For three months in 2012, a small corner of the Internet – the world for high school runners in Montgomery County – went dark. Kevin Milsted, the man behind MoCo Running, took his website offline. He thought he’d had enough.
Burned out and having lost his full-time job, Milsted decided it was time to give up the website that been consuming so much of his time, energy and soul. He would spend entire weekends going to races, writing articles, producing videos. Sundays were spent upgrading the website.
“That was a big moment,” he said.
Three months later, he was back online.
“I guess I missed it,” he said. “When I started this new job, I knew I couldn’t do it like I used to do it. My feeling was, I don’t want to do it if I can’t give it my all,” as he had for seven years.
Milsted started MoCo Running in college and said he initially predicted it would last about 10 days.
“I thought it was going to fail,” he said. “I thought I was going to get eaten alive – the culture of message boards.”
Now MoCo Running is the go-to resource for news about all things running in the county.
“It’s a huge database and a huge resource for any track coach,” said Davy Rogers, head cross country and track coach at Richard Montgomery High School.
Rogers returned to coaching at the school in 2008 and found his athletes talking
about a new site. “I was amazed with how much stuff he’d already gotten on there,” Rogers said. “It was a great thing to see for the running community. We’d never had that before.”
Milsted ran in high school in Gaithersburg, Md., and stayed in the area to run at Catholic University. Those roots simultaneously kept him grounded in the region’s running history and provided perspective for what was missing. He noticed that results from the gobs of dual track meets in the area weren’t available online.
“I really liked following the high school scene,” Milsted said. “Nobody knew who was winning. Early on I knew that was something I wanted to do to distinguish myself.”
He emailed coaches and met them at meets. Like a politician plying handshakes, Milsted built trust with county coaches and convinced them that taking a few minutes to submit results for the website would benefit their programs.
“All the kids in MoCo flocked to it,” said Herb Tolbert, head cross country coach at Gaithersburg High School. “That’s where you went. There wasn’t a whole lot out there where you could find information.”
Tolbert coached Milsted in high school. He said his former athlete created a resource that provided benefits for area athletes and coaches.
“You could go and find out who you had to beat,” Tolbert said. “You could come back and tell your kids: this is how far behind [you are], or this is what you need to do. It was a great tool.”
Although Milsted has run four marathons, he doesn’t run much anymore. The website has become his direct connection to the running world. For a few years, though, the digital side of running consumed him. He worked full time and put in 35 hours a week on MoCoRunning. In the spring, for instance, he’d leave work at 3 p.m. and drive to track meets two days each week, and then spend Saturday at another meet.
Even labors of love can lose the love.
“The amount of time,” he said, “I don’t even want to think about it. I was admittedly pretty burned out toward the end of that.”
So when he resumed the site in 2012, he refocused with a goal of sustainability.
“I want to keep doing it as long as I can,” he said. “That means not killing myself over it.”
He now picks a Saturday meet with the most county schools represented to maximize his impact.
“Kevin brought something to the local area that really changed the way kids viewed racing and training,” Rogers said.
The site no longer emphasizes the intricate details of week-to-week running performances. Instead, Milsted adds the context to those fall cross country outings and spring runs, jumps, and throws. “The engineer part of me – I really like the stats,” Milsted said. “You have all these events and the stopwatch and the measuring tape. You can compare that universally across the state, across the country, across all of time.”
Like the distance runner who trades speed for longevity, the website has transformed to provide value in new ways.
“There’s no place that gives you the backstory and the follow-up on all the athletes,” Tolbert said. “Kevin does that better than anybody. We’d miss it if it were not around.”
A college textile design class marked the beginning of the end of Landon Peacock’s competitive racing career.
Sure, he finished his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin — Madison as a two-time All American and a Big 10 Conference Champion in cross country. But he’d found his next passion in that introductory art class.
Peacock didn’t explore the art world in high school. He was winning a Michigan state title in cross country, setting the Division 2 record for the 3200 meter run at the state track meet, and finishing fifth at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships.
“I’ve always liked anything that involved self-expression,” he said, in a reference to his art.
The sentiment could have also applied to his running, but now instead of sweat and laces, Peacock’s translation of the world happens in brush strokes and swipes of a palette knife.
Only recently has he discovered that his two worlds can merge with beautiful results. Running is his latest artistic muse.
“That experience is so familiar to me,” he says. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort to put myself in a certain mood when I’m painting. Those intangible things you’re attempting to represent on canvas, expressing through color or surface.”
Peacock moved to the area a few years ago to work at his uncle’s Alexandria studio. The experience granted him the space to explore his world in oil paints instead of rubber soles.
He’s moved into DC now, and the lack of a formal studio has unexpectedly provided a better way to work. It forced him to switch to acrylic paints, which don’t stay as wet and unworkable as oil paints.
“I can layer so fast, I can lose myself in the painting a little bit more. When you spend that time with a painting and that constant conversation, you get lost in it more and find something in the paint.”
However, regret is not something mixed into those coatings of color.
“It’s not about reliving the glory days,” Peacock said. “It’s about communicating a feeling with the medium of paint. The running is important because it’s so alive in my mind and because running is so emotional. I’m completely content.”
Check out Landon’s paintings in Pacers stores around the area or at www.landonpeacock.com.
For most people, running remains a hobby at the end of the practice, the end of the race, the end of the day.
Not for David Finland.
“Running was a key thing for me,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to do. [Life] was kind of boring.”
He’s now completed five marathons, including the ING New York City Marathon and the vaunted Marine Corps Marathon.
Finland, of McLean, was four or five when his autism was diagnosed. The family’s doctor prescribed medications, but the drugs caused bouts of Tourette syndrome.
“They seemed to undermine his natural body rhythms,” said Glen Finland, David’s mother.
The family had also begun reading about research that detailed the positive effects of exercise for autistic children. Glen enrolled her son in soccer because his two older brothers played. The game didn’t stick.
“But boy could he run,” Glen said. “A beautiful runner. It surprised us all. We decided to drop the meds he was on.”
They called the new regimen “David Unplugged.”
At McLean High School, Finland served as a water boy for the football team. The track coach noticed Finland sprinting on and off the field.
“The speed he had,” Glen said, “it was a natural grace.”
The best medicine
At its core, autism is a disease of brain development that also affects motor skills.
The American Psychiatric Association released a new edition of its diagnostic manual in 2013 and officially changed the definition and criteria for the condition. Autism disorder spectrum, now referenced as autism spectrum disorder, better encompasses the range of symptoms and severity individuals express.
“Autism is not static,” Glen said. “It changes all the time. There’s always some new battle to fight.”
Running allowed Finland to become part of the mainstream society at the high school, an immense step for anyone who seeks a niche within the social groups of that formative time period.
He competed for the varsity cross country team and ran several distance events for the track team.
“It was huge,” Glen said. “This was his first taste of being a regular guy and all the personal freedom that went along with running.”
Running didn’t cure everything, though.
Kids still noticed some of his muscle ticks. Teammates started calling him Crazy Dave.
“That made me sick at heart,” Glen said. “He said the nickname made him cool.”
Despite any negative encounters related to the sport, Finland continued to run. He moved on to marathons in the years after his high school running debut. His first event was Marine Corps.
“I was really nervous and really not sure if I actually wanted to be there that day,” he said. “It was overwhelming. Mile number eight I started to feel more comfortable, and toward the end I realized, ‘Hey, I really like doing this.’”
When he trained for marathons, Finland ran eight to 10 miles in the evenings.
“My favorite run is along the Potomac River and running along the National Mall,” he said.
He’s planning on running New York this fall, but also wants to continue racing 5ks and 10ks, with a potential half marathon in the mix. He’s cut his training to five- and six-mile runs, plus stair workouts.
This type of routine seems commonplace for most active runners in the area, but the sport has created exceptional benefits for Finland. Running is the medication that keeps him at his best.
“My whole mind is clear,” he said. “It feels like a brand new start for me. After I’m done, I’m not thinking at all. My head is empty.”
That vacancy disappears on days when he can’t work out.
“It doesn’t feel good at all,” he said. “I’m a little bit angry. I’m a little bit confused. I’m a little stressed. There’s too much going on in my mind. I can’t concentrate.”
And if running were taken from him completely, “that would ruin my life right there. I wouldn’t be the same again.”
The need to run
Physical activity for anyone with a disability can become a challenge, one that negatively affects overall well-being.
A February 2014 study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal looked at weight issues and learning disabilities. The study evaluated data from 9,600 people ages 12 to 17, with and without disabilities, from 2008 to 2010. Researchers found that nearly one-third of adolescents with autism qualified as obese.
And the problem could escalate.
Researchers have not yet been able to explain the rising numbers of autism diagnoses in this country. For instance, the current estimate of autism’s prevalence in the U.S. population is based on 2010 census data for 8-year-old children. Those children are identified under the pre-2013 definition of the disease, when a diagnosis referred to separate conditions such as Asperger syndrome. Although improved detection could contribute to the recent surge, that explanation does not rule out an actual increase in cases.
Academic research has shown that kids with ASD typically have fewer options for recreational physical activity, but the disease doesn’t preclude children from exercise. Underdeveloped social skills can limit participation more than physical impairments. For example, schools often host team-based athletics that rely on social cues and constructs.
“That’s the beauty of running,” Susan Pereles said. “You can do it as a solo activity. You can do it as a group.” Pereles is the field development director in the National Capital Area office for Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization that funds research and awareness activities.
Researchers have also identified positive attributes of an activity like running, including the fact that the rhythms match repetitive motions sometimes associated with autistic individuals and that the sport remains available to people throughout their lifetimes.
Even if an autistic person doesn’t always run with a group, he or she can take part in warm-ups, cool-downs and stretching.
“Running with a lot of people doing the same thing I’m doing is kind of a thrill for me,” Finland said.
He’s tried a few running groups, but he still prefers to train alone.
“I find it easier to run when you’re alone,” he said. “You’re not distracted by who’s running with you.”
Still, he hasn’t abandoned the prospect of having someone to match him stride for stride.
“Hopefully one day I‘ll have a running partner,” he said.
Until then, what Finland has acquired through running is a concrete sense of self-sufficiency. “You’re the only person you are in charge of. You don’t have anybody to tell you what to do or where to go. You’re running at your own convenience.”
That autonomy was something his mother both wanted and feared.
“It’s helped me learn to let him go,” Glen said, “to trust him more on his own.”
She wrote about that process — including her son’s first solo Metro rides and his pursuit of a driver’s license — in a memoir called Next Stop.
“On one hand,” she said, “I’m pushing him to do it. On the other hand, I’m crouching behind saying careful, careful. Parents of special needs kids find it a little more difficult because the stressors, the challenges are different.”
Many people contend that the car represents the quintessential American freedoms of movement and expansion. Runners might match their sport with the car. Finland accomplishes a bit of both.
His license plate reads MST FNSH.
The fastest miler at the DC Road Runners One Mile and 3k Track Championships knew the area well, but a five-hour drive preceded his win.
Sandy Roberts broke the meet record (4:13.67, set in 2013 by David Chorney) with his winning time of 4:09:35 in the men’s elite heat.
[button-red url=”http://www.dcroadrunners.org/races/race-results/2014-results/2412-2014-dcrrc-track-championships-mile-heats.html” target=”_self” position=”left”] Mile Results [/button-red]Roberts raced collegiately for the Georgetown Hoyas, including an All-American status as part of the distance medley relay. He’d just arrived back in familiar territory from Raleigh, N.C.
His brother and coach, Logan, ran as a rabbit for the early part of the race. He said the mile proceeded as planned.
“Because he’s racing hard next week, we wanted to get a simulation, go through 1,000 at race pace,” Logan said. “He executed pretty well. Ideally, he would have been able to cruise a little more on that middle 400, but he had some competition.”
Roberts out-kicked Dan Quigley, of Eugene, Ore., in the final 200 meters to secure the victory.
“We’ve been working on the final kick,” Roberts said. “I think Dan’s a really talented runner. I didn’t know who that was, just like, holy cow, there’s someone here.”
The celebration will be short-lived for the Roberts brothers. They headed for the car after the meet to drive to a race in Charlottesville in preparation for Sandy’s shot at breaking an elusive track mark.
“All this is moving toward a sub-four mile attempt next Friday night in Raleigh,” he said. “Hopefully, in little over a week from now, I’ll have conquered a sub-four. That’s the goal.”
The new men’s meet record continues a trend of dropping times every year for the past three, said race director Brian Danza.
On the women’s side, Susanna Sullivan missed the meet record (4:48.70, by Alisa Harvey) by less than a second after an unusually short warm up.
Her professor granted her an absence for 80 minutes in the middle of a four-hour graduate class at Marymount University. In that short time, she traveled to the race, pulled on a bib and jersey, and proceeded to run away from the competition for a 4:49:65 finish and a win for the second year in a row at the championships.
“I was a bit surprised,” she said. “I thought it would hurt more. I knew what the record was, and I wanted to give it a shot. But when I got here and only had a couple minutes to warm-up, that basically went out the window and the goal was just to compete. It’s a track PR.”
Sullivan has run faster but did so on a road course with a slight downhill in Winchester.
“We’ll call this a legitimate PR,” she said, with a laugh. “I feel really good about it. I’m in the middle of marathon training right now. It’s real encouraging to see that I can turn over even when my body should be dead. I’ve been feeling really good throughout the marathon training.”
Sullivan has already qualified for the Olympic marathon trials with a B standard. She’s preparing for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, in Minnesota, in what will be her first full 26.2 and an attempt at the Olympic A standard.
Her success was partially responsible for Sullivan’s excused absence.
“That was in the email today. ‘Hey, I qualified for the Olympic trials. Can I run a mile tonight?’ He was really understanding. This is always a really fun event. I’ll know next year I can’t have class on Wednesday.”
Due to conflicts with other Arlington County sites, this year’s meet was held at T.C. Williams High School track in Alexandria instead of the usual site at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.
Danza estimated the move created a 20- to 30-percent drop in participation but that the competitive races still pleased him.
“We had a great night,” he said. “I think it’s an event that caters to people who like running for the race aspect. They can come here, toe the line, and go out really hard for four minutes for the elite guys or seven minutes for some other people, and push themselves.”
Track meets don’t happen in the DC metro area as often as garden-variety 5ks or even nationally known marathons.
That’s what makes the meet so important.
The future stars opened the night in the kids mile, and several returned to the start line to run against women their mother’s age and men with white hair in the various heats of the mixed miles that ran before the elites.
Other athletes jumped into the four-lap test wearing everything from compression club kits to cheap shorts and race shirts from area events.
“Coming to a mile and going all out is a good way to determine how fit you actually are,” Danza said. “It’s a good place for local runners to come run a fast mile.”
Will Viviani said the fitness aspect appealed to him.
“I didn’t know where I was fitness-wise,” he said. “I wanted to see where everyone else was before I made a move.”
Viviani pulled into first with 300 meters to go and ran to the heat win in 4:35.96. He used the race as a way to jump back into competitive racing after a hiatus from hard training of more than two years.
Other racers learned how the mile can dish out disappointment. Ben Garthwaite tried to break five minutes in his heat.
“I was on it through three laps,” he said. “I knew it when I tried to kick it in at 200. I’m like, OK, you just need to finish hard and you got this. My legs just didn’t do what they were supposed to.”
He crossed the line in 5:01.80 behind the heat winner Mark Walchinsky, who did break five minutes, in 4:58.07.
“That was the goal in the back of my head,” Walchinsky said, “but if I didn’t break five, that was cool. But I actually met my expectations. It was a short enough race that the humidity didn’t come in and kick me like it does if you do a half marathon in these conditions.”
Eunja Rau won the master’s division for women in her first track mile in 8:30.34. She’s getting ready for the Marine Corps Marathon, which will be her first at that distance.
“i’ve done some track training, but not just the one mile,” she said. “It’s always hard to run fast, but it was doable because it was short.”
Rau started running two years ago when she met members of the DC Road Runners club at a library event for a couch-to-5k program.
And in the spirit of the track championships, Rau not only raced but also volunteered during the meet, giving back as much as she’s receiving from the sport.
History buffs might outnumber runners in D.C., but the National Park Service ranger runs blend the two popular aspects of capital culture.
“What a great concept,” said Russell Briggs, of Syracuse, N.Y. He’s in town for a project with the U.S. Forest Service, and he saw the sign for the run on his walk home from work.
“I’ve always like the monuments,” he said. “It was nice to see this piece of it and a little running. I didn’t realize [Pierre Charles] L’Enfant was the great mastermind behind it, which is kind of interesting because I go to L’Enfant Plaza, but I had no idea.”
Ranger Niki Cochran led the Flag Day run with an appropriate holiday
“I usually focus on a theme,” she said. “There’s so much history in DC that you need some sort of parameters to close in on it.”
Selecting shareable facts from the massive amount of information about the monuments requires Cochran and other rangers to account for the composition of the group.
Many of the 30 people at the June 14 event came from across the country. Colleen Gaffney grew up in the area as a child, but she now lives in Orlando, Fla.
“I couldn’t wait to introduce my kids to the city,” she said. The rest of her family waited in line for tickets to go up into the monument while Gaffney joined the morning run, which meets rain or shine at 8 a.m. at the Washington Monument lodge on 15th Street.
“I thought we’d be all out of breath and running from thing to thing trying to hear what our guide was saying,” she said. “The little stops in between were just perfect.”
The group averages around a 9- to 10-minute mile pace with routes that last about an hour and a half. The Flag Day run included the Smithsonian Castle, the south lawn of the White House, the World War II Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.
“It’s a good run that most people could probably keep up with,” said Theresa Barras. “Even if it’s a little fast for some, you’re not going that long before you stop.”
Barras lives in Texas but is moving to D.C.
“We actually commented that it would be hard to run here because there’s so many streets to stop at,” she said. “Stop and go, stop and go. Now I know where I can come and run.”
As promised, the routes include plenty of history lessons. For instance, buffalo once grazed on the lawn behind the Smithsonian Castle when the National Zoo first started on the Mall.
At the World War II Memorial, a local runner can easily overhear comments about the strange layout of the state pillars. Anyone joining the ranger run would learn that the seemingly random arrangement is a deliberate placement based on when the state entered the Union. Looking east toward the Lincoln Memorial, Delaware leads the way on the left. The order then ping pongs back and forth from left to right around the oval plaza.
Plenty of locals joined the run sporting shirts from familiar area races. These people in particular drive Cochran and other rangers to find a diverse set of trivia.
“You don’t want to hear the cut-and-paste of the World War II Memorial story,” Cochran said. “It’s good to try to mix in some unique with the standard.”
Sepp Scanlin, of D.C., started volunteering with the runs at the opening of the 2014 season. Ranger runs started as an addition to the Cherry Blossom Festival, and in 2010, the popularity of the event prompted the National Park Service to add summer dates. The program now takes place March through October on the second and fourth Saturdays, with some breaks for major holidays.
Even though Scanlin has assisted on many runs, boredom hasn’t set in yet.
“It’s fresh every time, even for me,” he said. “There’s common spots, but even when we stop at the same spot, we talk about different things. I learn tidbits every time I take the tour.”
The next ranger run will happen on June 28 with a Thomas Jefferson and John Adams theme as an early celebration of Independence Day.
It’s not me. It’s you.
Let’s hang some laundry before we pack it away until next spring: Runners think cyclists are aggressive, dangerous road hogs, and cyclists think runners are inattentive, unpredictable road blocks.
Trotting out the old tropes is easy. Fortunately, runners and cyclists have never been afraid of some hard work. Sharing the same space means that the intersection of rights for runners and cyclists has the potential to stoke passionate arguments on each side. Yet neither the rhetoric nor the reality always match the stereotypes.
Among a dozen cyclists and runners, the two most common words used to describe the relationship between the athletic communities were “annoying” and “respect.”
Rick Amernick, founder and president of the D.C. Capital Striders, says conflicts between cyclists and bikers come down to familiarity with the other sport.
“People who participate in both have very valid reasons to feel the way do,” he says. “It’s a matter of exposure. Runners probably say, ‘Aw biking’s so easy. Come out here, and run 20 miles with me.’ Bikers who are biking half and full centuries will say, ‘Ah, those runners who do those 5ks, that’s nothing.’”
A triathlete himself, Amernick says he doesn’t correct people who express those sentiments. But he will respond. “I oftentimes say, ‘Well, I’m not that way.’”
More and more, cyclists and runners aren’t that way either.
“Overall, I think it’s a fairly positive relationship,” says Elyse Braner. She’s led running groups for the past seven years.
“A few years ago I felt there were a lot more complaints,” Braner says. “So many more people are participating in both sports. It’s not as much of a conversation now. It’s rare to find someone who’s just a runner or just a biker. There’s more understanding.”
Chris Walsh heads out for a 30-mile ride once a week, but he’s also been running consistently for five years.
“When I’m running, the last thing I want to do is slow down,” he says. “When I’m cycling, the last thing I want to do is clip out or slow down. Anybody who might cause you to do that is going to be an annoyance.”
Models of inconvenience include the runner who is plugged into music or the cyclist who barrels by with zero notification and little room to spare. Irritating, too, are out-of-place individuals who roll through crowds on sidewalks or runners who take to the bike lane with no regard for its dedicated users.
Yet these examples of bad behavior represent a thin slice of a hearty pie that is this region’s athletic-minded population.
Walsh represents a growing number of people who regularly run and ride. Whether it’s a harrier who grabs the handlebars for a triathlon or a cyclist who ditches the derailleur for a road race, each group receives benefits beyond the physical realm.
The safety issue
“I think I’ve gained better perspective,” says Sarah Sladen, a collegiate runner who now splits her time evenly between wheels and feet.
“As a runner it can be nerve-wracking when cyclists come up without warning,” she says. Now, as an active cyclist, she says she’s more aware of how important audible indicators are for runners. “It’s a question of trail awareness and courtesy.”
Problems flare, she says, with “the runner who’s all over and unaware and the cyclist who’s trying to bomb the Capital Crescent at 25 mph.”
Boris Espinoza used to cover ground on the Capital Crescent Trail four or five times a week. A biker collided with him about three years ago as a result of miscommunication. The rider said, “On your right.”
“You’re not expecting to hear that,” Espinoza says. “I moved to the right. It’s something you do automatically when you hear a biker say ‘On your left.’”
Safe riding means that alerting runners has to accompany the equally important component of speed.
Several near misses forced Tom Lahovski to abandon the Mount Vernon Trail.
“Bikes would go whizzing by,” he says. “They would say ‘On your left.’ By the time you hear and react, they’re by you. You wouldn’t get within a foot or two in your car. Why would you do that on your bicycle?”
Lahovski says he appreciates the need to go fast, whether for the thrill or just for a good workout, but that the desire to break away shouldn’t preclude smart riding.
“Time is a premium for all of us,” he says. “It feels good to be in shape, to be healthy, but you’ve got to use a little care, concern and judgement, where you’re not making other people feel in danger.”
Mount Vernon, Capital Crescent, Custis, WO&D. Trails provide vital paths for recreation and commuting, but cyclists and runners I interviewed don’t view the routes with positive marks.
“They’re all difficult,” Chuck Harney, who owns the Bike Rack in Logan Circle, says of area trails. “As a cyclist,” he says, “I don’t like to ride the trails.”
Cyclist Jaime Watts says her problems more often arise with other riders. he has had to deal with a potential head-on crash because the other person wanted to pass a runner.
“The trails are just clogged,” she says. “You can’t go out there and just hammer on the trail. Mount Vernon is terrible. I try to avoid it at all costs.”
Trails have become math equations, case studies in density and volume. Runners and cyclists join joggers with baby strollers, tourists with a day to browse, tykes on trikes, dog walkers, rollerbladers and skateboarders.
Perceptions from local runners and cyclists match the traffic numbers.
Just prior to its three-year anniversary in September, Capital Bikeshare recorded its five millionth ride.
Arlington County has placed real-time sensors that count bicycles and pedestrians on multi-use trails such as Mount Vernon, though the trail itself is under National Park Service jurisdiction. One sensor on that trail is located near Reagan National Airport. David Patton, a bicycle and pedestrian planner for the county, says that node consistently records the highest numbers of any spot in the county.
He says weather plays a significant role in overall trail usage. For example, the first six months of 2013 show a 10 percent decrease in compared to that same period a year ago, attributable to a wet early summer. Still, Patton says he sees “genuine increases” year over year.
Runner Kelsey Woodard commutes to work in D.C. She says bikes tend to stay in the road or in bike lanes, and runners stick to the sidewalks. The stark separation means fewer opportunities for conflict.
Similar to other athletes, she’s less than enthusiastic about the trails but says there are improvements.
“I was impressed by the number of people who alerted me they were near me,” she says after a sunny September outing on the Mount Vernon Trail.
Woodard grew up with active parents, so she learned the etiquette for running and cycling early.
That type of basic education will continue to remain important. Even though many cyclists and runners say the groups hold a mutual respect for one another, mixing other trail users could mean difficulties for everyone involved.
The region’s leaders could invest in the venerated split trails, with one lane solely for fast cyclists and another reserved for comparatively slower runners. Typical municipal budgets mean this isn’t likely to happen.
Education, on the other hand, might provide an effective modification for less money.
Limits on area trails cap cyclist speeds at 15 mph. The legal element exists, though as with any society, laws are enforced by a common agreement to obey them, not by a constant police presence.
BikeArlington and WalkArlington suggest several tips for overall safety. Cyclists need to slow down and give runners at least an arm’s length when passing. Riders should also provide a common verbal courtesy or ring a bell several seconds in advance.
As a standard, pedestrians always have the right of way. However, runners should stay to the right on trails and step off the path to stop for any reason.
More visible rules posted at more frequent intervals could also improve the situation for everyone, says Harney, the bike shop owner.
“Paint it on the road,” he says. “Put signs up. That’s one way to educate people where you don’t have to get a mass group of people together to go talk to them.”
Sladen, the former collegiate runner who frequently bikes, summarizes the argument for mitigating tensions: “I’ve had runners say thank you when you warn them. I appreciate it if a cyclist yells, ‘On your left.’ That’s all that’s necessary.
“Both cyclists and runners are just looking for space to do the sport they love.”
A month before pitchers and catchers reported, the true stars of Washington Nationals games showed up at the stadium.
Most of them, 38 total, arrived before 8 a.m. on a 20-degree Saturday in January. People in the group ranged from early 20s to mid 60s, and we all stood in the cold, ready to see if they had what it took.
Doors closed at 8:25, no exceptions. Don’t talk in costume. Don’t give your last name in media interviews. No photography while the costumes were partially on.
This wasn’t so much an exercise in building character as it was an exercise in a character.
At every Nationals home game, the commanders in chief dash around the outfield during the fourth inning. Even in down years for the team, the Mount Rushmore-quartet of George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln bring a high point to the games. After 2012’s success, William Howard Taft took his place on the starting line.
To make it this far, candidates had to clear the two-part process of an application followed by five open-ended questions. Then, after an on-the-field tryout, each person sat for a panel interview.
First, you had to prove you could move.
Everyone at the tryouts had to run a 40-yard dash and two full circuits of the race course, from center field to first base and back.
Abe, George and Teddy were on deck for the day. Being from Illinois and having grown into a lanky frame, I wanted to embody the best the Midwest has given this country — our 16th president.
Just like you and I, the presidents put on their pants one leg at a time. Abe’s black slacks are held up with something close to mesh suspenders, but the pants don’t make the politician. The bulk of each of the costumes rests in the 45-pound head. Small metal pipes form an exoskeleton to which the head attaches, and weight is distributed down through the contraption.
An assistant held the head while I slipped my arms through shoulder straps and locked three buckles across my chest, similar to what we all did with our middle school backpacks, except these straps provided necessary support.
The all-important Nats jersey tied the costume together and hid the guts and the secrets of the Presidents that participants in the open tryouts got to see. But the insider’s view has to stay that way once a normal human transforms into a living caricature of our nation’s former leaders.
“Do you know who Mickey Mouse is?” asked Tom Davis, senior manager for entertainment. “It’s important to keep that magic of the whole persona. It’s important to be able to become that character.”
“If I hired John Doe to be a President, I don’t expect to see John Doe playing the part of Abe. I expect to see Abe. It really is every facet. All the Presidents have their own personalities. Abe is that guy out there that he is a relentless winner. He likes to win races. When you see Abe out there racing, you want to see the Abe that everybody else saw the 10 games before.”
Yet any character traits flow from a basic ability to handle the heavy costume. I trained six days a week with runs, swims, spin classes and weight lifting, so even with no mascot experience, I was confident I could handle a few strides in the ballpark.
“The biggest thing is getting over the mindset that you need to be a long-distance runner or a college track champion,” Davis said. “That’s not really what you need to do to be a great President.”
After the initial 200-yard scamper around the warning track, I stood near first base sucking wind as if I’d just run stadium steps all morning. I would have needed to regularly tote a five-gallon CamelBak above my head on my runs through the city to have any advantage. Plus, those straps that kept me in character also transformed routine oxygen intake into an ordeal that required concerted energy.
Still, the more important task was to focus on where I was headed — really, where my head was headed. Every movement in character demanded a full-body commitment, especially a turn.
“As soon as you take that turn, your head wants to go one way, but your feet are trying to go another way, and there’s the wall getting closer,” said Artie, one of the participants trying out for the first time. He played baseball in high school and briefly in college, and similar to many of the participants, he’d quickly internalized the idea of adopting a personality that could serve the larger team.
“I was here for all the post-season games in 2012. The electricity was amazing. I couldn’t imagine being on the field with everyone cheering for you, or the President you are. I know there’s people in there. I wasn’t ignorant to that in the past, but they’re still Presidents to me. I’m still calling them by Teddy, Abe, Taft, Tom.”
Despite any mental cohesion with a character, the physical reality of limited vision hampered everyone. You can see more from inside a football helmet than you can from one of the presidents’ heads. I peered out from a tiny mesh porthole near Abe’s bow tie. My forehead wound up with a few minor abrasions because I needed to brace against the costume’s swaying.
Falling didn’t appeal to me, so before the tryouts, I had thought about how the body of a president costume would affect my motion.
My legs were fine; what changed was my center of gravity, that point that we all had to recalibrate in our awkward teenage years. Even the cool kids had to do this; they just managed it faster.
You want to be a cool kid inside Nationals Stadium.
A person’s center of gravity means a lot, physically. It dictates how we walk and how we run. Identical to their real-world counterparts, Racing Presidents depend on an even keel, not haste. Balance and stabilization precede speed, so once you find your center and learn how to move with it, you’re winning races.
“A small step can sway you,” said Marissa, one of four women who tried out. “A tiny bit to the right really is a big step to the right. The littlest thing makes a big difference. You have to be more in tune with the weight that you’re carrying.”
In other words, Racing Presidents win from the core, not from the legs.
Previous experience is not a deciding factor in the tryouts and the Nationals hire a variable number of qualified applicants each year. Marissa had a few prior mascot experiences, including her time as Bruce the Aluminum Can, a character who promoted a recycling program in grade schools near her college. Marissa’s work friends told her about the presidents opportunity.
“They know about my unbridled enthusiasm for mascots,” she said. “If all else fails, I made it to Nats Stadium. I put on the costume. I ran for president. That’s a resume thing. Ran for president: one day.”
I cruised through the 40-yard dash in 8.59 seconds. Short strides and quick arm swings meant victory. Like my chosen leader, I won my presidential races too, and in doing so, carried on a tradition.
Abe, missing his signature stovepipe hat, leads the all-time season standings with 239 wins, beating George at 178.
Artie, Marissa and I all stayed upright for the duration of our campaigns, but not everyone did. The stumbles and tumbles provided the best entertainment on the field. If life is about falls and how you rise after them, you don’t want to spend time wobbling around as a professional mascot.
A character’s body would cave from the waist up as the forehead of one of the venerated forefathers cruised from the air into the warning track dirt. The collapse typically involved windmill arms, but once the head sank past the tipping point, the only variable left was how funny the scene would look as the President hit the surface.
Sometimes, it was a slide. Other times, the former leader of the free world bounced to a stop.
Just watching someone try to lift from the ground felt arduous. Imagine a few sacks of potatoes suspended three feet above your head, and picture your attempt to stand on two feet after looking at a vertical horizon.
Regardless of slips or speed, though, the transition in and out of characters took place behind the center-field wall.
Following a time in costume, it’s easy to more fully appreciate the axiom about a weight off the shoulders. Several people, including me, completed a hop-skip with a few arm rotations. That signaled an adjustment back to a familiar sense of self, much closer to the ground, because, for a little while, we were larger than life.
When I decided to write about what it was like to be a Running President, the Nationals made me choose whether I be at the tryouts as a reporter or an applicant–or candidate. But I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do if offered the job.
After all, being the president is a lot of responsibility, no matter which era you’re in.
Kaitie Sheedy has run along Rock Creek Parkway alone before. She’s done solo loops of Hains Point. Now she’s done it leading a half marathon.
The D.C. resident won her first major event at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in 1:20:53.
[button-red url=”http://werundclive.com/dc14/#/tmr/leaderboard/overall/1″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]“It was really nice to race in a place where I’ve trained the last several years,” she said. “It’s always nice when you can jog to the starting line from your house.”
Sheedy said the win served as a perfect tune-up for next month’s race in another capital: Canada’s Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon. She took the lead on Hains Point and found herself alone in front.
“I’ve never really been on my own before in a race. It was a good experience to get used to that, listen to my body, and just go with how I was feeling. I’ve been training really hard, so I was like, don’t freak out. Be relaxed. Trust your training, which is always kind of scary.”
Third-place finisher Ann Mazur (1:22:58), of Charlottesville, brought a different training background to the race. Although she ran low mileage in college track and cross country at Notre Dame, she’s dipped even further in recent months while working on a doctorate in English at the University of Virginia. Mazur teaches yoga and swims, but she said she hasn’t run much more than an hour since December, and her weekly mileage has stayed around 30.
“I had no idea how today was going to go,” she said. “Stay in the top three. Don’t die. That was the goal once I hit mile eight or so.”
Mazur says despite the reduced mileage, running has helped her through the days of earning a doctorate.
“You do a lot of sitting down, and frankly I have a really hard time sitting down and getting my work done if I haven’t moved around a whole bunch first.”
To add to her Sunday podium finish, she successfully defended her dissertation on Friday.
“It’s been a really insane past three days.”
New York City resident Leigh Gerson (1:21:59) took second.
For the most part, the race catered to women new to the sport or new to the distance. The 13.1 miles were a first for almost one-third of the runners.
Wearing a tiara and cape, D.C. resident Paige Fetzer completed her first half marathon on the cool, sunny morning. The racing world isn’t foreign to Fetzer, but the former triathlete’s work overseas hindered her swimming, biking and running routine.
“It was hard to maintain training since I was in places like Colombia and Iraq,” she said. “Since I moved here, I started getting back into training. I love the atmosphere of races. Everybody’s encouraging you. There’s so much solidarity and motivation. It gives you the runner’s high you can’t just get on your own.”
Race officials estimated that approximately 15,000 participants raced, and that huge group included Maj. Nancy Harris, based in Fort Dix, New Jersey, with the 174th Infantry Brigade.
Harris had never entered a race before.
“I was like, this is a lot of people, oh my gosh,” she said. “I was so nervous. I started out too fast. I don’t care. I’ll do it again. I’m in the Army, so I run because they make me run, not because I like to. Now, I like to run. I’ve already signed up for two more races.”
Harris joined Team in Training, the race partner whose team members raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and its blood cancer research.
Among the purple-clad Team In Training runners was Reston’s Liz Badley. Her team, Out For Blood, collected more than $13,000 for the charity.
Her first race in a tutu scored her a 10k PR and an overall PR.
“My goal was a tutu PR,” she said with a laugh. “I was in a boot last week because I hurt my ankle. I told my doctor I was going to run, doesn’t matter.”
Badley said she wanted to run negative splits starting at 9-minute miles, but she cruised through mile one in 7:32.
“I was like, OK, guess my plan’s out the window.”
The motivations for entering the half marathon varied from picking a race with coworkers, like Sarah Casarella, New York, to finally running an event in Washington after having lived here for a few years, like Kelly Langhans, Arlington.
For some, the race was about family. Jessica Kloppenburg, a junior at Georgetown University, said she and her sister Alex, New York, signed up for the inaugural Nike race in DC last year, but neither were able to run it. They brought their mom Lauriann, who lives in Boston, along this year. She and her husband started running to stay in shape and allow themselves an excuse to eat good food.
“It’s turned out to be a family activity,” she said.
Food also motivated Lynne Still, of Radford, Va., who said she planned to eat a pile of pancakes after avoiding them for several months. Yet Still expressed the most common reason for selecting the Nike race over other races in late April.
“I wanted to get this necklace,” she said.
Men in suits presented finishers with a coveted Tiffany & Co. necklace in the recognizable blue box.
The Run Nike Women race series has also hosted events in San Francisco for a decade, where Kathleen Malone, of Connecticut, has run the full and half.
Malone has completed a dozen marathons, but the training has taken it’s toll. She wants to focus on the half distance, and she ran the 2013 Nike DC race.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “it’s the little blue box. I have a lot of medals from marathons, but the necklaces are a whole lot more practical.”
The leaders at the Rock ’n’ Roll USA Marathon left no doubts. Across the board, between the half marathon and the full 26.2 miles, both the men’s and women’s races held little suspense. Local runners represented the area well in the top groups of finishers, and after an endless winter, runners rejoiced for sunshine and warm temperatures on race day.
[button-red url=”http://running.competitor.com/cgiresults?eId=54&eiId=174″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red] Abiyot Endale allowed a costumed Superman to lead the pack down Constitution Avenue, but Endale and a group of three other runners raced away from the field. Even then, the race effectively ended under the Kennedy Center overhang as Endale stretched his lead with a relentless, effortless-looking stride.
By the time he crested Calvert Street hill, the other runners couldn’t be seen and Endale ran alone. A smile and a wave to the drum corps outside Howard University served as a rare indicator he was even aware of the surroundings on his way to a 1:06:27 win in the men’s half-marathon.
Endale has proven himself as a capable winner before. He won the 2012 ING Hartford Marathon in Connecticut and set a course record that day.
Ayele Kassaye (1:08:29) finished in second on Saturday. Matt Rand (1:09:24) took third in his debut half marathon and finished as the first local man in the race.
On the women’s side, Christine Ramsey made the trip down from Baltimore to secure the only close race of the day, a 1:19:27 win in the women’s half marathon, ahead of locals Kerry Allen (1:19:46) and Teal Burrell (1:21:37). Ramsey improved on her third-place finish in this race last year.
Locals from Virginia and D.C. made up more than half of the approximately 25,000 registered runners, but the race still included participants from all 50 states and 33 foreign countries.
Dick Whitfield, Newark, Ill., drove to the nation’s capital for the weekend to visit family. He sat with Laura Whitfield, who lives in Baltimore, for an picnic with post-race snacks in the RFK parking lot.
“She sent me an email and said there was a fun run out here,” he said as he pointed to Laura. “Our winter’s been so terrible. I haven’t run all winter. I’m going to start training Monday,” he said with a laugh.
Laura said she hasn’t run much either. “We knew we’d finish. We weren’t out there for time.”
Weather typically sits at the top of the list for boring conversational riffs, but runners from across the country admitted that their training had suffered in some way from the barrage of snow and sub-zero temperatures this winter.
“We’ve run through snow, ice,” said Aubrey Brown, of Richmond. He faced the challenge of training with a friend in another city, Melanie Sala, who lives in D.C.
“We ran through the polar vortex,” Sala said.
The two embraced after the finish line. They ran all 13.1 miles together. The pair started training in November, and Brown completed his first race at this distance.
“We’ve known each other for a while,” Brown said, “and it was the next thing in line.”
“We decided this was an experience we wanted to share together,” Sala said. “Step by step.”
“I had to slow her down just a little bit,” Brown said. “Every time a band came or a small child appeared, she felt like she needed to speed it up a little bit,” he said, laughing. “I had four goals: the first goal was to start.”
“That is the most important thing,” Sala said. “Begin and then continue. That’s all you have to do.”
Brown’s other goals included avoiding injuries during the race, finishing and having fun with his friend.
“All the boxes checked,” he said.
Friends and families served as great motivators for many runners at this distance.
Erin Leo, D.C., tore her ACL playing basketball in college, and that’s when she started running half marathons. Her younger sister Kate Waldon, Boston, cheered for her sister during that first race.
“I thought she was crazy when she ran her first one,” Waldon said.
“And now she’s done like 15,” Leo said, “and is trying to get me to do a full.”
The sisters have run nine half marathons together, beginning with the D.C. half marathon race four years ago.
For Courtney Cecere, McLean, the Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon served as her first race after a new addition to her family, a now 13-month-old daughter. She trained for the event with a local group called Moms Run This Town.
“A baby changes the training time,” she said. “Not so much that it’s physically more challenging, but just the time juggling. Making sure my husband can be home if I run real early and adjusting when I run.”
Many finishers rushed for the coveted medal, a signifier of achievement, but Cecere had another idea.
“I’m excited to go see my daughter.”
A former Olympian led the full marathon field from miles three to 11 on her way to the women’s title. Nuta Olaru ran 2:43:00, fresh from taking the crown at the 2014 USA Cross Country Championships, where she won the masters women’s 6k in February.
“I pushed when the men caught me,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was also first place. When the men caught me, I knew, oh my gosh, I was first overall.”
Olaru, competing for her native Romania, finished 13th in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. She now runs for the U.S. and trains in Longmont, Colo.
She said the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon fit well with her training schedule because she’s headed to Boston in April. She finished more than 10 minutes ahead of second place, Rebecca Bader (2:53:10). Kristin Johnson (2:57:54) finished third and crossed the line as the first local woman.
“I didn’t actually realize she was running the marathon until I actually passed her and saw her bib,” said men’s marathon winner Adam Doherty.
Full marathon racers wore red bibs, and half marathoners wore bibs with a blue stripe.
“Success on every front,” said Doherty, who locked in his first place spot by about the halfway point and cruised to a 2:33:52 finish in his debut marathon.
“Definitely tough mentally,” he said of running by himself. “Just clicking off splits. That was really what I was looking for. I was hitting 5:50s pretty much the entire second half.”
Doherty, of Charlottesville, Va., said he wanted to run the marathon distance after his collegiate racing schedule ended with graduation last June.
“I’m really competitive, so I wanted to be in a race I could actually compete for,” he said. “I’ve knocked it off the bucket list I guess.”
Brian Benestad (2:36:32) took second. Eric Senseman (2:39:52) finished third and matched his place in last year’s race.
Several runners mentioned the timing of the Rock ’n’ Roll race because it happenes early enough to provide a firm benchmark between winter training and the Boston Marathon.
Dara Dalmata lives in Hopkington, Mass., the town where the famed marathon starts. She finished seventh in the women’s field on Saturday in her first race since Boston in 2011.
“I didn’t hit the wall at all,” she said. “I left the pace team at 23 miles. The pace team was great. You didn’t have to think. I would definitely recommend that to people if they want to break a time.”
The pacing groups received praise from many runners who credited the teams with providing a needed boost on the long course.
“That was fantastic,” said Veronica Mazariegos, D.C. “It’s lighthearted, keeping together, helping each other. And at the end, if you feel like you can, you push a little harder.”
Mile pacing and Boston’s big event were also on the mind of Mindy Ko, of Arlington. Her twin sister, Phebe will run Boston next year, so Mindy needed to qualify.
“This is the perfect course to do it because I don’t have to travel, don’t have to worry about those logistics. It’s kind of in my backyard as much as you can get.”
Although Ko has finished two Ironman triathlons, she’d never completed a marathon by itself.
“This is the first that I’ve done without walking and without biking and swimming first. In the middle of it, it was funny because you get these thoughts in your head. You see the Metro. You see the busses. And you’re like, oh my god, it’s so tempting. But you keep on running. You build this unspoken camaraderie in the second half.”
Marathoners split from the half marathoners near RFK Stadium, which brings them just within sight and sound of the finish line.
That tantalizing glimpse becomes a right turn toward another long stretch of road.
“It didn’t matter,” said Nico Gomis, D.C. He runs only two races every year, both marathons: Rock ’n’ Roll and Marine Corps. “After 20 miles, it’s all heart.”
24,000 bottles of Gatorade
13,000 feet of fencing
6,625 latex gloves
2,500 road cones
Thanksgiving, a day organized around gatherings, started with a cold race for thousands of people. More than 10,000 registered runners preceded any pie with the SOME (So Others Might Eat) Trot for Hunger.
For many participants, the 5k embodied the essence of the holiday.
“This one is a big one for the whole family,” said Lianna Nguyen, of Annandale. “We’re all here for Thanksgiving, being thankful we have our healthy family.” Fourteen family members joined what Nguyen called a “well-organized race.”
Many families wore matching shirts or sets of the same themed hat. Turkeys with legs that tied to keep them on in the wind, turkeys with drumsticks in the air that might have come straight from the oven, chef’s toques and slices of pumpkin pie all bobbed down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It’s a family tradition to run on Thanksgiving,” said Christine Billings, of Castle Rock, Colo. Her family members from Colorado and Utah travel to a new state each year for the holiday, and they pick a race at their destination. After seeing photos of last year’s race, they ordered nine matching turkey hats for the event.
But the weather also called for gloves and scarves.
Wind chills at the race start were in the 20s. Normal highs for this time of year are still above 50 degrees, according to Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post.
“I wore enough clothes,” said Scott Allen, “more than I normally wear in a race.” The DC resident won the Trot for Hunger in 16:04. “I’ve been in worse wind, but it was pretty rough. I was expecting to go faster.”
Allen caught early leader Dustin Whitlow (16:31), of Arlington around the two-mile mark. The Trot served as a tune-up for the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon that Allen will run on Dec. 7. He said he typically doesn’t come out for Thanksgiving Day races, but an injury in the spring left him unsatisfied with his performances this year.
“I wasn’t able to train a lot this summer,” he said. “I didn’t get the full season I wanted.”
Rosemary Barber, of Springfield, Va., won the women’s race in 18 minutes flat.
The second-place finisher for the women was Vicky Schandevel (18:59). She was in town from Charlottesville, visiting her sister in Silver Spring. Schandevel said the wind was brutal on the finishing stretch, but the SOME event has become a tradition for her family.
“It’s one of the races I really look forward to,” she said. “Something about being here on Thanksgiving in downtown Washington, DC — it’s a great way to remind ourselves what we’re thankful for.”
Sarah Kessel, of Greenbelt said the event is the only big race her family joins. Kessel’s dozen relatives and close friends included Architha Vishnuvajjala, also of Greenbelt who had donated to SOME before but never run the race.
SOME raised nearly a half million dollars for its work in the capital.
“It’s more than we expected,” said Linda Parisi, SOME’s chief development officer. She said the goal was $450,000.
“We started on Ohio Drive with 100 people,” Parisi said. “We’ve grown every single year.”
SOME has organized the 5k for the past 12 years. The organization was founded in 1970 to help feed the poor, but its role in the community has expanded to include counseling, health care and housing. Yet food remains a major part of the mission, and SOME serves more than 1,000 meals every day.
The Carrollsburg Fundracers were the top team for donations, and they collected almost $14,000.
“SOME does really great work,” said Carrollsburg team member Jenny Harper. “Everyday services, but also working to provide transitional services like mental health care and job training. We think they have a good model.”
The Carrollsburg group represented the other side of the holiday. “Our Thanksgiving we do is a group of friends,” Harper said, “the kind of friends who are family.”
Plenty of people have the image of a long dining room table filled with family members reminiscent of the classic Norman Rockwell painting. But the Friendsgiving tradition has gained momentum in recent years, especially in cities like Washington, which boast clusters of geographic transplants.
Matthew Adamczyk, of Chicago said he discovered the SOME Trot several years ago when he spent a Thanksgiving alone in DC. This year was different. He ran the race with five other dancers of the Joffrey Ballet, who are spending the day’s big meal at the house of a company member who is from the area.
“We all race in our off time as cross training,” Adamczyk said. “We decided on our day off between seven shows we’d come down here and do a run.”
The group is performing The Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center this weekend, an apt signal for the transition from the yellows and browns of the late fall to the reds and greens of the winter racing season.