I went to the woods to feed my soul; to gain back energy drained by a fast-paced life; to feel something other than cement beneath my feet. I found what I was looking for at Greenbelt Park. It was a massage for the senses, an elixir for the mind, a balm for the body. Greenbelt Park offers the sights of tall trees on a hot summer day, beams of sunlight straight off a prayer card, and melodies of birds for my ears only. It’s definitely not for those seeking an overly technical and mountainous trail experience, but it fills a need to experience the road less traveled with less traveling.
It’s Saturday morning and the sun is just starting to rise over the Potomac, spreading its orange rays over the rowers out on the water. It’s quiet and cool. The roads are empty. Near Whitlows on Wilson in Arlington, though, a sleepy Saturday morning disappears – a timing clock counts down to the 5k start time.
It’s Clarendon Day; Every September, the community celebrates the unique flavor of the Clarendon neighborhood with a street fair, live music and children’s activities. The day kicks off with a pair of 5k and 10k races, both of which start in front of the Whitlows restaurant and finish near the Rosslyn metro station.
The Clarendon Day 5k and 10k races’ tagline of “Be the Boss of Wilson Boulevard” dovetails with the lore that precedes them in the running community. The downhill start has tricked many a runner into going out too fast and then having to deal with burning legs for the last third of the race. Participants have the option of running both races, provided he or she can finish the 5k and still make it back up Clarendon Boulevard in time for the start of the 10k an hour later. Plenty of people do find their Saturday morning beginning with a 5k, a metro ride or trot back up the hill to the start and a 10k immediately after. One area man, Ryan Hunt, lost a bet and ran both races in a full suit and tie; placing 5th in the double division and proving you really can “suit up” for any occasion. For Owen, an Arlington resident dressed in traditional running attire, the double proved to be a challenge, “I went all out in the 5k and found myself beat up before I even started the 10k, but the spectators and the signs along the route really pumped me up.”
Not everybody could be duped by the hill. Local favorite and Asics sponsored Claire Hallissey toed the line facing tough competition from another local runner, Kristen Anderson. These two women faced off at the DC Road Runners Track Mile in July and both broke the Clarendon Day 5k course record, with Hallissey finishing in 16:37 and Anderson in 16:48. After her win, Hallissey jogged back up the hill for the start of the 10k, where she finished second to Pacers-New Balance’s Kerri Gallagher. Of decision to double, Hallissey said “I’m very familiar with that hill since I live in Clarendon, but it was the thought of the 10k to come which really helped me to hold back on the pace going down it the first time.” Hallissey also clinched the Women’s Double victory with a combined time of 51:56.
Pacers-New Balance’s Kerri Gallagher, a 1500 meter specialist who finished 5th at the 2013 Track and Field Championships, might claim that 10-milers and 10ks are not her forte, but she proves racing different distances might just be a recipe for success. The New-Yorker-turned-Virginia-resident’s finish at the Clarendon Day 10k in 34:30 broke the previous course record by over two minutes and has her feeling optimistic about Oct. 20’s Army Ten-Miler, where she will return to defend her 2012 title.
On the men’s side, American University graduate Mark Leininger led wire-wire to win the 5k in 14:54 and local running club The Dojo of Pain’s Chris Pruitt claimed second in 15:09. In the 10k, Chris Kwiatkowski and Paul Thistle, training partners with the Pacers-New Balance team and first time racers on the course, finished one-two. Kwiatkowski claimed the win and a new course record of 30:08 with Thistle finishing in 30:41 to claim second in his first attempt at the 10k distance. They are looking to build on their 10k performances at November’s .US Road Racing Championship 12k in Alexandria. The race lineup includes the Championship 12k a 12k open division, 5k and ½-mile kids’ fun run.
For some local runners like Hunter Benante, the day was a good chance to run part of the Marine Corps Marathon course. “I’ll be running on that same road on Marine Corps race day and it’s great to get out there and get a feel for the course. Plus, the double is just great fun.” For some runners, the morning races are the best way to start a day devoted to a community filled with runners. Said one Clarendon resident, “Clarendon Day is definitely one of my favorite days of the year- a 5k, street fair and drink specials? What more could you ask for?”
What more indeed. It’s just another day at the races.