Washington, DC

In any other year, a chilly Thursday morning would see a group of D.C. Road Runners gather in the pre-dawn hours at the Yorktown High School track. Paul Ryan would show up clad in his decades-old puffy U.S. Naval Academy warmup suit.

“Everyone else would be wearing tights, but Paul has this almost-plastic coat,” Rich Mendelowitz said. “It works for him, it’s all kind of old school and it fits his personality.”

Ryan, an Arlingtonian who recently turned 70, has been choosing his running partners carefully during the pandemic, waits for the days when he can get together with people to race again, or just hang out.

“I look forward to being with fellow runners again and feeling good about that bond with fellow runners because right now except for running with one or two different people, it’s been a very solitary existence,” he said. “I avoid crowds, I avoid places where other people are, so running has become what I do when I want to get out of the house and go do something.”

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Monumental Runner – Omar Ali

Name: Omar Ali

Self-described age group: 50-55 (but I’m on the very low end of this age group)

Residence: Kensington, Md.

Occupation: Clinical scientist for a small biotech company

Volunteer roles in the running world: I usually volunteer for various roles with my running club (MCRRC). Most of the time, you can find me working as a course marshal or serving food at the end of a race. My favorite role is handing out bibs to runners – it’s fun to see the excitement on people’s faces, especially if it’s their first race.

How has your running changed in the last six months: I usually run with the club’s Experienced Marathon Program (XMP) in the summer and the club’s Winter Trails program in the…well winter (and I really miss running with these groups). With nothing in the immediate future to train for, I’ve just been maintaining some base mileage. I’ve definitely gotten slower during the pandemic, which has been discouraging. But I figure I’ll regain the speed once I start training for a race again. The time off from training has forced me to get a little more serious with strength and cross-training, which I’ve always neglected.

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Running Shorts


Name: Megan Schoffstall

Self-described age group: 30

Residence: Montclair, Va.

Occupation: Stay at home mom to four kids, part-time admin for Honorable Service Realty

How has your running changed in the last six months: I went from training for a mile on the track to training for a 50k!

Why do you run: To challenge myself

When did you get started running: I’ve only been running for two years. I started running after seeing my husband run his first marathon in Richmond in 2018. Seeing all the runners cross the finish line that day was so inspiring. I ventured out one evening with my sights set on four miles, not actually sure I would be able to make it back home. Well, I made it back home, and I’ve been running ever since.

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Running Shorts

  • Plans to repave and add a pedestrian bridge to the Rock Creek Park path will go forward starting in late February, after DDOT awarded a construction contract. Details include:
    • A pedestrian bridge to the south of the tunnel
    • Reconstruction of the “zoo loop” that had eroded into the creek several years ago
    • Repair of the retaining wall along Piney Branch Parkway
    • Various trail closures
  • Laurel resident Juliette Whittaker, who is a junior at Mount de Sales Academy, qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in the 800 meters, running 2:02.7 at the Virginia Showcase last weekend, the third fastest time for a woman under 20 and a junior class record. She was also a member of the 4×800 meter relay team that set an under-20 world record 8:37.20 the next day.
  • The Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation is putting together a Bike and Pedestrian Network Plan to prioritize resources for bike and pedestrian improvements over the next five years. Comments, which you can make on the map, will be accepted until Jan. 22.
  • You know the drill about Keira D’Amato by now, she was a guest on the Six Minute Mile podcast.
  • Georgetown alumna Rachel Schneider and Heritage High School alumna Weini Kelati were guests on the 2 Black Runners podcast.

You’ll never have a still enough day to see it quite that way, but the Potomac River is a mirror.

On one side, the C&O Canal Towpath, ranging from sandy with a few puddles to vast, flat and smooth, all the way to Cumberland.

Across the span, however, you’ll find the opposite — rugged, rocky and halting. The Potomac Heritage Trail. The name means a lot of things — primarily a network of trails flanking the river between the Potomac and Ohio river basins — but in D.C., it means the towpath’s sinister sibling.

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Boyds native Andrew Lent runs the Appalachian Trail section of the 2020 JFK 50 Mile. Photo: H3 Photography

Time moves differently now for Andrew Lent. 

Part of it is his age — he’s 21, and a minute, an hour, even a month exists on a broader scale than it did a few years before. 

But he’s also made new choices. Since he finished his high school career at Poolesville with a state runner-up finish in the 3,200 meters behind teammate Ryan Lockett, he’s now competing in situations where those same 3,200 meters can include two walking breaks, even on his way to a top-10 finish at the storied JFK 50 Miler.

“You can get a real second wind in ultra running,” he said. “It could take hours, but at some point, you usually come back around. 

“It amuses me that it can happen. You come from track and cross country where your race is about 15 minutes and if things feel bad, it’s not going to get much better. Now I’m in situations where an hour ago, you couldn’t fathom taking another step and all of a second you’re running even better than you had been.”

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Running Shorts

  • The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile has been postponed until Sept. 11-12, with the lottery running June 1-13.
  • The Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation is putting together a Bike and Pedestrian Network Plan to prioritize resources for bike and pedestrian improvements over the next five years. Comments, which you can make on the map, will be accepted until Jan. 22.
  • Oakton and American alumna Keira D’Amato’s 2:22:56 at the Marathon Project was the seventh fastest American women’s marathon time. She was a guest on the I’ll Have Another podcast.
  • Heritage alumna Weini Kelati was a guest on the Citius and Keeping Track podcasts.
  • Georgetown alumna Rachel Schneider was a guest on the C Tolle Run podcast.
  • Montgomery County Department of Transportation is repairing a culvert that will close a section of the Matthew Henson Trail for several months at Turkey Branch Parkway and Grenoble Drive. MCDOT will install an ADA compliant detour for trail users. See more information here

Emily Hart’s friends raved about how Marine Corps would be the best “first marathon” for her, with deafening crowds, thousands of volunteers, aid stations and the atmosphere of running through her home city.

When finally she ran it, her experience was completely different from what she’d heard about, but no less memorable. Like many of the D.C. area’s marathoners, she charted her own course for 26.2 miles in 2020 — straight up the W&OD Trail — one of hundreds whose options were only limited by their creativity and motivation. And, public health orders limiting gathering sizes.

With the November postponement of the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Marathon, usually in March, and the undetermined rescheduling of the Boston Marathon, these will likely be the stories of more runners who feel the itch to go for a very long timed run though at least the first half of 2021. While a smattering of small marathons are being held in the D.C. area, with others tending larger in other parts of the country, fortune will favor the self-motivated. 

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The DMV Distance Derby, RunWashington’s substitute for a robust road racing season, has recorded 677 times for 22 segments since May 2020. Using the Strava app, runners can run a variety of distances on courses throughout the D.C. area at a time of their choosing to earn bragging rights. Often, they are a break from the tranditional 5k, 10k, etc. distances common in road racing.

The 2.5-mile Hains Point segment, clockwise between the gates in East Potomac Park, has seen the most action with 80 men and 45 women trying. Brian Rich (12:34) and Nina Zarina (13:30) hold the leads so far. Others are ripe for more attempts, with only a few people running the WB&A Trail and the Washington’s Birthday Marathon loop in Prince George’s County, Kenwood in Montgomery County or the National Aboretum.

Even if you don’t run all out in an attempt to set a personal best, these courses are also an opportunity to try running in a new place.

We’ll be doing a full year, running through April 30, and I will write glowing profiles of the runners with the most segment leads over that time.

View overall results for the first seven months of the DMV Distance Derby here

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