feel like I always see people running everywhere in the city and there are a ton of trails and they’re easy to find,” she says.

She also prefers the weather conditions and beautiful scenery.

Overall, Safilian loves the new city.

“There’s a lot to do. I feel like there’s always something going on,” she says.

Safilian ran track and field in high school, competing in the 800 and 3200 meter races. In 2006, she was injured while competing in the Chicago half marathon and has not run a serious race since then. Though she has no races planned, Safilian says she wants to complete another half marathon in the future and wants to do it in D.C.

Her favorite places to run include the Mount Vernon Trail, Key Bridge and Georgetown.

This article was originally published in RunWashington’s Spring 2017 issue

by Andrew Gates January 23, 2017 at 9:16 am 0

Laura Jack updates her running log. Photo: Rich Woods

Laura Jack updates her running log. Photo: Rich Woods

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 ran daily for 52 years and 39 days, starting in 1964, the year he ran in his first Olympics and broke his first world record. His steak ended Jan. 29, 2017.

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 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.”

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Laura Jack stretches before a run. Photo: Rich Woods

Reston resident John Byrne’s almost-22-year 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.”

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 7 Hill 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.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of RunWashington

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