Seeing a female runner in that country was rare, something Nina hoped to change.
These words come from Maggie Lloyd’s 2016 RunWashington remembrance of Nina Brekelmans, a runner, scholar and activist who was killed four years ago in an apartment fire near Dupont Circle.
As Lloyd noted in her article, Nina’s story “is still far from complete.” But thanks to family members, friends and supporters, Nina’s vision is indeed moving forward.
In Amman, Jordan, where she had studied, Nina envisioned empowering young women through running. That’s happening today, as last month, a fourth annual camp and race named in her honor culminated with record participation.
As the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Foundation, Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and Jordanian partners gear for their 5th season, a fundraising event for the camp and race will be held in partnership with Pacers Running and RunWashington.
Experience a joyous evening featuring appetizers and drinks, raffles and silent auction items ranging from Nationals tickets to yoga classes and entries to the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. All proceeds will benefit the Nina Brekelmans Memorial Foundation and its programs supporting young female runners and refugees in Jordan.
Less than a week ago, Patrick Reaves was on the starting line – and on the list of “Olympic hopefuls” – for an eight-mile race in Atlanta. This was a special event held to preview the course for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, now less than a year away.
Reaves’s result will tell you that he ran 42:14, 5:09 pace, to finish 33rd, and that he lives in Portland, Ore. What it will not tell you is that the 34-year-old runner was actually racing in his hometown, the city where he ran his first marathon as a 19-year-old club runner at the University of Maryland.
And while his result indicated — and Reaves himself will confirm it — that a fellow Nike athlete, and three-time national cross country champion, Chris Derrick, tagged along doing a tempo, it will not tell you that Reaves is a professional in the more traditional sense. He’s not paid to run; instead, he’s paid to guide Nike’s social impact strategy, a position that connected him to Bowerman Track Club’s elite corporate team when he and his wife, Valerie, moved to Portland in 2014.
Reaves’s result also will not tell you how he earned the opportunity to be on the starting line: how, in December, at the California International Marathon (CIM), his half marathon split of 1:08:47 was a personal best. He then nearly PRed again, covering the back half only six seconds slower.
This is how Reaves chopped approximately six minutes from his personal best to clock 2:17:40 and beat the sub-2:19 men’s qualifying standard for the trials. Now he’s a year away from competing in the event back in his hometown where his marathon journey began.
Update: Of the 14 local-ish Western States entrants, 13 finished, led by Jared Byrd’s 22:09:10.
Last year, my sister, Sarah Mercer-Bowyer, graduated from veterinary school in Southern California. She then accepted an internship at an equine medical center in Northern California. This required Sarah and her husband, Greg, to move.
I have a feeling, though, that Sarah didn’t have to twist Greg’s arm.
Their new home is in Auburn. It’s a town of 13,000, founded by gold miners, located approximately 35 miles from Sacramento, and it’s a great place for them to live.
It takes an hour to get here from Washington, D.C.
You head north on Interstate 270, pass by the main exits for Frederick and continue onto U.S. Route 15. Catoctin Mountain comes into view. And as Cactus Flats Roadhouse passes by on your left, be on the lookout for your exit: Mountaindale Road.
You wind down through fields, passing by Mountaindale Convenience Store. When you have to choose right or left, choose left, and continue on what is still Mountaindale (Putnam Road is to the right). If you start seeing log cabin-inspired homes and the Cold Deer Hunting and Fishing Club, you chose correctly, and are almost there.
The Working Man
Darrell General is used to operating on a tight schedule. Thirty years ago, when he qualified for his first of five U.S. Olympic marathon trials at the Marine Corps Marathon, General was training hard and working harder at multiple jobs. Today, General, 51, is right on time for a 4 p.m. interview for the Pace the Nation podcast. As long as we get this done in 45 minutes, he’ll still have enough time to drive over to George Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va. to set up a cross country course for tonight’s pre-season time trial. General has been head coach there since 2002.
Running the Straight and Narrow
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.
Abbey Green came up just short in her latest attempt to win a Maryland state cross country title, a rematch with Annapolis senior and 2015 Footlocker finalist Maria Coffin. Yet in the end, the Walter Johnson junior said she could not have scripted the race much more perfectly.
In the state 4A race at legendary Hereford — a three-mile cross country venue so tough, they say, even Centro couldn’t break 16 minutes — Green and Coffin left 152 other harriers far behind in becoming the first two girls to cover the course in less than 18 minutes.
Even as Coffin broke free of Green in the final mile, maintaining a small lead up the race’s final hill, Green’s stride was still strong. It looked for a second like she might even rally. And after crossing the line in 17:54, five seconds back of Coffin, her repeat runner-up complete, Green took some time to catch her breath before walking back towards the finish – again, like last year, waiting eagerly for her teammates to join her.
Katrione Kirsch was the first to come through, placing 7th in 19:38. Then came Sadie Keller, Janet Scott, and Sophia Scobell, all finishing in the top 25 positions as Walter Johnson claimed its fourth 4A title in a row.
“You can just see it in their faces coming in,” Green said. “They’re just pushing, trying to get every last girl that they can get. They’re all just really fighting for each other and for what we’ve worked really hard for.”
Asked about her own effort, even then Green led with more praise for others. “I think Maria should be so proud that she got the course record on her last run here. “[And I’m proud of] myself that I was able to get a much better time than I did last year. That was my goal coming into here.”
Winston Churchill Senior Julia Reicin led the chase, finishing 3rd in 19:06. Paint Branch junior Yasmine Kass was 9th in 19:43; Northwest had the top freshman in Helena Lee, who was 12th in 19:54.
Meanwhile, sophomore Jessica Trzeciak, in 6th, led T.S. Wootton to a runner-up finish, the team’s highest ever, said coach Kellie Redmond.
Heading into today’s championships, Sophomore Madeline Grainger was the team’s only athlete who had ever even run at Hereford. She had qualified last year as an individual as injuries ravaged her teammates.
Today, Grainger was Wootton’s No. 4, placing 27th overall in 20:46. And while Wootton had put up a stronger 2nd place showing in the Montgomery County meet, Trzeciak, the team’s top runner, ended up placing higher in the state meet, proving Redmond’s point that her team has been “progressively better all season.”
“We knew we’d have some strong competition but we executed the race plan exactly as planned,” Redmond said. “They ran great, they ran tough, and they were super inspired beforehand.”
In the 3A race, Nandini Satsangi paced Poolesville to a fifth place showing. It wasn’t the result that the team was hoping for, or the result that Sandini, who had the fastest seed and finished 9th, would have envisioned after winning her regional meet by nearly a minute. No one, however, should think Satsangi had an off day. Rather, it was a gutsy effort.
The Friday after regionals, Nandini irritated a tendon in her foot, she said. She did not run at all between then and the state meet and wasn’t sure if she would be able to complete today’s race. She never doubted, on the other hand, that she would try.
“It was the last race of the season … and it’s states,” she said. “I was just going to go all out.”
Nandini, as it turns out, was going to have to spend some time in the pool, anyway. Her next season isn’t indoor track; it’s swimming.
Hereford’s rarely broken 16-minute mark went down in the 1A race when Smithsburg senior Will Merritt ran 15:54. But 4A champion Rohann Asfaw (16:04) and 3A winner Ryan Lockett (16:00) were close. Lockett, a Poolesville junior, was runner-up to Richard Montgomery senior Asfaw at the Montgomery County meet.
In winning a state title, Lockett demonstrated some playful swagger, celebrating in his final steps by taking his left hand and pointing at his right forearm like NBA star D’Angelo Russell – “ice in my veins,” said Lockett, who coincidentally also wore long shorts.
“Honestly, I knew that I could outkick anyone at the end, so I was pushing the pace,” said Lockett, who ran neck and neck with River Hill Senior Rahul Reddy into the final straight (Reddy finished two seconds back).
Lockett was joined in the lead pack by senior teammate Andrew Lent, whose 4th place 16:12 was a considerable improvement over his first appearance at the state meet when he finished just inside the top 100. Poolesville finished 4th behind River Hill, Linganore, and Reservoir.
Lent said his senior-year training was jumpstarted by Lockett’s transfer to Poolesville from Gonzaga. They developed a pattern of keying off each other in races, as well. “I would come up to [Lockett]; he would see me coming and go a little faster,” Lent said.
Asfaw’s victory, though slower, was more decisive. He got out slow in the 4A race, too slow by his own standards.
“I found myself stuck in the pack,” he said. “It was a huge pack, and I had to weave my way through for the first mile.”
Even Richard Montgomery’s coach, Davy Rogers, was a little concerned initially, he said. But when he saw Asfaw coming back in the baseball field towards the famous dip, Rogers saw what he needed to be sure that Asfaw was in control: his arms were relaxed.
By the final stretch, the race was all Asfaw’s. This was even an more impressive time when considering that Asfaw is not yet tapering. He’s chasing a dream to compete at Nike Cross Nationals in December.
“It would have been great to break 16,” Asfaw said, “but I am definitely much more happy to get the win.”
Dulaney repeated as boy’s 4A champions and Northwest placed 5th, led by Junior Chase Osborne‘s 24th-place finish in 16:59. Albert Einstein junior Simeon Mussie cracked the top 10, finishing 8th in 16:42. And Bethesda Chevy-Chase junior Adam Nakasaka, mirroring his Montgomery County meet strategy, hung with Asfaw as long as he could and hung on for 2nd in 16:12. His team was sixth.
At mile two, when the pace slackened, Nakasaka even pressed forward into the lead en route to running nearly 40 seconds faster than he had as a sophomore.
“This is a state championship,” he said. “Anything can happen. That was my thinking all day.”
What is it about runners and photos? I lose more items than I save but I have not yet lost the photos of myself spanning my years in the sport.
Why do I keep these? It reminds me of the Joan Didion essay in which she asks herself: What kind of magpie keeps this notebook? Didion, in her way, decided it was “well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”
In my way I find it helpful to have a record of both the good races and bad, something I can turn to when I’m looking for answers or inspiration. That is, the good photos of those races. I guess that is where the vanity comes in: when you come home from the race, see the photo on Facebook and either untag yourself or make it your profile picture.
Digital photography brought with it the option to buy photos of ourselves crossing the finish line or on the course or looking like some wild animal in the finish chute. Race organizers working with professionals such as Swim Bike Run Photography founder Brian Knight; runner-photographers like Cheryl Young; and running club photographers like Dan Reichmann started offering race photos, too – free ones.
Their job is both artistic and physical: that of zooming, focusing, pointing, and clicking for hours on end as they try to capture not only an image – a keeper, a memorable image – of every single participant.
Meanwhile, there are photojournalists like Sarah Voisin, with The Washington Post, who encounter the running scene on occasion and put in their own long days seeking out the images that best capture the essence of what happened.
RunWashington wanted to learn more about the personalities behind the camera: things like how they approach an assignment or tackle the challenge of taking photos of people who are in fact moving while wearing weird clothes. And especially for Young and Reichmann, for whom this is an avocation, we wanted to know what keeps them coming back for more?
I was struck by something Reichmann said. He is under the impression, if you can believe it, that the “vast majority” of runners do not look at the photos he takes of them. Oh, Dan. Trust us.
They definitely look at your photos.
They had different objectives. Elvin Funez was there to run. Sarah Voisin was there to work.
Still, Voisin says, “we were a team.” She was there, in the hours before last year’s Marine Corps Marathon, not only to get early morning photos of nervous runners huddling, twitching, focusing, relaxing, and calming themselves outside the Pentagon metro station, but to support Funez, her husband, in his fourth marathon.
Voisin is a journalist who covers all types of assignments. This year her primary assignment for the Washington Post has been to travel to Cuba to capture a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations. “I do, however, appreciate how sports assignments sharpen your focusing and response skills for documentary photography,” she says.
And when it comes to covering running, Voisin is most interested in capturing the prerace atmosphere. “I believe the best photos from any assignment, whether it is a marathon or presidential debate, always come before and after the official event,” she said.
There was the shot.
As a herd of people walked towards the starting line (you see their backs), Alexandria’s Tracy Curtis stood there, separated from the herd, facing the opposite direction, smiling, gazing, dressed “in a warm pre-race bathrobe.” Her gloves were pockets. Sunlight was in the early stages of replacing darkness. And, somewhere off in the distance, some source of bright-blue light beamed toward her, making her look angelic, as if she was planted there. What style!
“She looked so cozy and out of place,” Voisin says. “While most runners had sweatsuits and hats they discarded at the starting line, this woman looked so comfortable, like she about to make bacon and drink coffee on a Sunday morning. She looked unique, and I loved it.”
But priority No. 1 for Voisin was supporting Funez. She met him at three different points in the race. Her Fitbit recorded more than 10 miles of walking.
“According to [Funez],” Voisin said, “every time he sees me, it gives him inspiration to continue.”
Knight, like Voisin, covers a variety of assignments, though he specializes in endurance sports events.
Back in 2000, Knight helped produce an adventure race in western Fairfax County. Among his many duties were serving as a webmaster and photographer. And when the race ended up spawning the adventure race group EX2 Adventures, Knight stayed onboard for another five years. Since then he has upgraded both his equipment and overall technical skills.
Knight, recalling that first race, said: “I was using one of the first Sony digital cameras that had a resolution of less than a megapixel and used a 1.44MB floppy disk for film. The camera had a nice lens, but it was slow to focus and took several seconds to take a single photo.” (Today his camera shoots 14 frames per second.)
On the skills side, Knight spent two years – what he describes as an unpaid internship – working with a photographer who specialized in covering adventure races as well as trail runs, mountain bike races, even off-road triathlons.
“I received a tremendous education in how to cover races, get the shot set up just so, and then how to cull the images down so only the best photos remain,” he said. When that mentor hung up his camera, Knight inherited some new clients and Brian Knight Photography was born. The name stuck until someone reviewing his portfolio came up with something catchier, saying “Swim Bike Run Photo has a ring to it.”
Today Swim Bike Run Photography covers some adventure races, but specializes more in road and trail races, triathlons, and, as of late, high school cross country races like the recent DCXC Invitational in Northeast D.C. Knight typically assigns one photographer to cover the finish line and post-race photo booth, a feature that has become a hit at many local races, while he gets out on the course.
Knight’s assignment is different than a journalist’s in that his job is to capture a photograph of every single participant. Some courses and events make this easier to do than others.
“For me, the easiest races are out and backs or courses that loop around,” Knight said. “If I know that I’m going to get more than one look at a racer, then the pressure is off a little. Conversely, if I only have once chance, then I might hammer away a little more at the shutter button.”
How about covering a race in freezing rain or hanging off the side of a boat in the Potomac River for the Nation’s Triathlon or sitting on the back of a motorcycle as it zooms around the course?
Typically seen wearing a big, floppy hat and lugging around an assortment of cameras and tripods, Knight can be found at events hustling around in search of the best light to capture participants (which, as it turns out, is a loaded way of describing his job).
If Knight had his choice, every race would either start or finish about an hour before sunset, ideally in the spring or fall: peak light.
“It really makes the photos pop,” he said.
The reality is that most running events start in the early morning. Oftentimes the sun is rising directly behind the finish line, “which makes it super tough to make a decent photograph.”
DCXC, though, often delivers Knight his ideal conditions. The weather for last month’s afternoon event was a bit overcast. But in the inaugural year, in 2014, “the light was this amazing golden color and the kids were running right into it.”
But perhaps his biggest obstacle is gravity.
“Gravity does weird, terrible things to the human body,” he said.
Knight does his best not post those photos on the Internet.
The child who in one frame is running – no, he is flying, with both feet off the ground – and has a big smile. In the next, though, as his feet slam back towards the ground, he looks old enough to quality for Medicare.
Or a woman who exits the water of a triathlon making a face that makes her no longer herself – now she is Sloth from “The Goonies.”
“I will never post these photos anywhere,”Knight said.
Check out Swim Bike Run Photography’s photos at www.swimbikerunphoto.com
By now, if you run a Montgomery County Road Runners Club race, your mindset is: photos of me are part of the deal. That requires someone behind the camera, and in this case maybe that person’s son, too. Enter Dan Reichmann and his 9-year-old son, Alex.
Dan took photos at the Piece of Cake 10k in 2011 and since taken over for Ken Trombatore as MCRRC’s lead photographer.
Alex got his start two years later, at 7, the year he was strong enough to hold a camera. Dan said he had been a “hobbyist photographer” for most of his life and took to it more after digital photography made the craft more accessible and less expensive.
Though a Boston Marathon qualifier himself, Dan refers to his wife and MCRRC Racing Team member, Lisa Reichmann, as the competitive runner in the family. At an MCRRC race, Dan went to photograph Lisa and met Trombatore in the process.
Dan says he can do without the cold weather that gives him “frozen trigger fingers.” He also prefers the smaller races that “allow for more individual focus on each runner.” Approaching runners sometimes hear him wish them luck or ask them to smile.
The runners, in turn, appreciate his effort.Some thank him as they run by. They wave, raise their arms up in the air, do the click-the-heels jump, or hug their running partner.
If Dan is working by himself, he prioritizes the start and finish. When Alex or another photographer comes along, someone takes photographs out on the course, too. And for larger races such as the Parks Half Marathon, Dan assigns photographers to specific locations on the course.
Capturing every runner makes for a long day at the races. There’s yet more work to do when Dan gets home, as he uploads the photos, deletes the really bad ones, and tries to get them up on the MCRRC website as quickly as possible. But Dan enjoys the process, and the time he gets to spend with Alex.
“I just think it’s a great service and benefit we can provide our club members … I like to think [they] appreciate the effort represented by those pictures, and I like knowing I was able to provide them that shot, that photo.”
See years of MCRRC race and program photos at www.mcrrcphotos.com.
I know how you love taking photos of your running friends.
These were the words of Cheryl Young’s husband, in 2007, when he bought her a DSLR camera.
“I kind of laughed,” said Young, a dedicated member of Capital Area Runners. “I mean, I loved finding running photos of me, but okay.
Soon after was the women’s Olympic marathon trials in Boston. Young traveled there to cheer on her teammates, Kristen Henehan and Lisa Thomas, and for the first time tried her hand at photography.
“I did the same thing at the Marine Corps Marathon and it just took off from there,” she said.
Young has since taken photography classes and bought new equipment, and photography has strengthened her connection to the running community.
Before Young got into photography, an injury would have kept her on the sidelines. Or maybe not. Seeing people running would make Young miss it too much.
Now, if she is injured, Young is on the sidelines. She seizes the opportunity to cover more events.
“I would not have thought in my early days as a runner I would love being on the other side of the race, but I really do. I feel as much accomplishment seeing runners have a breakthrough performance, or even just a great day, as I do on my race days. You just know the feeling they are having; you can see it.”
Before races, Young studies course maps and looks for a nice backdrop. At the Navy Air-Force Half Marathon, for instance, she photographs runners as they enter and exit Hains Point. The sun is in the runners’ face in one direction, behind them on the other, requiring different setting. And it’s still pretty dark when the race starts. She bought a new lens, in fact, with this race in mind, and was pleased with the results.
“The groups come really fast,” she said of the half marathon. “Sometimes I’m at home looking over the photos and I see shot of people I didn’t recall during the race.”
Young tries to capture as many photos of as many runners as she can, but her main task is to cover CAR members, who run a variety of paces. “As the crowd gets thicker, it gets hard to spot many of the runners,” she said.
Sometimes her CAR runners even get photobombed (sorry, Patrick Rainey), but that doesn’t faze Young, either.
After all, she said, “How do you not love someone so excited to get their picture taken?”
See if Cheryl Young got a picture of you alongside one of her CAR teammates at www. youngrunner.smugmug.com.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of RunWashington.
It wasn’t a bad showing. He had placed fourth at the inaugural U.S. 12k championships, the culmination of the 2013 American professional road racing circuit.
For Christo Landry, who runs professionally for Mizuno, that year included three more top-five finishes in U.S. championships, including in the marathon, held just six week earlier. But this race was special for him — because the Northern Virginia native was racing on his home turf in Alexandria. “This race exceeded all of my expectations,” he said.
You have to wonder, then: Imagine if Landry had known what was coming in the next year.
Imagine he knew, in April, he would return back to this place he still calls “home” for the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, another national championship, and – as he would take the lead among Americans – hear spectators say things like: “Wait a minute, was that? Go Christo!”
Yes it was. The tall, lanky kid who led the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to a state cross country title was performing on the big stage.
The race organizers planned to have separate tapes at the finish line for the American and overall winners, unless there was a sprint finish. In the last mile, wanting to capture his first national title in style, Landry let an East African he’d been running stride-for-stride with zoom ahead of him so the tape would be there.
At the next national championship, a month after Cherry Blossom, Landry tied the American record for 25k. After the race he drove back to Ann Arbor, Mich., so giddy, so pumped beyond belief, that he belted out whatever classic rock tune came over the radio. And in the morning, after only a few hours of sleep, he reported for drug testing, confirming that USATF rules do actually allow for professional runners to experience a very rare night out on the town.
Then it would be Independence Day, and Landry would be in Atlanta for the Peachtree Road Race, host of the national 10k championships.
Coasting into the lead, he’d think to himself: ‘Are we going that fast? Because I’m feeling good.’
Imagine, in Alexandria that day, if Landry had known that the slow-but-steady success of his first three years on the national road racing scene was fast approaching a tipping point.
Three national titles in one year.
About a year later, the day before the second running of the 12k championships, we had lunch at the Railstop Gastropub, at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Old Town Alexandria. I was concerned, for Landry, that the menu only seemed to offer items like burgers covered with fried eggs. “This is fine,” he assured me.
At 6 feet 1 inch, Landry is on the taller side among professional runners. I’ve seen many lean, hungry-looking runners sport dark shadows under their eyes during periods of hard training, but Landry’s look more like tattoos. His training log, as it happens, is full of 130- and 150-mile weeks and marathon-length-and-longer long runs.
As for his personality, Landry — and I agree with his coaches and friends on this point — is the following in roughly equal parts: pure jokester; the most serious person you’ll ever meet; and hyper-logical all the way through.
He was drawn to running “because I was good at it,” he said. “That’s what started me at it. I’m a very competitive person, and you can’t be competitive in every aspect of life — that’s just not how the world works. So you pick and choose your spots, and running was the sport I chose.”
His 2014 breakthrough, he said, was no mystery, either.
In high school and at the College of William and Mary, Landry was injured about as often as he was healthy. Rather than build fitness year by year, he would get injured, cross train like an animal, complete a crash course in training, repeat.
This didn’t stop Landry, now 28, from leading TJ to a state title. It didn’t stop him from becoming an All-American in college, either.
But it always left him wondering … What if I could just stay healthy?
For all of the high points of 2014, though, Landry, when we met, was also bouncing back both physically and psychologically from his last race, the Chicago Marathon, where he was 13th in a disappointing personal best of 2:14:30.
Making matters brighter, Landry’s second USARC Running Circuit title was officially in the bag. Regardless of how he did in the 12k – regardless of if he even finished – he would receive a $25,000 check for winning the series.
His goal for the 12k, he said, was “to go out there, compete, see what happens – anything I do is icing on cake.”
Landry comes from what he describes as an “athletic family.” His mother ran track. His dad played basketball and volleyball. His brother, to give you an idea of the endurance genes that run in this family, ran about 9:15 for two miles even though he could only train every other day.
After setting a kindergarten record for the mile in nine-plus minutes, Landry first went out for cross country in middle school at Falls Church City Public Schools.
But he liked soccer — a spring sport in Virginia. And while that at least opened up the door for high school cross country, the freshman-year Landry signed up for golf instead. When winter came around, he went out for indoor track, only to get in shape for soccer.
After flunking out of 500 meters, he turned to longer distances, breaking five minutes on a slow track.
“I don’t think I ever had a kid do that; it’s pretty rare,” said Matt Ryan, who coached cross country and track at Thomas Jefferson from 1997 to 2009.
There was no big speech needed to convince Landry to skip soccer and set aside his golf clubs. Landry got the message on his own.
“By the end of my freshman year outdoors,” he said, “I was running 4:30 for the mile and figured, ‘Yeah, I should stick with this.’”
It was the early 2000s, and the Northern Virginia high school scene, with runners like Alan Webb, who would become the fastest miler in American history, was experiencing something of a renaissance.
This also was true, in a sense, of TJ, a state magnet school that grooms its students for careers in science, math, and technology.
The 2002 team, which would win a state title, included a junior-year Landry; Keith Bechtol, who was a year older than Landry and would also go to William and Mary; Chris Mocko, who would run at Stanford; and Brian Hanak, who would run at Yale.
“My comment usually about the ‘02 team,” Ryan said, “is that my daughter could have coached them to a state championship.”
Landry considered Bechtol and others in the class above him as his mentors, he said.
“Keith,” Ryan said, “was very much the taskmaster; Christo was more of an extrovert.”
“There was an understanding,” said Bechtol, “that to win a state championship as a team, we needed team depth, and all the training and workouts were geared towards that effort.”
To that end, the team not only trained together – “we started doing everything together,” Mocko said. “We went to summer camp together, trained together in the off-season … shared pre-race meals together — we were around each other all the time.”
School. Practice. Dinner and homework. Sleep. “That was pretty much what I did,” Landry said.
Ryan added: “[Landry] may have been slightly underdeveloped physically, but mentally I was probably having conversations with him in the spring of his senior year” – while he was establishing himself as one of the top prep runners in the country – “that a college coach would be happy to have with a senior at that level.”
Bechtol, by the way, is now an astrophysicist searching for the highest energy particles in the universe.
He’s also run 2:16 in the marathon.
Landry struggled in the transition to college running. “I was getting my butt kicked,” he said.
In his freshman cross country season, while most of his William and Mary teammates raced at NCAA Pre-Nationals, Landry raced a home invitational meet.
He finished second, earning a spot on the conference team. There, Landry, again, finished second, earning himself a spot on the team for regionals.
At regionals, Landry finished seventh and qualified for the NCAA nationals. At nationals, Landry made All-American.
Fast forward to his senior season, when Landry was able to improve upon that result.
But much of the time in between was frustrating, he said. “I basically found a way to get hurt every winter.”
In his fifth year, Landry earned a master’s degree in accounting. In his sixth year he completed a year towards a Master’s in Business Administration. That winter, he of course got injured.
“I said, ‘This can’t be it, there’s more left. I know I am better than this.”
Then-Tribe coach Alex Gibby seemed to know it, too
“I wouldn’t call it a do-over,” he said, of the opportunity to coach Landry after college, “but it was nice to get some extended time with him to correct some of the things that weren’t identified early.”
Landry planned to stay in Williamsburg. But when Gibby took a job at the University of Michigan, Landry followed him there.
“That turned out to be a lifesaver for me,” Landry said. “Moving up there, setting new rhythms – it’s where the [weights staff] figured out what had been ailing my knees for the past few years: my hips were out of alignment.”
“Knock on wood,” he added, “but it’s been four years now and you can see the results. Every year you are building on the past instead of starting from scratch every year.”
In the 2014 12k, Landry finished eighth in a more competitive field. For winning the series, Landry was not only given a check, but a big trophy-slash-road sign that he held up proudly and more than once described as sweeeet.
A month later, Landry was named the USATF men’s long distance runner of the year. That same month, American runner Mo Trafeh received a four-year doping sanction and had to forfeit all of his results after January 1, 2012.
Landry, we would learn, did not win his first national title in Washington, D.C., or tie an American record for 25k. Because of Trafeh’s disqualifications, Landry won his first national title in 2012, at 15k in Jacksonville, Fla., and the American record is now all his.
On Dec. 19, Landry would tweet: “Glad that the cheat is being removed from the books. There is no place [for] drugs in our sport. Next step: stopping EPO users in routine testing.”
Landry’s drug, it seems, is not getting injured. The question is: How far can he go if he stays on it?
When Gibby took a new job in Charlotte, N.C., Landry upped and moved again, setting them for up an 11th year that’s all part of a long drive towards making an Olympic team in either the marathon or 10k.
Landry’s sweet spot — his results will tell you — is somewhere in the middle of those distances.
Gibby, however, believes — though “it’s probably two or three steps ahead of him” — that Landry will have his greatest success in the marathon.
“I think for young distance runners,” he added, talking about Landry’s focus and drive, “if they don’t understand it’s a long-term commitment, I think they’re missing the point.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of RunWashington.
Stephanie Garcia doesn’t have time for a nap, and she likes it that way.
She typically wakes up for a sunrise breakfast before her 9 a.m. practice. After a few hours of running, dynamic exercises, and hurdling drills, it is time for lunch. After lunch, Garcia seeks out a massage, a chiropractor, or physiotherapy before heading to a second practice filled with more running, a weight session or a pool workout. If there is indeed a nap in there, the 27-year-old professional runner — a steeplechaser — doesn’t mention it.
“I’m always someone who likes to have extra projects,” she says when reached on the phone in March, at her training base at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. “But this year I’m really trying to focus on recovery and staying home.”
Her coach, Robert Gary, confirms this tendency in Garcia, describing her as a “confident worrier.” She is always “trying to add things because she really wants to make sure she is doing everything possible,” he says.
Gary is both Furman’s men’s and women’s cross country and track coach and the founder of Furman Elite, which supports eight athletes, including Garcia.
It took Garcia some time, as it happens, to refine her schedule and understand everything that goes into the professional runner lifestyle. And in this Olympic year, the coach and athlete have been trying to dial in on the tasks that will have the biggest impact for the Olympic track trials in July and, if all goes according to plan, the Rio Olympic Games in August.
Garcia is also trying to manage her own expectations.
“Olympic years are emotional years,” she says.
“It’s a job for me. This is my life — but I have more to it. There are more things that I enjoy. There are more things that make me happy. And if I didn’t make this Olympic team, I can’t just give up on it — because I know that I can do it. And if I don’t …”
Garcia doesn’t fill in the sentence. “I’m just talking,” she says. “I’m kind of blabbering. I’m trying to make myself buy into this here” — which is the idea, I suppose, that she could rebound from her dream not coming true.
What Garcia is trying to say, in a sense, is that she’s not necessarily used to being among the favorites. It wasn’t perhaps until after last year — when she was second in the country and made her second world championships team, among other things — that she really could put that stake in the ground.
Either way, the path Garcia has followed is remarkable.
In 2005, her senior year at Broad Run High School in Ashburn, she placed sixth in the Virginia High School League AA Girls State Cross Country Championships. Her track results were not noteworthy.
Ten years later, in the national championships final, on a hot day, Garcia found herself in the lead right from the gun. The first lap was slow. But rather than slow it down more to coax someone else to take over the lead, Garcia went with it and ratcheted up the pace. As the race got rolling, Garcia had those following her on pace to run 9:20, a time the television announcers noted was PR pace, in what was supposed to be a tactical race, for everyone except four-time national champion Emma Coburn, who was tucked right behind her.
When Coburn made her move, Garcia went with her, hanging on long enough to gain separation from the rest of the field. She held on for second in a huge personal best of 9:23.48.
That day Garcia went from someone who once finished sixth in her high school state meet to the
fourth fifth fastest American ever in the steeplechase.
Later that summer, she finished ninth in the world.
In the shadows
The steeplechase holds the distinction of being described by Wired magazine as track and field’s “coolest race you’ve never heard of.” Yet, in the minds of those who run it, it’s the only track race that matters.
The 3,000-meter race is held on an outdoor track and measures out to seven-and-a-half laps — so slightly less than two miles. Before the gun fires, four barriers, huge hurdles, are dragged out onto the track. The water pit at the top of the curve that leads into the homestretch suddenly has a purpose, and at some meets, like the Penn Relays, rowdy track nerds will gather in stands closest to this area fully hoping to see a wipeout or two.
When I was in college, I remember one outdoor track meet where the steeplechase was the first event. It was a very cold day in March. Minutes before the gun fired, the officials went over to the pit and broke up the ice that was covering the pit.
One of my teammates was in the race, and I still remember gasping when, with more than one lap to go, he tripped over the water barrier, went fully submerged in the icy water, and popped out soaking wet on a 30 degree day. But even after that, nothing changed. It wasn’t so much that he thought the steeplechase was his best event. He simply had no interest at all in running anything else. To those who choose the steeplechase, to runners like Garcia, track and field is one event — and that event is this tribal test of speed, endurance, and athleticism.
Growing up, Garcia played sports all year round. One of her mom’s favorite activities, though, was bringing Garcia and her brothers to the track — “just to get some exercise and get out of the house.”
“I would love it,” Garcia says of these elementary school experiences. “I’m so type A, and I would just run the laps, and count how many laps, and make sure I did it right.”
Starting in fifth grade, Garcia was chosen to compete in annual mile races pitting Loudoun County’s fastest elementary school milers. “I liked lining up against good people and seeing if I could beat them.” One year, in seventh grade, she did, and this drove her to focus on running in high school.
Her goals were modest. She wanted to be the best freshman or make it to states, “all those kinds of goals you have as a high school runner,” she says.
She knew little about things like shoes or mileage. But she enjoyed being a part of the big team. “While we probably weren’t very advanced with our training, it was just a great little community feel. … I had no idea what high-level running was like.”
And in a way, having no idea helped. Maybe Garcia didn’t know what high-level running was like yet, but she still saw herself as someone who would run at a high level in college.
If Garcia were in tune with the Dyestat world, she might have seen there was a spot waiting for her on a Division III team. Instead, Garcia visited the University of Virginia, where she was lightly recruited. After she got in on her own merits, she let then-UVA coach Jason Dunn know about it. He simply said he would see her in August. There was a spot on the team waiting for her to earn.
At this time the women’s steeplechase was still a new event in NCAA track. It had been introduced just a couple years earlier and would debut in the Olympics in 2008.
Garcia redshirted her freshman season, a decision that gave her time to ease into more mileage and the running lifestyle. When track season came around, Garcia went up to Dunn and said she wanted to be in the steeple. “And he looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘Great; let’s throw you in there.’”
“The water jump was thrilling,” she says. “It appealed to my sense of adventure. I also think you need to be a little more athletic. I always like to say, for a distance runner girl, I’m strong … I’m a little more solid than a lot of the marathon, 5k, 10k girls.”
In that freshman track season Garcia qualified for the NCAA championship and won a junior national championship, though the result, as impressive as it was, could almost be taken with a grain of salt. Her time was 10:26.41, whereas back-of-the-pack professional times were at least under 10 minutes.
But Garcia was only getting started. As she honed in on her event, her focus shifted away from cross country and indoor track to being able to run her best in June. And after an injury in her senior season led to a fifth-year season of outdoor track, Garcia made the best of it. She broke 10 minutes in her first race of the season, finished as runnerup at NCAAs, and took fourth in the national championships to qualify for the world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
In Daegu, Garcia did not advance to the final. She did, however, gain a mentor in her roommate for the championships, Jenny Simpson, who won a world title in the 1500 and who continues to be someone Garcia can count on for advice.
A new world
Still, after Daegu, and after UVA, Garcia struggled. “I didn’t know what to do,” Garcia says. “I just didn’t know how to be a pro.”
In college, Garcia’s method was pretty simple: she listened to her coaches. But in 2012 and 2013, Garcia pinballed back and forth between different coaches and training programs, and her results suffered.
Garcia felt like she needed a big change to get back on track. In 2013, she had roomed during a meet with Heidi See, an Australian middle distance runner and member of Furman Elite. Garcia had heard of Gary. She knew he had coached at Ohio State, was then coaching the 2013 national steeple champion Nicole Bush, and was a two-time Olympic steepler himself. Furthermore, the Furman program, which offered access to college facilities, seemed like the right fit. Garcia made the move, ending her less-than-two-year-old marriage with 1500-meter runner John Jefferson in the process.
At Furman, Gary designed the college elite program himself and pitched it to the university, he says, partially after seeing many runners struggle to transition from college to professional running.
“They quote-unquote run professionally,” he says, without a good support system.
As a member of Furman Elite, Garcia, who is also sponsored by New Balance, works with Gary every day and receives monthly installments of training plans arranged on a grid.
“I know that he has this big whole year mapped out,” she says, “and he gives us a little bit at a time and adjusts as he needs to adjust.”
Even Gary, though, didn’t see Garcia’s 2015 coming — a year in which she achieved Olympic A standards in the 1,500, 5,000, and steeplechase.
“I didn’t know she could become that kind of athlete,” he says.
The final touches
It was clear that Garcia, in 2015, took her speed and endurance to higher levels. There is no better proof than when you can run personal bests and world-class times in events that are both longer and shorter than your goal race.
Having great training partners, Garcia says, the discovery that she responds well to stints of altitude training in Flagstaff, Ariz., and tough gym sessions have certainly helped in this regard.
This year, though, Garcia and Gary have been focusing on her greatest weakness.
When you watch Garcia compete, you can see this weakness is not a lack of courage. She puts herself in position for breakthroughs. You can see her draw deep into the well.
But if you watch her closely — especially as she and Coburn broke apart from the field last summer — you will see that Garcia is almost forcing herself to be tougher than she needs to be. On the hurdles, Garcia struggles with timing, often stuttering before she jumps and sometimes emerging slowly out of the pit.
“She’s terrific at recharging and recharging,” Gary says. “But one of her problems is she just keeps recharging, and by the end she’s a lot more tired than she probably should be.”
When she was running at UVA, hurdle form wasn’t a huge priority for Garcia. It was sufficient, and that seemed good enough. “At [UVA],” she says, “it was like, ‘Can you get over it and keep running? Great.’”
But as a professional, sufficient doesn’t cut it, and every second counts, which is why Garcia and Gary have made hurdling her the key focus for this year.
Last year Garcia would do 45 hurdle clearances in a session. “Now we’re doing 150,” says Gary, who thinks ironing out her hurdle form alone could yield another 10 to 15 seconds of improvement.
If she can do that, Coburn’s current personal best, and Simpson’s American record Coburn broke, could suddenly be in reach for Garcia. But Garcia — going back to the task of managing expectations — is also getting better at keeping it all in perspective.
“It’s funny how we do it here,” she says of the top-three-or-bust nature of the Olympic trials. “It’s one day, and heaven forbid someone gets sick, someone sprains an ankle — something could happen and the best people might not make it.”
But Garcia is also reminding herself that she has a long career ahead of her — and for that she actually has Coburn to thank.
Not that long ago Garcia felt like, at 28, she would be “old” for this trials and that 2016 would surely be her last shot at an Olympic bid. When she told Coburn this, the American record holder had other ideas: namely, that Garcia was just hitting her prime.
“It was great that she was encouraging me and believed that I have made improvements and that I can keep improving,” Garcia says.
For anyone who has watched Garcia go from being one of Loudoun County’s best to competing against the best in the world, that certainly sounds like a safe bet.