For many Washington-area residents, commuting can be a nightmare.
They can share horror stories about being caught on broken-down Metro cars or waiting on a platform for what seems like ages because of delays somewhere in the system.
Drivers can relate to familiar stretches of roads being turned into morning parking lots with nothing in sight but brake lights.
But a small faction of commuters have found an alternative mode of transportation: Ditch the car keys and SmartTrip card and lace up those running flats.
They run to and from the office, many hauling their work clothes, work items, and personal belongings in a backpack.
Those who do it commonly turn to running commuting for one of two reasons: Finding a way to add mileage to their training or trying to fit running into their busy lives.
“Washington is a pretty career-focused area,” said Eric London, who has been racing down Massachusetts Avenue from his home in Bethesda to work in Dupont Circle a couple times per week for nearly two years. “It’s a way to put good mileage during the week so you don’t have to run half your miles on the weekend. The more miles you can pack, the better you’re going to be, I think in terms of avoiding injuries and being able to do the kind of racing you want to do.”
For Francisco Parodi, it’s an issue of optimizing his time at home with his three children, who are 8 years, 4 years, and 10 months old.
Depending on his route, it takes him between 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes to run from his home in Friendship Heights to work in Foggy Bottom. That’s roughly an hour longer he can spend with his family if he running commutes.
“It takes me 30 minutes to get home by metro,” Parodi, an Argentina native, said. “If I run in for an hour, I’m not an hour and a half out of home running and commuting. I’m just an hour out.”
Patrica Chaupis uses the 3.8-mile trek from her Arlington home to work in Georgetown as a way to log more mileage and help her race longer distances.
“This is a really great way to add running to my schedule without having to block out more time,” the 24-year-old Chaupis said. “If you want to get to work, you have to push yourself to run. And if you want to manage to get home, you have to run.”
Glenn Sewell, of Crystal City wanted to avoid the road closures around the Mall when ran to work at the Kennedy Center for the anniversary of the March on Washington in late August.
The Arlington Memorial Bridge and several area streets were closed, so Sewell hit the Mt. Vernon Trail.
He had never run to work before that day but hopes to try it again as part of training for October’s Marine Corps Marathon.
Several aspects of Washington make it ideal for running commuting, according to London.
There are many parks, trails, and runner-friendly streets to help make your way into the city, he said. “People in Washington have a lot of good running options,” the 29-year-old said.
Bethesda’s Stephanie Devlin, a nearly-daily running commuter who blogs for the website theruncommuter.com, said it’s difficult to tell if running commuting has become more common in recent months and years, but says it’s a pretty easy to become hooked.
“I didn’t know anything about it before I started do it two years ago, and I’m certainly finding pockets of people who do it,” Devlin said. “I know when I go into D.C. I see plenty of people (running) commuting.”
It’s less prevalent in the suburbs where she lives, she said, but she still gets excited when she spots one on the street with the familiar backpack swaying from side to side with each stride. “I almost want to give them a high five,” she said.
For those who successfully start running commuting, it can have a positive impact on running.
“Most, if not all, of my PRs have come since I started (running) commuting,” Devlin said. “Just logging so many more miles in training, I think it helped me get faster.”
Parodi finds he runs faster without a backpack and the extra weight it means.
“I’m adding, what?, two, three pounds of weight to my back,” he said. “When I run without it, I feel much lighter.”
For those runners who do travel to work via foot, many have unique quirks and logistical issues to work around simply because their ability, route, living, and work situations are all different.
“There’s a lot of logistical challenges to doing it,” London said. “It requires a good amount of planning.”
London uses a gym about a block from his office to help him. Others use locker rooms at their offices.
For those who have neither, Devlin said a baby wipe shower is manageable.
Running commuter Jeffery Ugbah said he used YouTube videos to learn how to fold a suit into a backpack.
Chaupis brings extra lunches with her on the days she doesn’t run to work so she doesn’t have to bring it that day. Otherwise, only take what you absolutely need, she said.
The weather isn’t so much of a hindrance for Chaupis. She typically only avoids running if there’s ice or a serious downpour. But even in warm or frosty temperatures or slight rain, she hits the road.
“In some cases, the weather become secondary because you already feel uncomfortable,” she said. “In the real storms, you get soaked anyway.”
And running doesn’t mean missing out on the positive aspects of the commute.
Gaithersburg’s Patrick Benko manages to run to his office by way of the Newseum, where he can take a look at many of the country’s newspapers’ front pages to stay briefed on current events.
Washington’s running commuters offered various lines of advice for those interested in kick starting the habit.Plan a good route. Sounds like common sense. Know where you’re going before you leave, but there are several factors to consider such as distance, hills, and runner friendliness.
Parodi enjoys taking the many trails from his home in Friendship Heights to work in Foggy Bottom. He also finds it adds more hills to his runs than he would otherwise squeeze it.
The routes Devlin takes can vary from 2.5 miles to 5 miles depending on the type of workout she wants.
If you live too far away from work, take public transportation part of the way and run the rest.
Get your work clothes and items to the office. For some running commuters, this could mean hauling a fresh set of clothes with each trip. Others use non-running commutes to bring fresh clothes and items to the office.
Don’t forget a set of clothes for the run home, London says, as those for the run in can get soaked in sweat.
Pick the right backpack. Devlin borrowed one from a friend to test out before buying hers. She recommends one with both a chest and waist strap to keep it from jumping around side to side.
Websites such as theruncommuter.com often review packs for their readers.
Only buy one if you’re really sure you want or need one, London says, noting the high price tag.
Remember the weather and season.
The extreme temperatures of the summer or winter don’t mean you have to stop, running commuters said. Dress appropriately or the weather and season.
Devlin bought a headlamp for commuting after the sun has set or before it rises.
Practicing good hygiene. If your office has a shower or locker room, take advantage and use it. Chaupis said many people aren’t even aware their office has facilities until they ask.
This originally appeared in the November/December 2013 RunWashington.
Our Lady of Good Counsel was 1,000 meters from glory. This was all that separated the Falcons from beating rival Bishop O’Connell for the first time in seven years to win the 2014 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference cross country crown.
But then the squad’s best runner, 16-year-old junior Megan Crilly, started to fade, developing a glassy look in her eyes that had become eerily prevalent throughout her fall workouts. Crilly crashed and ended up collapsing across the finish line. She finished 16th — almost two minutes slower than her individual winning time the year before — and Our Lady of Good Counsel wound up second.
What was far more troubling, though, was that Crilly, after the race, needed nearly two hours to become coherent enough to know where she was.
Everything was a symptom of thyroid cancer, which was diagnosed a month later, attacking her energy and metabolism the entire fall, crippling her running and putting her life at risk. But rather than feeling sorry for herself, Crilly was determined to make amends for her frustrating conference championship meltdown.
“I felt like I had let my team down because I should have done a lot better than I did,” she said. “That was a source of motivation, to be able to back in shape for my team and come back stronger for my senior year.”
Crilly did just that and more.
Now a senior, she was not only able to defeat the cancer, but returned to the Good Counsel cross country team running times better than before her run-in with the disease.
Running was more than a distraction. It provided fuel throughout her cancer treatment and recovery to return to cross country.
“She really did an amazing job of getting through this with grace and composure and maturity beyond her years,” her mother, Kim Crilly, said. “She inspires me every day.”
Crilly isn’t your typical high schooler. She’s a gritty, determined competitor.
Her workouts fall somewhere between impeccable and perfect, according to Tom Arnold, her coach.
“She just didn’t make mistakes,” even as a freshman running on a competitive varsity team, he said. “She just had a maturity you don’t see in many athletes.”
Every summer, she showed up religiously every weekday in the summer for 10 weeks, at 6 a.m., to train and lay a base for the upcoming fall season. That added up to a WCAC cross country individual title her sophomore season.
But in her junior year she started to struggle. She didn’t seem to have the control and dominance she usually had, and it got worse throughout the race season. Megan couldn’t finish some of the team’s harder workouts, the interval and tempo runs, and her times in races were slipping back to freshman-year levels.
“I felt very tired and very sick,” Crilly said, adding that she had trouble breathing.
Doctors first suspected a much more common ailment: anemia. But anemia doesn’t come with a lump on the throat, and a biopsy revealed the truth.
Thyroid cancer is comparably manageable, which was fortunate.
“If you’re going to have cancer, it’s one of those ones one you want to have,” Crilly said.
But it had also spread to her lymph nodes, which had to be treated with radiation that spring. The radiation forced Crilly to stop her medication for hypothyroidism, further complicating her recovery and running.
But in the end, Crilly attacked her cancer with a just-do-it attitude almost as if it were shin splints or plantar fasciitis.
Kim Crilly tries to raises her children with an understanding that everyone is going through rough times and life is sometimes hard. But don’t let that slow you down or hold you back.
Megan Crilly scheduled her surgery on New Year’s Eve so she wouldn’t miss school. Radiation treatments came on long weekends for the same reason.
“Most kids would have milked that for all they could get,” Arnold said. “‘Oh, I’ll get this time off from school and all this attention.’
But she didn’t want anyone to know. She wanted to get through it as best she could on her own.” Just two days after her surgery,
Crilly wanted to go on a 20-minute walk that left her exhausted the rest of the day.
“Even when she wasn’t feeling well, she went to practice and just did what she had to do,” Kim Crilly said.
She started running again in late January, wanting to get back to her team and help them. “Running was one thing that kept me mentally and physically strong,” Megan Crilly said. “It was a great outlet. …. I almost needed running as a way to get through it.”
Getting back to her old self took a few months, but she returned in time for spring track season and ran personal bests in the 400 and 800 meters.
That success late in the season gave her confidence headed into summer workouts that aided her senior cross country season last fall.
She ran four sub-20-minute 5Ks; before her illness she hadn’t broken 20 minutes. She finished second overall at the WCAC meet where she collapsed the year before, although her team came up short of the team title.
Crilly finished sixth in the Maryland and D.C. Private School Championship after running 11th her sophomore season.
“It was the first season where I felt I was up to my full potential,” Crilly said. “It was nice for once to see all my hard work pay off.”
Fighting cancer gave the high schooler perspective about adversity and life that proves valuable to handling tough times in racing.
“It’s great to set goals. However, you might not reach those goals every single race, and that’s OK,” Crilly said. “As long as you keep working as hard as possible and you believe in yourself, your training and yourself, you’ll eventually get there.”
Tests early in 2016 revealed no signs of cancer remaining. She wants to continue running at a local college in Maryland and is thinking about studying engineering.
“After my junior year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run in college because I was kind of discouraged,” Crilly said. “But after going through this experience, I’ve come out stronger, and I’ve learned to believe in myself a little bit more. I want to pursue running in college.”
Most of the record 5,700 runners of Thursday’s 40th anniversary Alexandria Turkey Trot had a day full of eating Thanksgiving dinner on their minds.
But winners Habtamu Arga and Susanna Sullivan were thinking about something else; course records.
Each eclipsed the measure on an idyllic Thanksgiving morning through five miles of Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood’s flat streets.
Temperatures in the low 40s, zero wind and hardly a cloud in the sky helped create a memorable day for many involved.
Sullivan, 25, had won the five-mile race each of the last three years and each came down to a kick in the last half mile.
“I came ready to fight,” said Sullivan, who finished in 27:11 running under George Buckheit in the Capital Area Runners group.
But her closer pursuer was nearly three minutes behind her.
“This [race] was definitely a focus of the past month or so,” said Sullivan, who broke her own course record. “I love this race. It’s one of my favorites.”
[button-red url=”http://www.mocorunning.com/meet.php?meet_id=3296″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]The Northern Virginia native and George Mason High School graduate is eyeing February’s marathon Olympic trials in Houston and hopes to run close 2 hours and 30 minutes, following a half-marathon tune-up in January.
Julie Rotramel, the second overall woman, didn’t expect to finish so high on the podium. She ran a 30:07 in her first five-miler. The weather was “ideal,” the D.C. resident who used to run with Pacers and now with the Big Rig Track Club said. “You didn’t even need gloves,” usually a necessity in late November around Washington.
Paige Kvartunas, a Springfield, Va., finished third in 30:45.
On the men’s side, Ethiopia’s Arga had his eyes set on a course record, Arga said after the race through his coach and translator.
He and teammate Ginrna Gebra finished first and second, well in front on the rest of the pack.
Arga finished with a course record of 23:31 and Gebra in 23:48.
Gurmessa Kumsa, also from Ethiopia, held the previous course record, running a 23:39 in 2006.
Each have grand visions of running for their country in the Olympics, but have their eyes set on a half marathon goal of 59 minutes and marathon goal of 2:05 later this season, their coach said.
The fairly generous $600 prize money to the overall male and female winners helped attract the Olympic trial talent, race director Brian Danza said.
Men’s third place finisher Tyler Andrews said the Ethiopians broke away from the pack after about a half mile and few, not even Andrews who finished in 24:38, could keep up.
Arlington’s Michael Wardian and his Vizsla, Rosie, won the “doggie division” – given to the fastest dog-human tandem – in a time of 28:09. Alexandria’s Matias Palavecino wasn’t far behind in 28:43 to take the stroller division.
Even with his dog, Wardian took the masters division, outpacing Scott Anderson, who finished in 28:26.
Julia Taylor was the top masters woman in 33:48.
The 40th running of the race was also the largest in what has become a Thanksgiving Day staple in Northern Virginia. Finishers complimented the crowded support along the five-mile course, which is run largely through residential neighborhoods, with supporters coming out of their nearby houses to cheer on runners.
“In the last week, the weather definitely contributed to the amount of people,” said Danza, a former president of the D.C. Road Runners, the group that organizes the race.
As which most local Thanksgiving Day racers, the Alexandria Turkey Trot had its fair share of racing turkeys and pilgrims.
Kristen Currie, who dressed as an axe-wielding pilgrim, ran with friend Adam Siple dressed as a turkey.
“I’ve raced it by myself a couple of times, but this is our first time doing it together in costume,” “I just thought it’d be funny.”
Siple got the idea from a friend who ran a race as a banana chased by a gorilla. He adopted the concept to a more Thanksgiving theme.
“There’s people I’ve seen each year dressed up as a turkey, and some of them actually beat me,” the Washington resident said. “So it’s kind of like, if you can’t beat them, join them.”
The pair finished in 46:03.
Woodbridge’s Les Maynard was one of several pilgrims who ran the race, his first Alexandria Turkey Trot.
“It wasn’t too bad, but it did get a little stuffy,” Maynard said. “I’d say about mile four I wished I was in shorts and a t-shirt.”
Jim Scott, first time turkey trotter in town from New York to visit his wife’s family, ran the race dressed as Elvis, receiving the unofficial award for first place costumed runner. He finished in 32:09.
His wife’s whole family dressed as Elvis, complete with wigs and sunglasses.
The Alexandria Turkey Trot supports ALIVE! – short for ALexandrians In Volved Ecumenically – a nonprofit that supports the community’s needy.
When the race started in 1975 with less than 250 runners, the entry fee was two cans of food, a requirement that was kept for a number of years.
Even without the food-donation for entry fee, the nonprofit received 46 banana boxes of canned food this year, executive director Diane Charles said. ALIVE! also was given $5,000 from the race’s proceeds.
In honor of the 40th running of the race, organizers gave $100 to the person wearing the oldest race t-shirt. The winner was Alexandria Sherriff Dana Lawhorne, who had a family member who produced the garb given out at the 1988 race.
John Cocker of Arlington came up a few years short, wearing a shirt from the 28th running of the race. He’s ran the race every Thanksgiving since around the year 2000.
“It’s a fun race,” Cocker said. “Everybody is out here to have fun. Makes you deserve your pumpkin pie later.”
Paul Thistle and Kevin McNab had finished within a handful of seconds of each other before on this four-mile run down Wilson Boulevard starting in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood.
But unlike the last time, Thistle was able to come out on top at Saturday’s rain-soaked Four Courts Four Miler.
The 27-year-old crossed the tape in 20:11, better than second place McNab’s 20:41.
“He was just a better man than me today,” said McNab, 28, of Washington.
[button-red url=” http://www.zippyraceresults.com/search.php?ID=4700″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]McNab, who runs for Georgetown Running Club, finished first in 20:05, a slightly better time than Saturday’s winning finish, and Thistle third in last June’s Freedom Four Miler on the same course. Both races stretch from Courthouse downhill to Rosslyn before going south on Washington Boulevard. At the two-mile mark, there’s a hairpin turn before coming back on the same path, which is entirely uphill this time.
“[After] that turn around, he makes this surge. That was pretty much the end of the story,” McNab said. “He got just a big enough gap.”
McNab was hoping Thistle would slow down on the Hill, but that didn’t happen. Otto Kingstedt, 20 was the third overall male at 21:25.
McNab hopes to break 50 minutes during a 10-mile race later this year. Thistle has his sights set on this summer’s track season.
Woman’s winner Amy Laskowske, who, like Thistle runs for Pacers-New Balance, finished second in the Four Courts Four Miler last year, but was able to come out on top Saturday in a time of 22:44 with last year’s winner not around.
The 27-year-old is still getting back into competitive racing following a four-year break after a successful track and cross country career at the University of Minnesota. She was an All-American in the 10,000 meters on the track in 2009 for the Gophers.
The cool, drizzly weather didn’t bother the Arlington resident, saying it keeps her cool.
“I think it’s great actually great,” Laskowske said. “I love running in the rain.”
With temperatures in the mid-40s at the 9 a.m. start, there was a light to moderate rain throughout the morning.
Said men’s winner Thistle, “Other than being a little miserable warming up, it’s not too much of a factor. A little breezy, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
Laskowske finished just under a minute ahead of second place woman Lindsay O’Brian of the Georgetown Running Club, who clocked a 23:37. The course’s hill made for what she called an “unusual course,” she said.
“It’s definitely not a PR course,” O’Brian said. “It’s good for a solid race and a workout,” which is exactly what the 29-year-old used it for.
She hadn’t raced since early December and wanted to kick the rust off her racing flats before tackling next month’s Cherry Blossom Ten Mile.
Emily Potter of Alexandria finished as the third woman in 24:25.
Laskowske and McNab each won last month’s Love the Run You’re With 5k.
The weather somewhat soured turnout. A bit more than 1,100 runners crossed the finish line of the race that was capped at 1,750 and nearly sold out beforehand. A bit more than 1,500 ran last year’s race.
But the rain didn’t stop the 1,100 runners from donning their green on the St. Patrick’s Day weekend road race.
“This race is so festive that a little bit of rain did not dampen the sprits, the excitement,” Race Director Lisa Reeves said. “It’s always a fun race.”
Reeves dressed as a leprechaun for the race, complete with a green tailcoat jacket, top hat and long, and red beard, to call runners to the start line, goose late arrivers, take pictures with finishers after the race, and do other race-director duties.
Bag pipes played a runners set off on the course, and finishers were given a pint on the house at Ireland’s Four Courts afterward.
Mike Howie, 34, sported a green “I heart beer” t-shirt with a full beer stein replacing the heart.
His wife had signed up for the race but stayed home with their kids because of the cold rain.
“It was a little colder than I was expecting,” Howie said.
The Alexandria resident has never ran a St. Patrick’s themed race but decided to enter when his wife recently took up running.
Jeremy Lynch, 34, took the unofficial title of baby stroller-pushing champion, finishing in 26:08 with his 18-month-old daughter. The weather didn’t stop his family, having survived St. Pat’s 10k two weeks prior. That race was nearly canceled because of sleet and icy conditions.
“That one was a little bit worse than this one,” Lynch of Springfield said.
“I figured she’d tough it out. She’s usually pretty good in a stroller,” he said referring to his daughter.
Gigi Good, 26, wore a big, green felt leprechaun hat while drinking her post-race beer.
“We would have worn them if it wasn’t raining,” Good, who ran the race with four of her college friends, said.
Dave Cahill, Ireland native and general manager of Ireland Four Courts, which sponsors the race and post-race party, started 10 minutes after the starting horn sounded.
For every person he passed, Pacers will donate one dollar to the Arlington County Police Benevolent Foundation, a nonprofit that helps families of police officers injured or killed in the line of duty and other officers in other ways.
The effort gives between $1,000 and $1,200 to the cause each year, although he only passed about 850 Saturday because of the lower turnout. Saturday was the third year Cahill has undertaken the effort.
Cahill, 43, the top runner of his age group in the Washington area last year, finished in 24:38, the 15th fastest person overall if not for this 10-minute delayed start.
“There’s a lot of banter when you pass people,” Cahill, who has been in the U.S. for about 20 years, said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
He even makes friendly wagers with customers, who often run the race, beforehand.
Don’t try to get Alisa Byers to share her team’s secret to success.
The Oakton High School cross country coach isn’t spilling the beans. But whatever the 35-year-old is doing at the Vienna school, it’s working.
In four years at the helm, she’s taken the school’s girls squad from qualifying one runner to the state meet, to placing fourth in 2011, to being runner up two years ago and winning last year.
What’s even more exciting for the Lady Cougars is they return all but one runner from the team that ran away with the state crown last November.
Byers and the Lady Cougars have been in preparing since late spring to defend their state championship in the 6A division, which includes schools with the largest enrollment. They may have their eye on a bigger honor, as well: a national ranking at the end of the season.
So really, what’s Byers’ secret?
“I’m not going to tell you,” she said with an aw-shucks sort of laugh. “You’ll print my secret.”
Fair enough, but Oakton, which Byers has coached since 2010, is poised to continue being one of the best girls cross country teams in Virginia.
“Oakton on paper is as close to a slam dunk as you can be this year,” said Chris Pellegrini, head coach of the West Springfield squad that finished fifth in the state last year. “There isn’t anybody in the state that matches up.”
Meanwhile, Byers reminds her talented team they still have to put in the work to stay on top.
“I’ve just been very fortunate to get the right kids out who want to work hard and keep improving and who are responsive,” she said. “It’s the kids.”
And there certainly are talented kids returning this fall.
Senior Allie Klimkiewicz comes back after a fourth place individual finish at the state meet in 2013. She finished an agonizing two places away from making a return trip to the Footlocker Cross Country Championships last year, and she may not even be the best runner on the team, Pellegrini said.
Sophomore Casey Kendall, 14th overall at the state meet, was running better than Klimkiewicz toward the end of the spring track season. Sophomore Leya Salis hopes to improve upon her first year of high school competition. The two freshman helped Oakton dominate last year.
Senior Kara Kendall also returns after a top-30 finish at the state last year and scoring for the Lady Cougars.
Behind them, a couple of seniors — Maryn McCarty and Margaret Stack — are working to round out the five scoring runners. Byers also hopes incoming freshman will help spur competition, as well.
The loss of Hailey Dougherty to graduation, though, will be tough.
Dougherty was eighth overall at the state meet last year. The senior was not only a top runner for the Lady Cougars but provided key leadership as the only senior and only runner who qualified for the state meet four years ago when Byers first became head coach.
Dougherty, who will run cross country for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers this fall, was also consistent and led many workouts.
“It will be a big loss on a lot of different levels,” Byers said.
The maturation of sophomores Salis and Casey Kendall will be key.
“Even though we’re losing Hailey, I think that they’re ready to set into her shoes and do even bigger things,” Byers said. The only mileage they had in their legs last year, she added, was from soccer and basketball, so they spent the better part of last year’s cross country season building a mileage base.
With such high praise heading into the upcoming season, it’s easy to picture a scenario where the Oakton girls can let the past success get to their head and expect to walk through this year’s competition.
The team’s leading runner, Klimkiewicz, said that won’t happen. The girls don’t pay attention to the local running blogs or rankings, but approach the season like underdogs.
“It hasn’t really crossed my mind,” Klimkiewicz said of the praise and expectations for this fall. “Nobody really talks about it.”
Their coach supports that mindset.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Byers said. “You have to look at each race as an individual. Cherish each workout that we have. Learn from everything. This is not the time to get settled just because you’re coming off a winning season. As long as they absorb that, we can have a big year.”
The only teams at the 6A level who can challenge Oakton might be Ocean Lakes in Virginia Beach and Lake Braddock in Burke, Pellegrini said. The two finished fourth and third, respectively, last year.
But each will be carried by talent found last year in track and field and who have never run cross country before, Pellegrini said. Both squads lost several seniors.
Additionally, are six or seven teams, including Washington-Lee in Arlington, could challenge Oakton if they find one freshman who can contribute in a big way this season. Oakton had that luck last year with Kendall and Salis.
With Oakton pegged as clear-cut favorites, it makes that they would draw attention on the national scene.
But Nolan Jez, who covers Virginia track and cross country for MileStat.com, said that talk may be a bit premature. Oakton made it to 26th last year in national rankings but may not even be the best team in the state this year.
Blacksburg High School, who competes at the smaller 3A level, may be even better than Oakton this year. “It looks like Blacksburg would beat them by having much more quality consistency through five runners,” he said.
The National High School Coaches Association doesn’t even list Oakton in their top 50 in their preseason national rankings. But there is no sense in looking at rankings, Byers said, opting instead to start the season with a team objective and work toward that.
“It’d be great to be number one in the country, but also I enjoy saying ‘you know what? Look at how far we’ve come?'” Byers said. “We went from having one person in the state meet to going fourth to second to winning.”
Byers walked on to the cross country team at Xavier University of Louisiana and ran all four years while at the small NAIA school. Even with that history, Byers says she’s running personal bests in her mid-30s and describes herself as a “pretty bad” runner.
“I’m not a runner, I create runners from applying knowledge from successful coaches and of course what I’ve learned not to do from my former coaches,” she said.
Byers came to Oakton in 2007 and began working under Phil Tiller, who served as head coach of both the boys and girls cross country squads but had greater success with the boys team, taking them to two state titles.
The girls team was state runner-up in 2005 and 2007 under Tiller, but couldn’t quite break through. Now, Byers has reversed that trend and is having more success with the girls, having taken over both squads since Tiller moved to England in 2009 to be with his parents.
“I think a lot of times they seek someone they can relate to, female to female,” Byers said of her success with the girls team.
She still helped cultivate a state-champion runner in Jack Stoney, who paced the Oakton boys team to a sixth-place finish last year.
“I think they’re really willing to work hard for her and trust her training,” Pellegrini said of her success as a coach.
Klimkiewicz described Byers as motivating and said she creates an individualized plan for each runner.
Byers also tries to rely on tradition, reminding runners they are not only out them for themselves but their teammates, community and the Oakton legacy.
“One of the more touching moments was, at the state meet, there were parents who came out whose athletes had graduated from before I even started coaching,” Byers said. “You just had so many people who are still a part of the Oakton community who want to see the kids do well.”
She gave her runners summer workouts and started practice in August. It’s then that she starts pounding at messaging and motivation for the long – and hopefully successful – season ahead.
“I try to keep everything grounded and say we’re doing okay,” Byers said. “As long as we keep improving, that’s a good thing.”
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2014 RunWashington.
The next time you’re struggling to hit a personal best or succeeded in any distance – let alone the marathon – remember Kara Waters.
[button-red url=”http://www.runwashington.com/2014/04/21/dc-area-boston-finishers/” target=”_self” position=”left”] See all of the D.C. area’s local Boston finishers[/button-red]Waters is a 39-year-old physician, a single mom to four without a coach or running club, and still was able to run a 2:52:29 in Monday’s Boston Marathon.
The mark was the top time for a Washington-area female at the 118th running of the race.
“I had no idea,” Waters said of being the area’s top woman finisher in an interview this week. “With the race this year, I wasn’t really focused on my time. I think it was more the experience like everyone else.”
Hoping to maybe break three hours, she hit the halfway point feeling good, felt the same way at the three-quarter mark, and knew a good time was within reach. She decided to push the last six miles and ended up the 63rd woman overall.
In fact, she ran pretty even splits throughout the race, roughly 20 minutes for every five kilometers.
“I told myself if I feel good by mile 20 or mile 21 after getting over Heartbreak Hill I’m going to try to really race the last 5 miles or 10K,” said Waters, who makes her home in Great Falls. “And the last two miles I felt good. There were no real hiccups.”
The unusually high number of runners in this year’s race — which swelled to 36,000 — probably helped her, she said. Because her corral was more packed than usual, she couldn’t run as aggressively as usual in the first few miles, which helped her at the end of the race.
The last several miles of the race carried the same vibrant, up-lifting atmosphere as when the race passes the college campuses of Wellesley and Boston College — people rows and rows deep on both sides of the street. There were numerous events and tributes honoring those who were injured or killed in the bombings last year.
“This year it was unbelievable,” she said. “It was nothing else that I had seen.”
Waters felt compelled to call her children multiple times a day before the race just to share her emotions. The overall atmosphere certainly helped her performance, she said.
Waters specifically remembered running past an amputee – a presumable survivor, she said – at mile 18, running for Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died last year.
“I might have run an okay time, but some of the things these people are doing is amazing,” she said.
Somehow, Waters manages to juggle being a single mom to four girls – ages 9, 8, 6, and 5 — with a training schedule necessary to be a top-100 finisher at the country’s most prestigious road race.
On top of that, she is also a radiologist in Clinton, Md. She is admittedly not a high-mileage runner and uses “a whole lot of treadmill training” and running solo. She runs at night after she puts the kids to bed or outside on days she doesn’t have them.
“I don’t feel like I’m juggling more than other people,” Waters said. “I think everyone’s life is busy and running is part of my life, part of day, so I finagle it in whenever I can.”
But that’s her demeanor, humble and thankful.
Waters ran track at Colby College in her home state of Maine. She started off in the 400 meters but eventually moved up to running the 5k and 10k by her senior year.
She left school as a two-time All-American in cross country and more honors in indoor and outdoor track in the 1500 meters.
She ran with the Boston Athletic Association after college before going to medical school at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical School in New Hampshire.
Waters ran her first marathon in Portland, Maine after becoming a doctor and before taking time off to have her four girls.
She has slowly started to get more and more back into road racing but admits that she still doesn’t race all that much. Waters only moved closer to the D.C. area about two years ago and is still trying to find her footing in the local racing scene.
She used to run with the Howard County Striders when she lived in Ellicott City for more than three years. She recently started to run with the Potomac River Running racing team.
“I haven’t had a coach,” Waters said with a laugh. “I probably should.”
Maybe she can increase her mileage – which was six or seven long runs with some mile repeats thrown in while training for this year’s Boston Marathon – so she can meet running goals like qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials.
This was Waters’ third Boston Marathon. She finished with a 2:58:50 last year and 2:52:05 in 2011 – a mark that’s still a personal best in the distance – when she was the 47th woman overall.
Waters would love to at some point in the marathon and qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon. But that would require a 2:43:00 for the “B” standard.
For now, she has her sights sets on the North Face Endurance Challenge in June and some local 10ks and half marathons later this year. Which ones specifically, she doesn’t yet know.
She plans on running the Marine Corps Marathon this fall, where two years ago she clocked a 2:52:32 and placed fifth overall for women.
The 2:52 mark in the marathon is something she can’t seem to overcome, hitting it several times in the last few years. It’s the wall she hasn’t been able to knock down. She has still managed to accomplish a great deal for any runners’ standards – let alone a single mother who busy, full-time physician.
Ask Melani Hom to recount how April 15, 2013 unfolded through her eyes and she still gets emotional a year later.
The date – if it hasn’t been engrained in runners’ memories – was last year’s Boston Marathon, where scenes of rescue workers attending to bloody finish line bystanders overtook those of happy, finisher medal-wearing runners.
The Northwest D.C. resident had just crossed the finish line in a personal record time of 3 hours, 5 minutes, but the coach in her wanted to stick around and cheer for other runners as they came in.
She credits what she calls a “selfish moment” of leaving the finish area to go shower and recover at her cousin’s apartment in Boston where she was staying as saving her life.
Her voice cracks and tears well up in her eyes when thinks about the chaos that ensued trying to find her friend, fellow Boston racer Lauren Gabler, and the loss of life and limbs that day.
“Just having that experience that all that can go away in a split second,” Hom, 29, said. “It’s not just about racing.”
Hom and Gabler – who remembers well watching the news coverage in the Italian restaurant in the first floor of a hotel a mile from the finish line – wanted to give back to the race, the sport, the community that had given so much to them.
“We both felt like we needed to do something more because we were so lucky that day,” said Gabler, 30, of Arlington, who heard and felt the blasts a block away from the Boylston Street finish.
Gabler and Hom met during a Ragnar Relay race in D.C. some time ago and their friendship grew out of the shared passion for running. Together they crafted the idea of creating and selling commemorative Boston running jerseys – singlets that could be worn during races or runs.
“Instead of just throwing a happy hour or creating a fundraising page, I wanted to do something a little bit different,” Hom said. “We wanted to give people who donated money a takeaway and a constant reminder.”
These do-gooders knew the jerseys could be sold to their runner friends to commemorate the race with the proceeds going to One Fund Boston, a charity to collect donors for those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.
“It’s a way to bring everyone together whether they ran Boston or not,” Gabler said. “It’s for any runner who felt personally affected by the events whether they were at the marathon or just runners who feel an attachment to the sport.”
Hom was talking to a contact she had through her local triathlon training company — Laava Performance — who designs and makes flashy triathlon gear shortly after the race. When Hom mentioned she ran the Boston Marathon, the woman on the other end of the phone, Boston native Kristin Mayer, instantly offered her design services.
From there, the idea started to come to reality.
The proposed jersey bore inspiration words like “strength”, “honor”, “heroes”, and “bravery” mixed with familiar Boston towns and landmarks like “Hopkinton”, “Wellesley”, “Heartbreak Hill”, and “Boylston Street”.
It would also have the date of the 2013 race – April 15 – and were blue and yellow in Boston style, of course.
“They’re pretty flashy. I’m not going to lie,” Gabler said. “There’s a lot going on. They look really cool. I feel like on race day you’re allowed to wear something like that.”
Having the designer confirmed, Hom reached out to get the apparel. Everyone she talked to in the initial steps – even though coming from the cycling or triathlon world – wanted to help the runners’ cause.
The two started an Indiegogo campaign, a crowdfunding site, to help raise money and get their efforts off the ground. The site would carry a brief summary of their project with people able to buy a jersey through their webpage. If enough orders were gathered, they could be purchased for everyone.
They needed to raise at least $4,000 to bring the jerseys to life.
Gabler, a communications consultant with a constantly bubbly and energetic personality, would drum up support in the running community. She reached out to her running friends through different running groups weekend long runs and weekday track workouts. Melani dug into her triathlon network.
Gabler established a Facebook page to generate interest for the effort – “Run4Boston” – which has more than 200 followers today.
“People from all over the country bought them,” Gabler said. “There were a lot of D.C. who bought them, but then there were people in California and Colorado have all bought the jerseys.”
Gabler had friends from high school – people she hadn’t spoken to in years but were runners – buy a jersey. Hom’s sister in California made a promotional video for the campaign.
By early June, less than a month after they started, the project had 92 supporters and more than $4,300. The project sold roughly 100 jerseys to date and donated more than $3,000 to One Fund.
“We didn’t know if only our parents would buy them or random people would buy them,” Gabler said. In the end, it was a good bit of both.
Those from across the country who bought their jerseys have sent pictures of them wearing their new garbs in races.
The jerseys have been spotted in several local races including the Army 10 Miler.
Gabler wore hers during the Marine Corps Marathon last October. Their promotional Facebook page carries pictures of runners as recent as March’s Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon wearing their blue-and-yellow shirts during races.
“You actually do see them,” Gabler said. “Because they’re kind of flashy, they’re hard to miss.”
Because of the nature of Indiegogo, only those who ordered a jersey during the campaign received a jersey. Hom and Gabler would have to repeat the process – which takes a great deal of money to get off the ground.
The two women are returning to run the Boston Marathon again next week. This time they’ll wear the jerseys they helped create.
Sometimes it’s good to be a local running king.
It comes with the perks of using your influence to throw a community race and help raise money for your children’s preschool.
That’s exactly what Michael Wardian has done for the last four years organizing the Kinhaven School 5k.
Roughly 200 runners gathered along Four Mile Run Creek in Arlington’s Bluemont Park for the 5k and children’s fun run on a frosty and windy day.
The event is one of the few fundraisers the school – a non-denominational preschool near Virginia Square — uses throughout the year to raise money for the kids’ events.
“It helps buy art supplies. It helps with field trips, snack menus,” Wardian said. “Tuition covers most of the cost for the school, and then this helps augment that.”
Wardian, three-time competitor in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials and four-time USA Track & Field Ultra Runner of the Year, is able to use the help of some of his sponsors like The North Face and Power Bar along with the weight of his name and influence in Washington’s running scene to bring people out and help operate the race.
The event has raised about $6,500 in years past, but Wardian, who is assisted in throwing the race by his wife, Jennifer, hopes that number increases this year.
“The only thing to make it better is if it were warmer,” he said. “This will be one that people remember.”
Temperatures were in the upper 20s at the 9 a.m. start with winds gusting upwards of 20 miles per hour at times. Runners danced and moved to try to stay warm in the moments leading up to the race. Others took shelter in the cars.
Speakers blared U2’s “Beautiful Day” in the minutes leading up the race and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky soundtrack as runners took off.
Wardian – who doubled as the men’s winner and event organizer – finished in 17:39. He’s now won three of the four years the event has been held, the only blemish coming last year when he didn’t run at all.
Keith Freeburn, 39, of Centerville, who finished about 15 seconds behind Wardian in second place, faced a stiff headwind on the way out of the out-and-back course as did all the runners.
“I just tried to keep as close to Mike on the way back with the wind at our back,” Freeburn said.
The event is less about winning and running fast times as it is about coming together as a community to support a good cause.
“To me this is what running is all about, whether it’s the Marine Corps Marathon, the Olympic Trials, or a community race,” women’s overall winner Heather Hanscom of Rosslyn said. “I just thought it was a lot of fun.”
She crossed the tape in 19:37. “I wanted to run about a minute faster, but I’ve been sick all week,” she said.
Wardian convinced her come out after an almost 6-year hiatus from running because of injuries. It was her first year running the Kinhaven 5k.
Jason Belinkie, head coach of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, brought about 10 of his runners to the race after Wardian spoke to his team earlier this year.
Wardian also used his social media footprint to promote the race.
This is the third year Joetta Sack-Min of Arlington has participated in the event. Her children, Jameson, 4, and Natalya, 2, attend Kinhaven, and the family views it as more than a fundraiser for the pre-school.
“We use it as a way to build community support for the school,” Sack-Min said. “It’s a good way to get all the families out and have some fun.”
Her husband was competing in the baby-stroller-pushing category with the kids – one of the offbeat categories.
Another award was given to the top finisher running barefoot or in FiveFinger-type shoes.
The race is small and holds a community feel. Arlington County permits cap the event at 225 people, which is held entirely within the confines of Bluemont Park.
“We try to keep the costs really low so that more of the money goes back to the school rather than having a bigger event where we’re going to have more road closures and more expenses,” Wardian said. “We don’t get as many people as some of the other races, but we still do OK.”
Organizers throw a 1k fun run for the children – many of whom attend the school – and give the kids a small, plastic medal for finishing.
Behnaz Kibria of Arlington, who is the parent of a first-year attendee at the school, came out to participate with the toddler in tow.
“There’s not a lot of great races that we can bring the kids to,” Kibria said.
Freeburn said he would have brought his kids this year but left them home because of the weather.
“The stuff that they do for kids here is amazing,” Freeburn said.
Running in first-year races can be a roll of the dice sometimes.
Planned water stops can disappear. The course distance can be off, or markers point you in the wrong direction.
But Saturday’s Race for Every Child 5k in Freedom Plaza had none of those distractions. Top finishers at the event that benefits Children’s National Health System reported a well-run race.
“Markers were all in the right place spot. Plenty of cops, plenty of workers out there. It was just amazing,” men’s winner Travis Boltjes, 34, said. “How well it was run. The entertainment they had. I think it speaks that they know what they’re doing. It’s just a fantastic race.”
Boltjes, who is stationed in Washington with the Air Force, made the men’s race less than exciting, finishing in 16:48 – more than a minute in front of the runner up.
“I’ve won a few (races),” he said. “My time, I’m happy with it, but there are probably 50 runners in D.C. that can beat me by a solid two minutes.”
Erin Corcoran, associate director at Children’s National, said the hospital had workers who had helped throw other races and walks even though this was the hospital’s first. That made Saturday morning smooth.
The race offered multiple water stops along the 3.1-mile course and live music at the finish line festival.
In addition to the 5k, the event offered a kid’s fun run, which drew 400 youngsters.
More than 3.900 people signed up for the race, and as of Saturday morning, the events had collected nearly $660,000. Its goal was to raise $850,000, and the money going toward medical research and wellness and preventive services.
The hospital has other higher-priced fundraising events, but entry fees started at $25 and topped off at $45. “We wanted to do something where the whole community could get involved,” Corcoran said.
Matt Rodjom, 33, was one runner drawn to the race because of its philanthropic mission.
The Fairfax resident had a daughter who stayed at Children’s National for two weeks about two-and-a-half years ago to have a third of her right lung removed because of a cyst.
“I was expecting a few little issues with turns and stuff like that,” Rodjom said. “Other than starting a few minutes later than normally, it went pretty good.”
Rodjom finished fifth overall with a time of 19:00.
Boltjes kept checking the event’s website in days before to see if the race was canceled.
The shutdown of the federal government forced other Washington-area races – like the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon and the Run! Geek! Run! 8K — to postpone their events because it relied on federal services.
Rodjom, a legally blind runner, typically runs the Wilson Bridge race, which doubles as the half marathon national championships for blind athletes.
Twenty runners ran it last year, but will have to wait to November this year when the race will be rescheduled.
“I was worried it wouldn’t go,” Boltjes said. “I kept the website all the way up to this morning, and they said it was on. I ‘m happy they went with it.”
The race started and stopped by Freedom Plaza, running down Pennsylvania Avenue to Third Street. It then ran down to D Street, and after a short out-and-back on Independence Avenue, came back up 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
The thought of postponing or canceling the event was never an issue. The hospital already permits for the streets of D.C., which remains open despite the federal government shutdown. They just can’t use Freedom Plaza.
“It didn’t impact us at all,” Corcoran said. “We decided to move the activities onto the street which we already had the permits for.”
The biggest hiccup the race had was starting at 8:40 rather than the scheduled 8:30 because of delays in handing on race-day bib pickups.
With hundreds of runners already in the starting corral, the race emcee had to keep the crowd’s attention by such things as starting the wave like you would normally catch at a baseball game.
“More people picked up their packet this morning than we anticipated,” Corcoran said. “We just wanted to make sure every single person was able to participate. That’s why we delayed it.”
The delay did little to help runners standing in the unseasonably warm October sun, Mason Brayman, 43, of Washington, said.
“The heat and humidity kind of slowed everyone down a bit,” he said after the race. The thermostat registered in the mid 70s as the race started.
Brayman, of Capital Area Runners, finished second in a time of 17:58.
Chappy Rago, 28, of Bethel, Conn., came in third with a time of 18:13.
The warm weather didn’t appear to slow woman’s winner Caroline Rothemel, who crossed the finish line in 19:21.
The 16-year-old junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School doesn’t even run cross country in the fall. She plays field hockey in the fall.
“I was hoping to get an accurate time of what my PR could be because I’ve never really raced a 5k before,” she said.
Rothemel does run track with her school in the fall, competing in events from the 800m to 2-mile, where her best time is 12:11.
Robin Glaser, 25, of Baltimore finished second in 19:32. Priti Bhansali, 37, of Millersville, Md., came third with a time of 20:11.
Sarah Biss knew little about Saturday’s Navy-Air Force Half Marathon before embarking on a vacation to the United States. She certainly didn’t plan on winning the race.
But that’s just what Biss, 36, did, taking the women’s half marathon title in 1:23:18 Saturday.
The New Zealander is simply visiting America on a six-week vacation—she leaves Thursday—and stumbled upon this weekend’s event.
“I Googled races in Washington, D.C. and saw that this one was on the mall,” Biss said. “I’m a bit of a history buff.”
The 2:39 marathoner and one-time New Zealand national team runner didn’t know what to expect in terms of competition, so winning came as a shock to her.
“I don’t have a clue about the D.C. running scene,” she said with a chuckle.
Biss beat out a field of more than 1,200 for the crown, including second-place Tracy Spiess of Fairfax, who finished more than three minutes behind the Kiwi.
The 34-year-old Spiess, who finished in 1:26:31, was using Saturday’s half marathon as training for next month’s Marine Corps Marathon. There, she hopes to break the three-hour mark.
She described herself as “falling into running” having not ran completely until recently.
“I ran Boston this year and had a personal best by 11 minutes on eight weeks of training,” Spiess said. “I was like, ‘Alright, let’s actually train like a real runner and see what I can do.’ ”
The 13.1-mile course started on 15th Street down Independance toward the Arlington Memorial Bridge before turning north for an out-and-back on the Rock Creek Parkway and finishing with a loop around Hans Point. The route was in reverse of last year, starting with the Rock Creek out-and-back and ending with the Hans Point loop. That course, however, put the leading half marathoners right in the back of the five mile walkers, causing some to opt for the grass alongside the road, rather than navigating the crowd.
Shannon Miller won last year’s inaugural race for the women in 1:21:39.
Alexandria’s Patrick Fernandez – who like Spiess was using Saturday’s half marathon as training for October’s Marine Corps Marathon – took the men’s race in 1:07:52. The mark bested last year’s time of 1:10:11 set by David Burnham, who won the inaugural event.
“There was a little bit of wind, but as far as temperature and the humidity level, it was definitely ideal racing conditions,” Fernandez said. “For the most part, the course is pretty flat, so combining all of those just made for a lot of PRs and a lot of records for today.”
Fernandez, 26, had won the sister event – the Navy 5 Miler – the previous two years and even held the race record there before jumping into the half marathon field.
“My coach just recommended this half marathon because it’s a nice flat course,” the Capital Area Runners athlete said.
Fernandez said he ran with a pack of runners till about the 4- or 5-mile mark at which time he picked up the pace and created some distance between himself and the pack.
Matthew Barresi of Falls Church finished second to Fernandez in 1:08:16. Evan Jukovich of Washington came in third at 1:10:00.
Fernandez’s Navy 5 Miler event record of 25:13 stood for only a year before Washington’s Mike Franklin of the Georgetown Running Club used the flat course and mid-50 temperatures at the start to best that mark, running a 24:52.
Franklin ran with a pack of teammates before breaking away about a half mile from the finish.
Despite running an event record, Franklin said he was “not unhappy” with the result and hopes to run faster 5-mile races in the future.
The 22-year-old, who plans on running the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon and the Army 10 Miler in October, just graduated from Princeton University earlier this year.
“I just graduated from college in the spring and am still getting used to the whole ‘having a job and fitting running together’ thing,” he said. “I really just want to transition and enjoy it.”
Thomas Adam, 26, of Charlottesville’s Ragged Mountain Running team, finished second with a time of 24:59 – which
also bested the old event record. Sam Luff of Washington came in third at 25:28, though Kieran O’ Connor ran faster — 25:14 — despite fighting his way through the crowds when the race inexplicably started 10 minutes earlier than advertised.
Though Hilary May also ran an event record in the five mile (30:12), she was left worried on the starting in when she couldn’t find her teammate, Maura Carroll, who also fell victim to the change in start time.
The previous event record was 30:39 set in 2008 by Martha Merz.
“A lot of our teammates missed the start,” May said. “(Maura) started a few minutes back, so I was a little out of it for the first few miles worried where she was and how we were going to execute the plan alone.”
May instead ran the whole race alone, a tactic she jokingly said was “not ideal.”
Race organizers later said there was confusion regarding the previous posted start of 8:10 a.m. was at one point moved up to 8 a.m. with little notification.
The race website lists 8:10 a.m. as the start despite the earlier gun.
Second place finisher Lauren Carter traveled from New York City for the five mile as training for the Boston Half Marathon on Oct. 13. Carter finished in 30:39, but looks to return to D.C. next April for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.
Kelly Swain, 28, of Arlington finished third in 31:13.
While the Navy 5 Miler has been around since 2005, Saturday’s event was just the second running of the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon, and provides an alternative distance to the popular, local races of the Marine Corps Marathon and the Army 10 Miler.
“It’s a great way to celebrate the joint cooperation between the services too,” Anthony Calandra, commander of the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, which manages the event.
The half marathon started with 3,200 entrants in the first running last year and had nearly 5,000 this year.
“At some point, we’ll probably cap the race,” Calandra said. “We’re expecting to grow even larger next year.”
Proceeds from the event go to moral and wellness programs for military members and their families.