Attitude is Everything

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington is following several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. This is the third story about Joe Divel, read the first and second.


Joe Divel. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photography
Joe Divel. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photography

Joe Divel is applying patience and consistency as he puts one foot in front of the other in pursuit of his goal to finish the Marine Corps Marathon on October.  He’s had to make some small adjustments in stride since he started training in May, but he’s remained on the course, faithful to the plan and his training group, the First Time Marathoners program offered by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club. Along the way he has passed a few very significant milestones.  He has logged more than 500 miles, an idea he found completely daunting at the start of his training. He has completed a 20 mile run.  And, like many marathoners, he recently met “The Wall.”

“It was the perfect storm. I didn’t hydrate the week before like I should have.  Saturday night, we went to a different restaurant, and I didn’t eat properly.  I got really thirsty on the run but didn’t fuel up,” Divel said, as he tried to parse out the reason for unraveling in his last miles.

He was also experiencing knee pain at the time, and had to walk much of the last three miles.  He’s quick to point out, though, that despite Joe’s efforts to shoo him off ahead, pace coach Serey stuck with him until the end.  Divel’s takeaway from his first encounter with the wall? “It was a learning experience for this novice runner.  I’m gonna bring seven Gus with me on race day,” Divel said, not counting on the aid stations to have fuel for him.

To find out what he could do about his knee pain, he also went to RnJ Sports in Rockville to get his shoes checked, and a stride analysis showed that he was swinging one leg out when he ran.  He’s been paying close attention to form at FTM’s Wednesday track workouts and his knee is already feeling better.

It’s paying off.

“He’s very aware of his running form.  That’s part of the battle, being more mindful,” said FTM coach Glenda Garcia.

She knew that Divel had been held up by knee pain the last few runs but sees him coming back from it.

“He’s on the road to recovery,” she said.  She believes that patience will pay off.  She’s seen a lot of first time marathoner’s panic about hitting their training miles, to the detriment of listening to warning signs that injury was approaching.  “I think he’ll be careful and if he starts to have issues, he’s smart, he’ll hold back,” she said of Divel, “he takes advice and follows it.”

Many who undertake marathon training with weight loss hopes find that their post-long run appetite outweighs the calories burned in the output.  But Divel, who’s keeping off the 70 pounds he lost, an endeavor which began at the start of 2014, has found that he is making healthier choices.  “I’ll grab a banana instead of a candy bar now,” said Joe.

The FTM training program is in their sharpening phase now.  Joe’s weekly mileage is climbing with his long runs and the group does speedwork on the track on Wednesdays.  In repeats, he’s pushing the pace up to two minutes faster than his long run pace and he’s seeing results.  He feels himself building up strength and has found an unexpected side effect – “track work is a lot nice than I thought it would be,” he said.

That kind of outlook makes Divel an asset to his 12:00 minute mile pace group.  Initially one of the few men in the slow but steady crew, as members find their comfort zone the pace group has grown and is more varied in gender.

“He stays positive, he continues to be one of the core regulars,” Garcia said.

Even on the run where he hit the wall and was nursing a sore knee, he was encouraging the other straggler in the group to finish. Garcia appreciates Joe’s unflagging goodwill and dedicated consistency.

Divel is excited for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon, but as he looks ahead, his feelings are mixed.  He’s gotten so attached to his running group that he knows completion of his goal will be bittersweet.  He’s going to miss the camaraderie of the group. Though ‘repeat offenders’  – FTM has many runners who have run marathons before – have assured him that groups get together throughout the year, still he knows it won’t be quite the same.  Divel has fallen in love with running – not just the act of it, but the people involved in it and the sense of belonging it lends.

“The whole team, the whole running community, it’s just behind you I feel,” Divel said.

Part of him is already looking forward to next fall and doing it all over again.  He’s even considered becoming a pace group coach as a way to contribute to the sport and group he’s come to love.

“I’ve gotten more out of this than I could ever give back to it, so giving back is something I’d like to do,” he said.

One silver lining he does acknowledge will come from no longer being in training – getting his Sundays back.  He’s made the most of Saturdays while in training,

“I have a very understanding and supportive wife,” Divel said, and they make sure to do something together on Saturday.  Church has gotten moved from Sunday morning to Saturday night, and weekday runs get done in the early morning hours.  It’s a serious time commitment, he allows, but he hasn’t had to sacrifice much, except “my lawn maybe. I figured I’m not gonna water it so I don’t have to cut it.”

Joe Divel may not mow his lawn, but he certainly shows up for long runs.  And that’s going to have to pay off for him in late October.


In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. This week, it’s Matt Deters of Arlington, Va., who is having a breakout year. Read the first article about Matt here.

Matt Deters. Photo: Dustin Whitlow
Matt Deters. Photo: Dustin Whitlow

Matt Deters can’t take the heat. Actually, that’s not true, he can, and has been, and will continue to do so, but he’s not a fan.

Running in D.C. in July and August, at its worst, can be like doing strides in wool-lined catcher’s equipment, while breathing through a sweat-soaked ski-mask.  Attempts to stay hydrated are like trying to fill a pitcher with a hole in the bottom.  And that’s for the average recreational runner.  Deters is still run eight miles each way from his home in Arlington to his office in Foggy Bottom.  On his easy days.

But he has encountered some heat-related setbacks this summer, one more minor annoyance in a string of less than perfect conditions since his spectacular spring season.  Since coming back from the Glass City Marathon in April, where he was on track to reach his 2:30 goal until a course marshal directed him two miles off course, Deters has continued to push hard, but the stars haven’t quite aligned.  Not yet, at least.  There’s another three months until Philly, during which the frequent racer will run the Army Ten-miler and the Navy-Air Force Half as tune-up races and keep pushing the pace.

His most recent hiccup was after the Rockville Twilighter.  Deters began to suffer almost immediately after the 8k from dehydration, sweating profusely followed by chills, and a fever.  He battled that and sinus symptoms on and off for about two weeks.  He kept thinking he was better, only to have to dial it back again.  Deters isn’t a big fan of taking it easy, but he did use the experience as a good reminder to stay hydrated, something he struggles with in the summer months.

“The heat really affects me, I’ve had a couple of slow races and difficulty finishing races and workouts at the pace I want to, those add up and you’re not getting all the miles,” Matt said of his disappointing summer.

He wanted to PR in shorter distances like the 5k and 8k, but the bug he had recently and the bout with plantar fasciitis after the Glass City Marathon has kept him from doing so.  He’s still finding it a challenge to get back to the form he was in this past spring, “last cycle was so perfect that it’s hard,” he said. He still has his hopes for the Army Ten-Miler, as the truncated Cherry Blossom course last year meant he didn’t have an official PR.

The brief setbacks of plantar fasciitis, dehydration and sinus issues get pretty harsh treatment from Matt on his blog:, but in the grand scheme of things, he’s managed to stay relatively strong and healthy through significant upticks in speed an mileage.

Teammate Doug Smith thinks that Deter is primed for a solid fall season, in a large part due to his attention to the small things “it’s hard enough to get the mileage and workouts,” Smith, who will be training alongside Deters as they both prepare for fall marathons. “He’s in the pool, he does striders, form drills, the things to prevent injury – he takes a really pro-active approach to injury prevention.”

As Deters ups his mileage in the coming weeks from his current 80 to his projected 100, he agrees that he’s taking a very conscious and proactive stance on injury prevention.  “I just went and got an alignment from the sports chiropractors at Capital Rehab, they’re sports chiropractors,” he said. “I hit the stretching machine, foam roll, and do core 4-5 times a week.”

Deters is confident that if he remains attentive to the small things and follows a similar training plan to last year, he’s going to head into Philly able to recreate his Glass City performance on a complete course.  He contributes his near-success last season to the training cycle, both coaching and

Matt Deters is hoping that his coach, George Buckheit, has a similar training plan to last seasons.  He worked up to 21-22 mile progression runs, finishing up at marathon pace, and track workouts that include 25 x 400’s continuously around the track.  “He’s one of the best” Matt said of Buckheit.

Deters will have the same group of peers training with him this fall, Smith and Greg Mariano are both training for races on the same cycle.

Smith said of Deters, “He’s really good to train with and to race with.” Smith ran with Deters in his half marathon PR at Shamrock. During the race, Smith said “Matt’s the one who pushes it to the edge of the comfort zone and beyond earlier than I would have.”

Smith credits Deters’ frequent racing for enabling him to push that hard without hitting the wall, “that experience lets him know when you’re pushing beyond what you can sustain.”

Out on long runs, even though their group in intense about training, Deters is always able to provide comic relief, with funny stories from the week keeping the group entertained.  Deters is optimistic about his chances at Philly even though he’s not pleased with his current performances.  He’s looking forward to the next phase of training, and hoping to stay healthy as he adapts to the added intensity.

Alongside intense training and injury prevention, Deters makes certain concessions to age.  He makes the effort to stay hydrated, eat fruits and vegetables, and lay off the beer.  “I can’t eat like I did at 19,” he admits.

Deters knows the training will pay off, he’s seen it already.  The small things are bound to add up.  He knows the heat will start to lift just in time for the ragweed to come out, and that he has some great weeks of late fall training to look forward to.  Hopefully the marshals for Philly’s course are paying as close attention to the details as Deters is.


Adapt or…Nothing

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. This week, it’s Meghan Ridgley of Reston, Va., who is hoping for a chance at the Philadelphia Maraton. Read the first article about Meghan Ridgley here.

Meghan Ridgley coaching some of her runners. Photo: Dustin Whitlow
Meghan Ridgley coaching some of her runners. Photo: Dustin Whitlow

Meghan Ridgley has been churning out marathons at just over a six minute mile pace for a decade.  Take a moment to consider your twenties vs. your thirties.  Recovery time, ability to function on less sleep, general level of responsibility, metabolic function – all these things get a little bit stingier as the decades pile on.  For those who were elite athletes in their teens and twenties, maintaining the peak shape they held at that age gets harder every year.

Ridgley won’t let go of running fast just quite yet.  But she’s become far more willing to adapt.

Injury, motherhood, work, coaching and getting older have all forced her to reevaluate her approach to running.  The flexibility she’s had to cultivate to continue to run at her level through all these elements has served her as life throws each new curveball her way.

Ridgley is a different runner than she was years ago – then, she said, “if I couldn’t get eight miles in, or I couldn’t get a run in the morning, then it wouldn’t get done.” Now, if she has time for four miles, she takes it. “I fit it in wherever, maybe I’ll shower when I can.”

She senses a shift in herself mentally, where she’s becoming willing to run for fun.  She’s begun spending time with other runners who just enjoy it.  “I have a friend who doesn’t have a watch,” she said, shaking her head in wonder.  “I haven’t run without a watch more than three times ever.”

“I’m not like I was in 2009 when I missed qualifying by 32 seconds – I was devastated for a couple of months.  No one could console me, I just kept replaying it – how could I have let that happen?” she said.

She knows her competitive side will always be with her, so is considering trail running and ultras as a next phase – a way to stay challenged and engaged, but with a different mindset.

Shannon Scalan, Ridgley’s friend and manager at Potomac River Running, has seen Meghan become more open as a runner, “I don’t think before that she would ever have gone to do a Ragnar trail race – because the risk of injury, that it might take away from road training.   She grew up a competitive runner, while some of us came to it later, so now, she’s finding that there’s another type of running.”

Meghan still prefers a morning run, making sure to catch the sunrise over her shoulder when she can.  But, if she can squeeze in a half hour between work and camp pick-up, or whatever else she’s doing, then she will.   She appreciates is when she’s healthy, recognizes a run that goes well, and takes the run she can fit in, even if it’s not on a plan.

Now, she squeezes triceps dips on the edge of the tub during bath time, push-ups while coffee is brewing, foam rolling during reading time.  She grudgingly rests when it’s needed.

After becoming a Mom, coaching has probably made the biggest impact on Meghan as a runner – “I walked a week ago,” she said, “I would have never done that before I started coaching.”  It has brought back some of the sense of community she missed by being out in the front of the pack so much.  She coaches groups in fall distance training, and also does one-on-one coaching.  It’s more than just the running for a lot of her clients, she knows.

Scalan was transitioning out of coaching as Meghan started and said that right away, the runners she coached liked her and were able to relate to her. “Everybody loves her.  Even though she’s a fast runner, she never makes someone who runs a 13 minute mile feel like they don’t deserve to be there.  She understands that running is hard for everyone.”

When RunWashington checked in with her, Meghan was sidelined by a nagging injury.  Up until two weeks ago, Ridgley had been feeling good.  “I was doing 60-70 miles per week, I was just getting ready to hit an 18 miler.  My speed was coming back quickly, I was right where I wanted to be picking up from.  I felt really strong, I was recovering really well.”

She was rolling out easy miles anywhere between a 6:50 and 8:00 pace, and her tempo days were measuring between 5:45 and 6:10. She was clocking her speed work at 5:40 and faster.  She’s planning on getting to get 4-6 runs of 20+ miles in.  “I feel really strong when I do that,” she said.

But then, once more, Ridgley’s plans have been disrupted.  Right after her Friday run a few weeks ago she started to feel pain in her hip adductor.  That Saturday, as she was bringing in the runners she coaches at their pace, the pain shot down her leg and was followed by numbness.  She had to slow to a walk.  The discomfort didn’t go away, and then moved into her IT band.

She was hopeful that rest, good nutrition, and the trusted tools of her chiropractor were going to see her through the injury.  “I’ve never foam rolled like I have the 4 days,” she said.

Ridgley, like most athletes, especially runners, is uncomfortable with rest.  But, listening to the demands her body is making, she recognizes that she’s become much more patient with it than she would have been years ago. “At a certain point, you gotta stop fighting it,” she said, “I’m accepting it.”

Scalan said she can tell Meghan is worried, even as she’s staying positive and looks at it from the perspective of “let’s find out what it is and conquer it.”

She was filling the time not training with baking Paleo treats, encouraging her co-workers to stay healthy when all they want to do is eat cupcakes.  She’s squeezing in end-of summer activities for daughter Miranda, who is supporting Mom through the recovery process (when she can spare a moment to look up from her new iPod).

Miranda, dubbed Meghan’s “mini-me” by friends and colleagues who see Mom’s outgoing, humorous, and encouraging personality in a pint-sized package, has been asking about the pain, is curious about how the different stretching and treatments work, and encourages Meghan to take an extra day when she’s hurting.

Unfortunately, rest, foam rolling, positivity, and dark chocolate coconut bars haven’t yet solved Ridgley’s injury. Meghan is scheduled for an MRI this week.  She has come back from injuries, personal setbacks, and even a brief stint where she lost the love of running.  While she and her supporters are hoping she’s back to her old self right away, if this injury is bad enough to knock her out from the path to Philly, history says she’ll get right back up soon enough.

Meghan’s injury was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in her left femur and a torn labrum, forcing her to take six more weeks off and put off her marathon plans for the fall.


2 Comment

Read the first article about Will Etti here.

Photo: Dustin Whitlow

Nobody has a bad thing to say about Will Etti.

Now, most runners don’t sit around at the end complaining about the people that they’ve just shuffled through the highs and lows of a long run with.  Maybe the next day, when the endorphins wear off and the soreness sets in, there are occasional grumblings against the route planner or the pace maker , but as a group, runners tend to be supportive.

The First Time Marathoners group, a marathon training program open to first timers and experienced marathoners take that attitude to the next level.  Milling around as they nosh on bananas and water on a recent Sunday morning run, everyone from FTM coach Conroy Zien to the pace groups that filter in at staggered waves every minute or so, everyone is effusive with their praise of this particular community of runners that one might think they’d stumbled into a cult.

Upon closer examination (a sniff test of the Gatorade proves they are high only on good will and a sense of accomplishment) they turn out to be just a particularly nice group of runners in their natural habitat.  Even in a group fairly glowing with positive vibes, Will Etti stands out.

Maybe it’s the obstacles he’s already surpassed – going from barely being able to walk after a horrible car accident to completing a marathon – learning to walk before he could run again – that gives him the ability to project positivity outwards.  Maybe he gets superhuman strength from all the high fives he doles out and receives on the Maryland and DC trails.

“he’s always smiling, even at 6:30 in the morning,” said pace coach Kristen McElroy.  When asked how he stays positive all the time, he demurs.  “I don’t always feel that way.  The rest of the group gives me encouragement.  I just smile a lot, and then after 3 miles or so I get it together.”

“He’s incredible, he’s a source of inspiration for him to come back from an injury with such a sense of humor,” said pace coach Rachel Gibson, “his energy level is to the tenth degree.”

His coaches and teammates are thrilled to have him around – the energy he brings to the group cements the community they build in the long build up to their fall marathons.  Pace group teammate Galot Saar said, “he gives a lot of encouragement, he’s always in a good mood positive at the end.”

There’s always, in a group, a mesh of personalities, and Will is the one that brings it all together” pace coach Rachel Gibson “in the winter group he was our nucleus”

RunWashington caught up with Will after a hilly 14 miler.  Sweaty and smiling he said he felt great, “feeling good at the end is very important.”  The group had gotten silent around mile 10, he said, so he started up a military-style, ‘I don’t know but I’ve been told’ chant that touted the 11:30 pace group as the best of the rest.  His teammates appreciate his energy on the runs with equal generosity to friends and strangers.

Will shuffles things around in his pack and moves his inhaler from one pocket to the other. “Hey,” one of the coaches said, “you have to let us know about that.”  He shrugs it off – he’s had asthma since his days running track and he would just take his inhaler before he started out, “the more I ran the stronger I got,” Will said, and now, he keeps it around as a precautionary measure mostly.  Of all he’s overcome, childhood asthma barely ranks.

He’s not regretting his choice to dial back from the 9:40 to the 11:30 group, even though McElroy mentions that on the previous week’s long run when they passed the 9:40’s, Will said, ‘that used to be me.’

When asked about it, Will shrugs, “the 9:40’s have been very encouraging, they give me high fives when we pass each other. 11:30 is ideal, I want to go sub 5:00, so 11:00’s will get me there.”

After hitting the wall hard at his last Marine Corps last year and limping through the Rock n’ Roll half with ITBS pain, Etti isn’t taking any chances with injury.  He remains grateful that he can run and is training smart to run as effectively as he can.

Will is staying consistent with his injury prevention strategies.  He does yoga on Monday the day after his long run and hits up a spin class on Thursdays.  He stretches and is dedicated to the foam roller.  He’s not taking any risks with getting hurt – even though the drop back in pace is dramatic, he’s comfortable with it and feels like it’s paying off.  He’s also sticking to a new hydration and nutrition regimen on long runs, including the coconut water he started using to stave off cramping, and various gels.

He doesn’t reserve his contagious positive energy for his FTM friends, either – he’s making it a family affair.  “He has two boys he adores.  He runs for his family” McElroy said.

He takes his sons out on Saturdays.  It’s a way for them all to bond.  Will tries to see if he can lap them, even though they say, “you’re old, Daddy!”  His wife is supportive of his running and has even started the couch to 5k program.  He hopes to do a family 5k in the near future.  If his skills for inspiration are anywhere close to what he displays with his FTM teammates, the Etti’s will be crossing the finish line in no time.

Zien has had his eye on William since he first joined the group, and has an idea for how to his positive energy to good use.  In addition to wanting Will to have a great race in Baltimore this year, Zien’s other hope for Etti is to see him inspire others more formally “I would love to see him coach,  he would do a great job, people like him – I see him as someone who actually cares,” Zien said of Etti.

Amelia McKeithen (left) before the 2014 Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon, for which she was the top fundraiser for Girls on the Run DC. Photo: MarathonFoto
Amelia McKeithen (left) before the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon, for which she was the top fundraiser for Girls on the Run DC. Photo: MarathonFoto

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Peer pressure and convinced Amelia McKeithen, of D.C.,  to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon, but her fundraising goal will help her stick with her training.


Amelia McKeithen claims she lacks discipline.

It’s easy to believe at first.  Outgoing, and warmly self-effacing, she makes light of the accomplishments under her belt.  Things like biking across the country for charity and, at 30, landing exactly the kind of job she identified for herself in law school.  It’s possible that she holds herself to a higher standard of discipline.

If so, D.C. is certainly the right place for her – the fit, social, go-getter lived here briefly after college, and since moving back in 2013, finds even more about the city to love.

“It’s been great to see all the changes that have been made,” she said. “D.C. has really become a city you can root for.”

Compact but strong, McKeithen was actually introduced to running when she rowed in high school outside of Philly.  She always placed high in the run portion of team training, much better than she did on the erg.  She ran on her own while she was in college, enjoying the mental benefits as well as how it helped her keep in shape.

McKeithen moved to D.C. right after graduating from the University of Virginia and immediately started running with a Monday night Pacers fun run group as a “healthy, social outlet.” She found a place to connect with people that she enjoyed as a change from just going out (though there was plenty of going out afterwards, just getting a run in first!). She did the same when she moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt for law school.  Her first half marathon was a charity race that her boss heavily encouraged her into doing.  She sort of trained, and hoped to break two hours.  She actually ended up coming in somewhere in the 1:40’s.

“I don’t think of myself as a competitive person, but it seems every time I do a race I achieve more than I expect,” she said.  When she participated in Ragnar, she said, “I’ve never run with a watch, I don’t run many races,” so when asked to estimate how long her leg would take, she said “I overestimated by A LOT, the van wasn’t even there.”

One of the reasons she signed up to do the Marine Corps Marathon this year is that, having turned 30, she wants to prove she can do things she would otherwise say she couldn’t, like skiing, which she tried for the first time on her 30th birthday.  The marathon is something she feels capable of physically, the obstacle she anticipates is sticking to the preparation.

The other main motivator for her Marine Corps bid is the charity she’s representing and raising money for.  Amelia first heard about the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health through a friend who does fundraising, and she is drawn to their mission of providing support, resources, and a feeling of home for the families of children who are battling various childhood illnesses.  It’s a way, she said, to “take advantage of my health and well-being and raise funds for kids who have so many physical challenges.”

The Inn has been served over 12,000 families since opening in 1990, and provides an atmosphere for kids receiving treatment at NIH for life-threatening and other serious illnesses a place to spend time with their parents and siblings that has a sense of community and caring one couldn’t find in a hotel room.  The staff provides not only lodging but activities and field trips for the families to spend time together, giving them much needed reprieve from the hours in hospital rooms.

McKeithen isn’t an avid racer, and the main reason she’s apt to sign up for a race is for charity. “If I’m only accountable to myself it isn’t interesting or compelling,” she says with a shrug.  Her first experience with an audacious physical challenge was the bike ride across the United States, which was exactly a decade ago.  She rode with Bike and Build, which raises awareness and funds for affordable housing.

When asked what challenges she anticipates when it comes to training, Amelia offers that self-discipline is her main concern.  In the second and third half marathons she’s completed, she did a lot of cross-training, which helped her overall strength, but she’s mindful that “you can’t just fake a marathon” as she puts it.

“My whole problem with training is I really hate being told what to do — even by myself,” she said, going on to admit that she’s not likely to stick to a training plan – if she feels like running 7 miles, she’s going to, even if her plan says 3, and vice versa. The other worry she has is the heat, as she said, “I’m worried it’s going to be a record hot summer.  I’m a baby when it comes to running in the heat.  I think I hate the heat more than the treadmill.”

In her first half marathon, she found that her back was uncomfortably sore for awhile afterwards – and not the good, post-workout, sore.  So she used a lot of cross-training, including Pilates and an erg to keep herself in overall form.  She calls her cross-train heavy approach the “I can do what I want” training plan and is worried it might nor cut it for the full marathon.  “I just don’t want to break myself,” she says, of her marathon training.

McKeithen is excited about running the Marine Corps Marathon and experiencing another “quintessential DC race” after completing her first Cherry Blossom Ten Mile. She isn’t making any brash declarations of time or flip assumptions that she’ll make it.  She thinks the biggest challenge to her completing this new feat is going to be her own ability to regulate herself.

Amelia is a social runner by nature who has actually conscripted two of her former Nashville running club training partners to join her for Marine Corps, She’s grateful for the support, though they will only be able to support each other remotely, as they live in different states.  Amelia doesn’t have a plan yet for doing long runs with groups.  But, she knows that Children’s Inn coordinates training meet-ups and once a month, so she’ll most likely join up with those.

Her training won’t begin in earnest until July, so we’ll catch up to her then and see how she’s faring with the heat & the discipline!

Matt Deters Photo: Cheryl Young
Matt Deters at the 2015 Cherry Blossom race. Photo: Cheryl Young

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Matt Deters is an Arlingtonian who resumed running seriously a few years ago and has improved rapidly. Given his druthers, he’d already have retired from the marathon, but he’s giving it another shot.


Matt Deters has already run his perfect marathon…almost.  And as anyone who cares about running knows, almost doesn’t matter.

Last spring was a great season for Matt Deters.  He consistently peeled off intense, competitive speed, tempo and long run workouts with his Capital Area Runners (CAR) teammates.  He posted a 1:09:45 at the Shamrock Half and a 48:45 at the truncated Cherry Blossom 9.39 miler.

Teammate Greg Mariano has observed Matt’s improvement leading up to last spring’s season.  “It seemed like it came out of nowhere.  Obviously it didn’t – he was putting in the miles and working hard, but, in the fall I was lapping him in tempo runs and by the spring we were running together.”

Deters was primed for a great race when he showed up to April’s Glass City marathon in Toledo, Ohio.  He was ready to reach his goal of 2:30.  His previous PR was a 2:50, and he was prepped to blow it out of the water. The goal is a personal one – just something the 30 year old Arlington resident thinks he can do but won’t be easy “running is almost always arbitrary,” he says, when, like him, you’re fast but not at the Olympic level.

Deters was well on the way to his mark, hitting 5:40s consistently all the way to the 21 mile point.  He pushed the pace, passing the fifth place runner.  A little more than 2.5 miles after taking a right at the direction of a course marshal, he realized he was supposed to have been pointed left.

Mariano was also on the course that day, and was also misdirected, by a bike escort in his case, though he didn’t go as far off course as Deters and did end up with a third place finish.  Mariano describes his own mood as agitated, but, of Matt, he laughs and said, “his attitude was better than mine.”

“Life is really ironic sometimes,” Deters said he remembers thinking to himself at the time. Three days later, he signed up for November’s Philadelphia marathon.

Deters is looking forward to achieving his goal this fall by following the same plan as he did this spring with his CAR teammates.  “I have a great group of guys to train with,” he says.  Teammates Greg Mariano and Doug Smith are training for California International two weeks after Philly, so their training schedules will coincide.

Another bonus of choosing Philly – it’s a big city race, so, he said,  “I won’t get lost.”

Deters credits running with CAR as the impetus for a turning point in his training.  Meeting three days a week for tempo runs, long runs, and hill or interval training, the men he races with are a good group, and they push him to work harder.

Greg Mariano agreed. “We have a really good group dynamic, we really want to succeed as a team, and we train like that,” he said. “Even though we compete against each other, it’s more supportive than competitive.”

Running has been a part of Deters’ life since he was in middle school.  “I was the fat kid,” he said simply, growing up in his small town of Ottowa, Ohio, “(he was) made fun of, last picked for kickball, all those clichés were true.”

In the seventh grade, he joined Weight Watchers with his mom, lost weight, and grew.  He started sneaking out to the track at night to run in the dark because he was embarrassed to be seen exercising.  The next year, one of his friends forged his name on the sign-up sheet for the track team.  He didn’t want to do it at first, but stuck with it.

Deter went from one of the lower performing athletes on the team to winning league and districts in the 1600 meters his junior year.  His first battle with injury came in high school, when a bout with the plantar fasciitis he still has to fend off periodically sidelined him.

He ran as a walk-on at Ohio University his freshman year, but when he transferred to Bowling Green University he needed “time to work and drink,” as he put it.  Driving for UPS and going to school kept him busy.

Shortly after college, when he was 24, Deters got back into running.  He was enjoying reconnecting with “that positive vibe you get from running.”  Then he took a fall so severe it sheared the cartilage off his femur, and ended up needing surgery to repair micro fractures around his knee.

Two years later, he ran the Marine Corps marathon just shy of three hours.  “It was terrible, I hit the wall and everything.” At the time, he was putting in 40-50 miles a week.  He says he really got back into running in 2013 when he joined CAR.

He says it’s a whole different ballgame, pointing to teammates as a motivating factor in his training, “you have those guys at a workout right by you and they’re just pushing it,” it makes him work harder, Deters asserts.  He also credits teammate Susanna Sullivan with introducing him to pool running, which he began using as a recovery tool, but now features prominently in his training.

In addition to three workouts a week with his team, Deters gets his miles in most days to and from work.  He treks from Arlington to Foggy Bottom on his running commute, does a core workout and has nine miles under his belt by the time he assumes his post at his office in financial assistance at GWU.

He likes commuting via running because “it saves so much time, and it forces you to do it – there’s no way you’re not putting in the miles.”

Between now and his 14 week training cycle that will start in August, Deters is working on speed, doing 5ks and finessing his turnover.  He’ll also get ready to bump his current mileage of 70-80 miles per week to anywhere from 90-105 miles.  He’ll continue with his core and foam rolling routines and, hopefully, recreate a Glass City-caliber performance for a full 26.2.


In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Reston’s Meghan Ridgley is the most experienced marathoner we are following, and reflecting on those experiences will help inform her training as she prepares for the Philadelphia Marathon.


Meghan Ridgley at the 2014 Run for the Parks 10k. Photo: Potomac River Running
Meghan Ridgley at the 2014 Run for the Parks 10k. Photo: Potomac River Running

For Meghan Ridgley, life has presented a series of options.  “Not running” hasn’t really been one of them.

Unlike many competitive runners, Meghan went straight from her collegiate career to racing marathons.  A track and cross country standout at both George Marshall High School and Radford University, she made the switch from middle distance to marathoning with a decisive splash.

Her first marathon was Philadelphia, in 2003, where she qualified for the Olympic trials with a 2:46:52.  She went into the 2004 U.S Olympic Team Trials in St. Louis with raging tendonitis and gastro-intestinal issues, but ran anyway. “I wasn’t gonna not run,” she said with a shrug.

Meghan did what she could to take in the experience, despite the physical discomfort, and remembers the thrill of being alongside running royalty like Deena Kastor and Jen Rhines.

After taking the remainder of 2004 off due to Achilles tendon issues, she was back training as soon as she recovered.

“Once you get into the marathon mindset, you kinda get tunnel vision,” she said.

Ridgley tried to do the Marine Corps Marathon two weeks after she got back from her honeymoon in 2005 and, not properly trained, the race didn’t go well.  She ended up dropping out and, “it left a vendetta against Marine Corps,” Meghan said.  Her attempt at redemption in 2008 was thwarted by mono, though she still managed to eke out a 2:58 finish, impressive considering the circumstances.

Ridgley has no such blood feud with the city of brotherly love, though.  The race has been good to her – a qualifier, and high performances, if some near misses.

On the list of things that haven’t slowed Meghan Ridgley down, motherhood is at the top.  Her daughter Miranda, now 7, has been watching Mom run basically since birth.  Ridgley had her daughter in the fall of 2007 and ran the Shamrock Marathon the next spring.  Many of her training runs for that race consisted of Meghan running on the treadmill with Miranda napping in the stroller next to her.

The sport took on a new importance when Ridgley became a mother, “it became an escape, a way to have my own identity, to have me time,” she said.

Now, Miranda rolls around in the spinning chair at the chiropractor while Ridgley gets adjusted, plays while her mom coaches for Potomac River Running’s training program, and has been to countless races. Meghan would never think of dropping back on her training load for Miranda’s sake.  Ridgley does what she loves – working at a running store, coaching other runners, and racing at a high level, and things it sets a good example. “You have to take care of yourself, you have to have things that make you thrive and happy, because it trickles down to the kid – your kid soaks you up – they want to be like you and if they see you doing things that make you happy, then they see that,” Meghan explains.

In 2009 she ran her current PR at the Twin Cities Marathon — 2:46:38 — in what she calls “an amazing race.” The rolling hills of the point to point contest are her favorite type of course.  She missed qualifying by 38 seconds and an unnecessary pit stop. She placed 34th overall, and because the women’s field was so competitive, in a departure from most of her races, she was never alone, a change from her training routine.

Ridgley won the Shamrock Marathon in 2010 at 2:52.  Whether she describes the race as another near miss or a huge accomplishment “depends on the audience,” she said. She had trained through the infamous DC Snowmageddon winter without missing a day of outside runs, and had a perfect day – 55 and sunny. Later that year in Philly in she again missed a qualifier with a 2:48.

Then, while training for Philly in 2011 something she never thought possible happened.  She fell out of love with running.  She found herself in training runs “wishing I would fall and break an ankle or accidentally get pregnant” so she wouldn’t have to run.  “It was debilitating” Ridgley said, “being a competitive runner had defined me.  I wasn’t going to be fast forever. It was putting a strain on my marriage.”

Gradually, the thing that had been so important to Meghan as a means to maintain her identity and sense of self was slipping away.  For the first time, she stepped away from competing. The break ended up being something that she needed.  She was back in Philly in 2012, and finished in 2:52.

In 2013 strains mainly unrelated to running led to her separation and divorce. Meghan didn’t race that fall but did sign up for Boston the day after the split.  She ran the iconic marathon in 2014, the year after the tragic bombings in 2014.  She was only partially trained and not chasing a trial time. “I experienced everything,” she said of her 3:01 finish.  She does want to go back and race it.

Ridgley doesn’t just run in her spare time, most of her day is running.  She tried to do a 9-5 for less than a year in 2013-2014, but, she said, “I kept getting in trouble for talking too much.” She kept coaching during that time, and now she’s back working at Potomac River Running in Reston where “I get to talk about what I love every day” she said.

She’s been a coach for the last five years. “If you asked me to coach 10 years ago I wouldn’t have done it, I was too selfish as a runner. But it’s so rewarding to hear people come back from a 10 mile run, and say, ‘wow, that’s the longest I’ve ever done in my life.” It’s let me find the joy in running and keep it fun.”  Coaching adds a new layer to her life in running, she said — “while I can compete, it’s not my job.  I want to be running forever.  It’s so rewarding to share my experience.  I thrive on it.”

She has proteges from beginners to ultra-marathoners and she feels that coaching lets her experience the sport through a new lens.  And the new perspective comes at a fitting time.  To run forever, Meghan is going to have to slow down.  A recent orthoscopic cleanout bought her some time but her foot is going to need to be rebuilt with grafts and pins sometime in the next two years.

Until then? “I’ve got one or two fast races in me.” Philly could be her last chance at an Olympic Trial qualifier.

Ridgley’s current focus is base training.  She’s building up mileage, currently doing 50-60 miles per week.  She knows that 70-80 miles per week is her upper limit, and she’ll work up to it gradually.  She’s also reintroducing speed work temperately as well, with progression work and tempo paced runs over the next 4-6 weeks.  Then she’ll be doing twice weekly speed workouts. She has also shifted her diet to 90% Paleo.  She’s hoping the overhaul helps her chances overall.

She’s doing this training cycle while juggling work, coaching, and motherhood, but she takes it all in stride.  Meghan Ridgley, runner, mom, coach, talker, knows who she is going into this year’s Philadelphia Marathon.  And while she’s backing high hopes with hard work, she’s not going to be defined by her time.


In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. First up is Burtonsville, Md.’s William Etti.

William Etti at the 2014 Parks Half Marathon. Photo: Dan Reichmann
William Etti at the 2014 Parks Half Marathon. Photo: Dan Reichmann

Calling William Etti’s return to running a comeback is just the beginning.

He first saw runners doing track workouts when he was in the fifth grade, and was intrigued.  “I tried it,” he said, “and I sucked.”

Etti came back to track in high school, and as a freshman, admits some of the girls beat him in early workouts, but he strove to improve.

Running year-round at Parkdale high school helped him get below the 5:00 mark for the mile, though Etti admits that he burnt out after years of training seven days a week, doing two-a-days, tying tires and parachutes to his waist.  He competed in the 4×400, 4×800, mile and two-mile during indoor and outdoor track, plus cross country, running with summer teams and training on his own mornings and weekends.  He ran at University of Maryland briefly, but, after finding it difficult to balance the demands of school and social life, he stopped running.

Life, without running, went on.  After a field trip to National Institutes of Health in high school, he realized “there are all sorts of ways to help people without being a doctor.”  After what felt like 100 applications, he volunteered to work for free to gain experience, went back to school to get a masters, and continues to work where he set his sights back in high school today.  He started a family.

Will kept working out, hitting the gym and lifting weights, but he was pretty sure he’d never run again.

Then, in 2009, Will was rear-ended by a drunk driver, rendered unable to walk or even speak without pain.  His doctor warned him of lifting weights due to lower vertebrae damage, and in the ensuing path of recovery, doing physical therapy to come back to a new normal, Will packed on some pounds – carrying 217 pounds on his 5”7’ frame. His doctor recommended he focus on cardiovascular health when he was well enough to run again, since his previous lifting regimen would aggravate the injuries to his vertebrae.

In 2012, he started running with a fun run group in Silver Spring.  It was unstructured, with a mix of different paces.  More than anything, it was fun.  He began to enjoy the camaraderie.  Even when he’s out on the trails by himself, he enjoys the fellowship of runners, high-fiving strangers on the trails, gleaning inspiration from their miles.

The road back from the accident and its aftermath made Etti “a lot more appreciative” of being able to simply run.  Winning and being the fastest are not his goals.  He originally joined the Montgomery Country Road Runners with the idea that he might do a 5k or two. At the time, it seemed to be the right distance for him.

“I would never do a marathon,” he said of his early plans. “Why would you put yourself through that?”

Well, the 5k was a gateway race. One that led to a 10k, then a 10k to a half, and eventually he signed up for the First Time Marathoners program and the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon.

When asked how Marine Corps went, he laughs and said, “sometimes you learn more from your failures than from your mistakes.”

He went out fast, sticking with the 4:45 pace group, but got hit with cramping at mile 16 that he never recovered from.  He ended up walking significant portions of the remainder of the course, but in that span made the effort to experience the marathon – the spectators, the other runners, the stories on the course.  Even in pain, he was able to find inspiration around him.

He’s signed up for the Baltimore Marathon this year, because as a lifelong Marylander (and Ravens fan), he says he wants to support his home state.  But, Marine Corps falls on his birthday this year, so he’s signed up for that, too.  A week apart, he’s not planning on doing both.

Coach Conroy Zien said that, due to previous race times, Etti was placed in the 9:40 pace group, but that Will has moved himself back to the 11:30 group.  Zien was surprised at the seemingly drastic drop back, but considered it indicative of Will’s overall approach.  That fits in nicely with the First Time Marathoners approach. “He enjoys running, and he buys into our philosophy – he’s not looking to set any records for speed,” Zien said.

Zien also comments on the energy that Etti brings to the group.  Zien notices that Etti is an inspiration to the other runners who participate.  That’s at the core of what keeps Etti out on the trails, whether solo or with his pace group – he says that he gains inspiration from other runners and that he hopes that he in turn provides the same to them.

Etti notices that his sons have taken in the idea of persistence by observing him doing his training runs, working through injury, and making it through his first marathon even though it didn’t go as planned. He had a bout with IT band syndrome last season that took a lot of foam rolling and some limping races to come back from.  After seeing him hobble through the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon, his sons asked him why he did it.  He sat down with them and they watched You Tube videos of people running, including athletes with prosthetics, and told them that the important thing wasn’t to win, it was to try.

“Running doesn’t mean that you have it all or you’re perfect, just that you push yourself,” he said in summation to his sons. “You can always challenge yourself.”

Etti’s hope is that by just running, he can add value to other people’s lives.  He’s been known to high five strangers on the trails on his regular runs, and offer encouragement to his fellow runners in training.  “I meet so many people through running. Even when I just see other people out on the trails it inspires me, just the love of running,” he said.

He says he’ll be happy just to finish without injury, but he also has in mind that a sub 5:00 hour finish is within reach.  He’s working on using different fuel to prevent cramping, including a camel pack full of coconut water on his long runs and various types of Gu and other fuel. Zien thinks Etti has the chance to see a great improvement over last year’s marathon, but shares the primary goal for him of finishing without injury.

Teal Burrell crosses the finish line at the 2014 California International Marathon. Photo: Sport Photo
Teal Burrell crosses the finish line at the 2014 California International Marathon. Photo: Sport Photo

People watch the Olympics and get inspired to try a new sport, or to work out a little harder at things they already do. Some even have a fleeting memory of past glory and say, yeah, if only I hadn’t quit my sport early, if only I had worked harder, I could have done that.

Not a lot of people say: I’m going for it.

Even fewer shave 36 minutes off their marathon PR in five years and actually qualify to run with the most elite marathon field in their country at the Olympic Trials. Teal Burrell did. On Dec. 7, 2014, at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, she finished in 2:42:13, a 10-minute PR and a qualifying time for the trials by a handy cushion of 47 seconds.

Going by her recent times, Teal (named for the duck, not the color: her parents were hippies, her father an ornithologist) would appear to be among the elite. These are the runners, it seems, of superhuman sinew, who are finishing while people in the last corral are still waiting for a porta-pottie.

[button-red url=”” target=”_self” position=”left”] Teal’s blog[/button-red]Teal is an elite runner, but she started out as one of those mere mortals, a member of the middle of the pack, chugging along the streets of Charlottesville in a cotton t-shirt, finishing her first marathon in 2005 in 4:07. She was still a college student, and that “beer and burritofueled” marathon was going to be her last.

Until it wasn’t. A few years later, she started back up, with an idea that she would qualify for Boston (3:40 at the time). She thought lowering her time that much would take a while, and kept preparing family and friends, and herself, for setbacks. On her first try, though, she qualified for Boston by 11 minutes.

From there, the goals she set for herself became progressively more challenging, but she continued to doggedly chip away at them in sometimes agonizingly slow increments. Though she ran in high school, Teal claims that she didn’t have any  real competitive drive then; even today, her only real sense of competition is with herself.

“I’m not someone who will just run if I’m not working towards a goal,” she said. “I guess I’m just really competitive with myself. … I have an amazing support system, no one’s telling me ‘You’re not going to make the trials,’ because I don’t have jerky friends.”

What keeps Teal fighting is the part of her that says she can’t, a voice she  constantly strives to silence.

Teal has been climbing the ladder towards the Olympic Trials since her first Boston Marathon in 2009. Living and training in Boston at the time, that’s when she became obsessed with the running lifestyle, when running really absorbed her. She first set her sights on breaking three hours, a feat she accomplished in 2011 partly due to the pacing efforts of her brother, Blake Connor, whom she enjoys an encouraging rivalry with (Blake is the reigning 10-mile family champion, a title that she mentions came in a post-marathon race that only he was really training for).

The concept Teal uses to describe her progression from a recreational marathoner to an Olympic Trials qualifier is “chiseling,” and it’s such a perfect description. Because what runner hasn’t felt, at some point, as futile as a rock hammer against a mountain, and in the same year, month or breath, hasn’t seen a line of muscle or a log week and thought – is this the same person who once said, “I’ll never be that fast?”

Teal’s secret to the next great achievement is setting small goals between the big ones. She knew she wasn’t going to get to the trials from one race to the next, or in one season, that it was going to be important to keep moving forward, keep challenging herself, and keep bouncing back.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Teal has had plenty of races where her  performance didn’t meet her goals, where her times didn’t match up to all the hard work she had put into her training. Her teammates say that she channels that disappointment into working that much harder for the next time.

She likens it to her years in the lab as a scientist. You try experiments over and over and it’s incredibly frustrating and they don’t go as planned, but you just keep trying. Running, to her, can be similar – you keep expecting something to work and many days it just doesn’t.

In 2013, Teal suffered a hip injury, the first time she had really been hurt. She came back cautiously, after using physical therapy to learn that some of her stretching techniques needed some tweaking. She also added yoga and foam rolling to her routine after her comeback.

In June of 2012, Teal joined the Georgetown Running Club. She said the improvement she’s seen from track workouts, the accountability, the support and caliber of her teammates and the positive encouragement of coach Jerry Alexander have been the high points of running with a group. The biggest thing, she said, is “having another voice, when you have a bad day or a bad race, another person there that knows what he’s talking about” and can override the internal voice that tells her she’s not good enough.

Alexander has seen Teal’s improvement since joining the team most dramatically in track workouts. Not having run competitively in college, Teal was uncomfortable, nervous, and lacked confidence. But she knew that she needed to do the work on the track to reach her goal, so she kept at it.

He thinks that the team atmosphere helped Teal work towards her goal because it gives her an added incentive to show up and suit up after setbacks. He thinks the other women on the squad helped reinforce one of the toughest truths of running, which is that sometimes you put in all the work, have a perfect day, a great plan, and it’s just not your day. He noted, as an example, Teal’s performance in Boston in 2014, when she was primed to break 2:50 with a great training cycle and finished in 2:58.

After that, the message Teal heard from her coach and the other women on the team was that a bad race doesn’t make you a bad runner. She would be ready when her day did come, and come it did.

Alexander framed her Sacramento performance as an upset victory of willfulness over hesitation.

“Teal is an example of setting a goal and going after it,” he said. “On paper, she had no business running that fast, but she was 100 percent focused on doing it. She put in the work, and on the day it was meant to be she took advantage, and it was an incredible accomplishment: the kind of performance that galvanizes a team and humbles a community.”

While Teal has certainly benefited from the energy and camaraderie of the other women on the team, they draw equal if not greater inspiration from her.

Teammate Kerry Allen goes to Teal for advice on marathon training, and plans to emulate her incremental mileage increase and the long run strategy Teal used that had her working up to 16 miles at marathon pace effort.

Kerry joined GRC shortly after Teal, and has found inspiration watching a teammate achieve a goal she, too, has set for herself.

“She’s a testament to the importance of believing in yourself,” Allen said.

Teammate Julie Tarallo was at the California International Marathon with Teal and crossed the finish line shortly after her achievement.

“She had put a lot into this race,” Tarallo said, and for Teal to reach her goal “says volumes about how tough and gutsy she is.”

In the same conversation she also talked about Teal’s patience. That’s the difference between people who only dream big and those who achieve big dreams. Logging the thousands of small steps in between, and being ready to go all out when the dream is within reach.

If you’re stuck in the mid-winter motivation lull, or have given up for the umpteenth time on your stupid, too-big-to-dare-dream-of goal, then Teal’s blog, is required reading. If you find yourself dialing back your goals for the race season, or diminishing what you think you’re capable of in the long term, know that, in five years, Teal Burrell set and achieved the goal to do what only around 200 women in the United States in each Olympic cycle will achieve.

Next time you’re talking yourself into giving up, read her post on the day she qualified, and try to keep telling yourself to never give up. Chances are, you’ll end up daring yourself, Teal Burrell-style, to “Dream Big.”

Photo: Cheryl Young
A mile into the Alexandria Turkey Trot, Austin Coneys has not overheated, despite his turkey costume. David McWilliams, left, went on to finish well ahead. Photo: Cheryl Young

On a holiday renowned for gluttony, the winners at the Alexandria Turkey Trot ended up getting just enough, not too much.

For Kevin McNab, it meant a narrow win over Georgetown University cross county runner Collin Leibold, both timed at 24:32. For Susanna Sullivan, all she really needed was one second by which to break the women’s course record — 27:13.

All the excess came in the turnout, the race’s second biggest in its 39 years. Nearly 4,000 participants finished, and their entry fees went to benefit the ALIVE food charity.

[button-red url=”″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]The flat, fast five-mile course traverses the streets of Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood.  It’s a holiday tradition for families and friends, with a robust dog and stroller contingent.  Dedicated residents set up cheering stations in their front yards or along sidewalks to cheer the runners on, their only defense from the cold their winter coats and a bloody mary or two.  The race includes a number of sudden turns through the neighborhood, so includes a fair amount of blind spots for the front running contingency.

McNab, of Washington, D.C. leaned in over Leibold, but it didn’t look like it would be that close early on. Twenty seconds behind the lead pack for the first two miles, “I was in no man’s land,” McNabb said, between the first group and another contingent behind him.  He closed the gap between three and 3.5 miles and unfurled at a punishing pace from that point on.

It was an elbow-to-elbow scrum of seven runners until the very end.  The finish line is a quick veer into the George Washington Middle School’s parking lot, and it came as a surprise to McNab.  Leibold, too, was caught off guard by the finish line, saying that he “wasn’t expecting it because it wasn’t starting to hurt yet.”  The pre-med major is getting some extra races in after a season shortened by injury.

Sullivan defended her title from 2013, a gratifying win after what she called a “wild fall” which included more time in the pool than the roads due to a stress fracture in her shin.  She and second place finisher Mahlet Melese fought it out for a mile and a half but Sullivan pulled out all the stops in the final quarter mile.

Sullivan’s favorite part of the race, after family there to cheer her on, was the crowds of middle-of the pack runners cheering her along on the out and back section of Commonwealth.  “I felt like a celebrity,” she said.  The conviviality of both runners and spectators is a favorite element of the Alexandria Turkey Trot, and a yearly highlight in the community that claims its “where main street still exists.”

Local legend and elite ultramarathoner Michael Wardian made a new record-breaking effort.  He placed first in the 40-49 age group as well as the dog category with his one year old Viszla, Rosie in 27:38.  He “let her control her own pace,” said Wardian, who was beaming with pride at his puppy’s debut.   While the Alexandria Turkey Trot did not have an official running with dog record category, consensus was that Michael won it, and if next year’s race includes a canine category, Rosie will definitely be the bunny every pup is gunning for.

Of course it wouldn’t be a turkey trot without someone dressed like a turkey, and Alexandrian John Galer not only delivered, but he upped the stakes a little by assembling a team of four pilgrims to chase him.  Designated the turkey by the group of 5 because he was fastest, John finished first and waited at the finish line as  Emily Galer, AJ Menton, Aanan Patel, and Mike Lucas trickled in.

The group’s plan for the rest of the day consisted of a pilgrimage of sorts – a four-stop Thanksgiving tour of the District and Alexandria.  The group, who has been celebrating “Friends-giving” for close to a decade, thought that their pre-emptive calorie burn was sound preparation for their day-long travelling feast.  Wherever they end up, the closing note of the tradition is to wind up the night with a viewing of Home Alone, to signify the beginning of the Christmas season.

Whether racing all out for a course record or enjoying the celebratory atmosphere, the participants of the Alexandria Turkey Trot started off their holiday in festive five-mile fashion.

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