by Katie Bolton May 18, 2017 at 6:18 pm 1 Comment

Emergency personnel Photo: Bob Burgess

Emergency medical personnel arrive for the 2017 ACLI Capital Challenge. Photo: Bob Burgess

Runners who enjoyed the mild start to May were reminded Wednesday morning that conditions can get uncomfortable and downright dangerous quickly. And more likely than not, tough temperature and humidity will be a factor for the next few months.

Nowhere was that more apparent than at the ACLI Capital Challenge in Anacostia Park, an annual three-mile race that gathers a collection of runners and non-runner colleagues, game for the competition, from the three branches of government and the media.

Race director Jeff Darman always brings an abundance of caution to the event, including extra medical personnel and three defibrillators spread across the course to attend to the VIPs taking part. This year, finishers included Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark), John Cornyn(R-Texas), and Tammy Duckworth(D-Ill.); Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.), and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.); a number of judges; and hundreds more staffers.

But it was two competitors who didn’t finish who brought mainstream media attention to the race and reminded runners that they should recognize the perils of running in high heat and humidity.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) collapsed in the third mile, gathering the bulk of the attention. In a video posted to Twitter from the hospital, the Tillis declared: “I’m fine!… Got overheated. No CPR, no special measures.”  

Another man, Tommy Mourad, had a medical emergency on the course and was taken to Washington Hospital Center via helicopter. He was resting in the hospital Wednesday evening and “a positive outcome is expected,” according to a media release by his employers. Mourad is the Director of Guide Dog Training Operations at the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, the race’s beneficiary organization.

Prior to the race, Darman says he met with the medical team to discuss the temperatures. Runners are never more than a half-mile from medical staff, but they focused on the finish line, which he finds to be the most common site of struggle in any race conditions.

“We talked about being really keen that the finish line people knew where the medical people were,” he says. “Just being really vigilant because if it got hot, to be ready.”

At the start, he says, he reminded runners, “It’s hot here, please keep that in mind.”

Despite these precautions, the heat still proved a major challenge.

Later in the day, Tillis tweeted again from his office thanking the first responders and good Samaritans who came to his aid. One of those good Samaritans, TJ Cooney, was relieved and impressed by the Senator’s resilience.

“He went to work today,” Cooney marveled. “So like, holy shit.”

Cooney, a video producer at AARP and casual runner, approached the race by hydrating, stretching, and having a potassium-rich banana for breakfast. He was enjoying the race despite the conditions, until he noticed another runner faint on the side of the course. The former lifeguard and veteran of “high-pressure roles” reacted instinctively to a person collapsing.

“You gotta be the guy that stays calm,” he says. He called 911 while another runner, whom Cooney believes was an off-duty police officer, attended to the man on the ground. (Despite Tillis’ reassurances, Cooney says the other runner did perform CPR.) Tillis regained consciousness when medical personnel arrived, and Cooney was surprised to hear his Southern accent.

As EMTs prepared to transport the Tillis to the hospital, Cooney shook his hand and reassured him, “You’re ok. You’re in good hands,” then continued the race.


Heat will stick around

With temperatures forecast in the 90s Friday, runners should remember to take extra precautions to prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It takes time to acclimate to big temperature changes, so this heat wave may even be more demanding on runners’ bodies than similar conditions in August.

Tammy Whyte, a coach for Potomac River Running’s 101 and 201, planned to adjust her group’s Thursday evening track workout to account for the temperatures. She recommends the same for others.

“Typically when it’s warm like this, a few things we caution runners. One is to slow down, listen to your body. Definitely hydrate as you’re running…. I think those are the biggest things,” she says.

For the metric-minded who might have a goal pace for their workout, “Don’t try to hit that pace,” she urges. She recommends online tools like this temperature-based pace calculator to help runners match their effort with the heat or humidity.

At their workout, Whyte will monitor her athletes closely to catch them before they experience the nausea, lightheadedness, and cramps of dehydration or, worse, the clammy skin and “loopiness” of heat stroke. She emphasizes communication whether on the track or a long run. She’ll check in with runners frequently and stop anyone who exhibits symptoms.

“I probably will, tomorrow, just bring Gatorade myself,” she says. “Electrolytes also can help [fight dehydration].”

Ultimately, “if something’s not feeling right, then [runners] need to sit down, they need to sit one out until they feel better,” she emphasizes.


Preparing to race

Temperatures should be more comfortable by this weekend’s races, but runners can sabotage a successful race if they’re not careful during this heat wave. Whyte will be at running the Capitol Hill Classic on Sunday and preparing for it in the heat. She’ll be hydrating with water and electrolyte drinks between now and then, and trying to mentally prepare for the challenge of the shifting temperatures.

“The hardest thing about when it gets really hot like this, especially the first couple times, it just takes your body a couple weeks to get used to the heat,” she reminds us. “It’s really [about] just slowing down, drinking lots of water, [and] mentally preparing yourself for the fact that you may not have your best race because it’s going to be hot and your body’s not ready for it.” She admits this will be a challenge even for her, as she was hoping to PR at the 10k.

Darman encourages race directors to stay attentive and revisit their procedures year by year and just before each race to keep participants as safe as possible. Equally important is communication between volunteers, staff, and EMTs. But running always carries some risk, so he hopes race participants bring a bit of caution and common sense on hot days.

“It’s not a day to go out and do your personal best,” he says, echoing Whyte.

If you do encounter another runner who seems to be in distress, Cooney urges his fellow runners to ask if the person is ok. It’s not nosy, he emphasizes, to help another person.

“Even if you can’t administer the help, you can get somebody else who can,” he says. “Often times, [people in crisis] are people who can’t ask for help themselves.”

by Katie Bolton March 27, 2017 at 10:41 am 0

Lily Rancourt. Photo: Doug Stroud

Lily Rancourt. Photo: Doug Stroud

On Oct. 1, 2016, seven-year-old Lily Rancourt wore her Wonder Woman costume and brand new red sneakers with “hero” and “heart” on the tongues. With her family and friends, she braved cold and rain to toe the starting line for the Race for Every Child 5k in D.C.

At Lily’s urging, “We Don’t Miss a Beat” became the largest team at the race, and along the way, team members raised more than $18,000 for the Cardiology and Heart Fund at Children’s National Medical Center, making it one of the top fundraising teams, too.

The Rancourt family finished together in 1:04:48. Lily spent the entire race dashing ahead of her siblings, then waiting for them to catch up, offering encouragement.

Lily inspired and motivated an entire team to join her that gray October day and raised money for children to receive treatment for all types of cardiovascular problems. But Lily Rancourt isn’t just a big-hearted little girl. Behind the hero logo across Lily’s chest that day hid another heroic mark, a scar left when Lily received her own heart transplant one month before her fifth birthday. Since then, the first grader has regained her health and achieved her dream of running and playing with her siblings.


Taking Risks

Lily was born July 22, 2009 in inner Mongolia with a congenital heart defect. She lived in an orphanage and underwent two open-heart surgeries before doctors deemed her terminal and declined further treatment. She held on as family after family reviewed her adoption file and chose not to bring her home with them. She seemed like too big of a risk.

“I just could not get her off my heart. I kept feeling that if nobody goes for this little girl, then she’s going to die an orphan because they’re saying that she’s terminal and there’s nothing that could help her,” she remembered. Jacques hesitated. Four children, one of them critically ill, seemed overwhelming to a young family. Emily asked him to pray about it.

“I really think this is our daughter,” she told him.

After being adopted, Lily began a difficult course of medical exams and treatment. Doctors at Children’s National Medical Center found that Lily’s major organs were all mirrored from their usual positions in the body, complicating any surgeries. Her right pulmonary artery no longer pumped blood to her right lung. With one lung out of commission, the real danger came from a heart that was only half-formed and could not move enough oxygen-rich blood to help Lily grow, run or play like other four-year-olds. Her doctors performed two more open-heart surgeries, and Lily and her mother spent the better part of two years living in the hospital as the girl clung to life. At each phase, the family wondered if Lily would be strong enough to survive the next surgery or even the next day.

Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect in children, so the team at Children’s knows typical patterns and expected outcomes for most of the children it sees. In Lily’s weakened state, with just one lung and extensive scar tissue from her previous surgeries, she would be an extremely risky transplant. Doctors across the region declined three times to place her on the heart transplant list, reminding Emily that donated organs are rare. She recalled them saying: “‘we need to make sure that the recipient of these organs is as healthy as possible so that this donation can actually make a difference in a life.”

Dr. Janet Scheel had recently been hired to rebuild the center for Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant at Children’s, so she felt particularly cautious.

“At first I told the family she might be too high-risk to do there at Children’s. Then of course her personality made me relent and take the risk and I’m glad I did,” she said.

Early on June 14, 2014, Lily’s transplant began, and her new heart was in place less than 12 hours later.

Long before the transplant, playing with her sisters often ended with Lily blue-lipped and struggling to breathe. After, she was breathing with one lung and on oxygen. Her muscles had atrophied over months in the hospital, so she traveled to and from physical therapy in a stroller. Though weak, she remained hopeful. When she saw posters promoting the Race for Every Child, they inspired her.

“Any time anybody would ask her, ‘What are you going to do when you’re out of the hospital?’ she would always tell them, ‘When I’m better and I’m out of the hospital, I’m going to run,’” her mother remembers.

It became her mantra: I want to run.


Farther Than That

“Why do we call it your hero’s heart?” Emily asked Lily.

Lily and Emily Rancourt Photo: Doug Stroud

Lily and Emily Rancourt Photo: Doug Stroud

“Because it’s a hero?” Lily tried.

“Because a hero gave it to you,” Emily reminded her, and Lily nodded solemnly.

The Rancourts don’t know much about their donor yet. There was a car crash and the victim’s lungs could not be donated, so Lily received their heart and pulmonary arteries. Doctors had hoped to restore blood flow to her right lung but were unsuccessful. The family does know that the surgery was difficult — it lasted most of the day and Lily went into cardiac arrest several times.

Recovery was no easier. Lily took 26 medications per day under the watch of a nurse. Doctors thought she might need her supplemental oxygen tank for the rest of her life. Her healthy heart struggled to adjust to her single lung and she remained frail and vulnerable.

At this point, stressed and exhausted, Emily started running. Her own mother began running marathons at age 60 and encouraged her daughter to try it as a form of self-care. In those quiet moments, Emily found her own love of running, and when she came home, she could expect Lily and her nurse to be cheering her on from the driveway.

With Lily still ailing, Emily began to wonder if the girl would ever be able to run and play. Lily’s medical team encouraged Emily to start Lily off like any beginner — see how far she could go, and the next time, try to go just a little farther.

So Emily brought Lily’s portable oxygen tank outside and the two ran to the next house on their street, a distance of about 200 feet. Within a few days, Lily was running a few houses, and then Emily was bringing a stroller along so that Lily could take breaks as they ran longer and longer distances.

About a year after the transplant, at a follow-up appointment, Lowell Frank, a runner and one of Lily’s cardiologists in her long history with Children’s, suggested that she run the 100-yard dash at the Race for Every Child. Emily remembers Lily asking how far that was. When Dr. Frank showed her, the girl was unimpressed.

“I can run way farther than that,” she told him.

“In hindsight, that was probably a big insult, huh?” said Frank, laughing as he heard the story. With the approval of Scheel, they agreed that Lily should try the 5k distance. In October of 2015, Lily donned a Supergirl costume and lined up with just her mother, after bad weather rescheduled the race. Emily carried her oxygen tank and pushed a stroller so the girl could take breaks. Just 15 months after her transplant, Lily finished the race by running into Dr. Frank’s arms for a hug.

By 2016, Lily needed neither the oxygen nor the stroller to complete the race, which is fortunate because Lily’s brother Thaddaeus has been undergoing procedures for his own open-heart surgeries and, potentially, his own heart transplant, and he rode alongside his sisters. When he’s ready, Lily is keen to help coach Thad in his recovery and running. But she’s going to start with her mother, who is nervous to jump from the 10-mile distance to a half-marathon.

“I have to teach her!” Lily gushes. “I’ll get a whistle and I’ll blow it and then she will have to run! Around the cones! Until I say stop, I say stop and I blow the whistle.”

Then she’ll help Thad in his recovery, because she remembers her own sadness at not being able to play. Then she’ll coach her sister Mackenzie hardest of all, making her do “jumping laps.”

“It’s like a jumping jack run all around the cones and it’s going to get harder and harder for her. And she’s gonna think, ‘I can’t do it!’” said Lily, who, as you can see, doesn’t exactly traffic in self-doubt.


Princess on the Run

On a snowy Saturday morning, Emily and I asked Lily how running makes her feel.

“Happy!” she cried, leaning towards me and grinning from ear to ear with the checkerboard smile of a child well-known to the Tooth Fairy.

She added, “It makes me have a lot of energy.” When she runs, she can feel her heart beating in her chest and feel grateful that she’s no longer in the hospital.

“We always said that Lily looks like Snow White,” Emily said. “We put a red bow in her hair and she looks like Snow White. And so we have a lot of pictures of her in the hospital in her little red bow.”

Lily has more in common with Snow White than the fair skin and black bob. She is warm, generous and giggles infectiously. In the Disney film, Snow White’s jealous stepmother orders a hunter to kill the girl and cut out her heart; unlike Snow White, Lily’s heart surgery was wanted and ended happily. Lily plans to dress as Disney’s version of the princess for the 2017 Race for Every Child but she prefers the Snow White depicted in her favorite book, Princesses on the Run by Smiljana Coh.

Lily started clapping excitedly as she described the book. In the story, princesses run away from their castles to escape the idleness of royal life. When they return home, they change their habits to become happier. Rapunzel gets a bob so she can exercise comfortably, Lily remembered. “Sleeping Beauty was doing yoga and Snow White was still running.”

“Snow White was pretty much the one convincing everyone to keep running. She never stopped,” Emily explained. “We said, that’s just like Lily! She was always encouraging her sisters to keep running during the race and just like Snow White, who never stopped running.”


The Girl on the Posters

A new heart can transform a child’s life, and Lily’s doctors want their patients to have full, unlimited childhoods after these difficult procedures.

“Patients like Lily, who were born with congenital heart disease … often haven’t been as active simply because they don’t have the stamina,” Scheel said. The parents, she said, become accustomed to having a sick child, “and I come along and say, ‘Okay, they can go to school. They can go to gym.’ They look at me like I’m crazy.” But according to Frank, very few heart transplant recipients need to restrict their activities afterwards.

“I’m typically optimistic and I counsel parents all the time that, you know, your kid’s a normal kid, they could be a normal kid. Seeing Lily able to do that is really gratifying,” he said.

At the hospital, Lily used to see posters promoting the Race for Every Child and dream of running. Now, she’s the one on the posters, beaming with every inch of her being, superhero logo on her chest, cape billowing behind her. Another child, perhaps sleeping in Lily’s old bed, can draw strength from this girl who has been through so much.

This story was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of RunWashington

by Katie Bolton March 6, 2017 at 9:47 am 0

The Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by TrailVoice via Wikimedia Commons

The Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by TrailVoice via Wikimedia Commons

Runners in the District can expect more miles of trails in the city in the next few years, as the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) prepares for the next phase of construction on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in northeast D.C. DDOT is seeking contractors to build the next off-road portion of the trail, from John McCormack Drive, near Catholic University in Brookland, to the Fort Totten Metro station in Upper Northeast D.C. Once that contractor is identified and work begins, they estimate the construction will be complete in 18 months. If the process goes smoothly, DDOT hopes to award the contract by Summer 2017.

mtb extension

Approximate trail extension location

Until this point, the route through this section of the trail has been largely on uneven, narrow sidewalks, past the pungent Fort Totten waste transfer station and up a steep incline. While runners may enjoy the hill training, bicyclists have long cited safety concerns on this stretch, as the sidewalks are not suited for riding and the grade of the hill makes it difficult to maintain a safe speed in the road.

“We are hoping that cyclists, pedestrians and runners embrace the convenience of this trail,” said DDOT’s Michelle PhippsEvans. “Even though it is only about half a mile, it closes a critical gap and avoids the steep hill on Fort Totten Drive, where there is no trail and cyclists are forced into the street.”

The new trail segment will have LED lighting and security cameras, features that DDOT plans to add to the existing trail as well. LED lights are expected this year, with cameras to follow. They tout new signage as raising awareness of the trail in the fast-changing neighborhoods that border it. The trail has occasionally been the site of high-profile violent crimes. However, community groups have hosted events to draw more users to the trail, hoping that more eyes would improve everyone’s overall safety and enjoyment of the route. These events have included movie nights, a Bike to Work Day pit stop and a 5k to draw users to the trail.

“More users generally mean more safety in numbers — for riders, walkers and runners,” Phipps notes.

In a post detailing the plans for the extension, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association noted that the work will be the first major construction on the trail since the existing southern section of the trail opened in 2010.

Once completed, the Metropolitan Branch Trail will provide a route from Union Station to the Silver Spring Metro station, over eight miles of sidewalk, cycletrack and trail through many of the city’s residential neighborhoods. These follow the extension of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail completed last year, which provides an off-road route from southeast D.C. to College Park.

by Katie Bolton February 6, 2017 at 12:01 pm 0

RAK run2017-06

Tensions run high in the D.C. region these days. The recent political transition has created uncertainty for federal workers and brought thousands of protesters into the streets, and all this lands on top of deepest winter and the other everyday stresses we all endure. Amid all this, one group of runners recently ran random acts of kindness through the city at the DC Capital Striders’ Random Acts of Kindness Run.

Heather Rosso, 46, of Reston, inspired and led the event, which featured a route planned by DCCS President Rick Amernick. On Jan. 26, Rosso and nine friends met to run a three-mile route through the Shaw and Bloomingdale neighborhoods of D.C. Along the way, they handed out more than 60 gifts–candy, toiletry packs, hats, gloves and even just kind words–to the people they encountered. Some they left out for passersby to find.

“I don’t count them because, to me, it’s not about the gifts per se,” she said. “It’s about the kindness behind the gifts.” She wants to connect people with kind gestures, and the objects serve as an icebreaker above all.

Rosso began randomly enacting kindness a few years ago on her birthday in keeping with her Buddhist faith. It was also part of a long recovery she made over eight years, after an injury led to an undiagnosed spinal infection, which in turn led to years of pain and a battle with depression. When she finally began to recover, she felt called to give something to others.

“To a degree, it’s a very noble but very simple goal, so it’s very achievable,” Rosso said. “The basis is spread more kindness. Even if you do that for just one person, you’ve actually accomplished the goal. I think it always ends up being exponentially greater than we think [for participants].”

In past years, Rosso and a smaller group of friends would give out gifts that she purchased near her home in Reston. “I have a knack for finding odd deals,” she admits. She has netted discounted winter gear before, and last year, she bought 45 flowers to hand out for her 45th birthday. This year, friends also gave money to buy gifts and gathered at her home to help pack them.

Rosso is a longtime trail runner and member of DCCS and the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, but it took Amernick’s encouragement for her to bring the two together. Her generosity came from her own pain and celebration, so the event was deeply personal. In addition, kindness is a small moment between people, and she is reluctant to lose that intimacy. But she was inviting her running friends anyway so they pushed forward.

“Running makes it visible,” she realized as the night went on. The group, the speed and the spandex drew attention to what they were doing and allowed the runners to reach more people. That’s what she wants more than anything. Rosso envisions the RAK Run spreading to other clubs across the region and reaching people in more neighborhoods–kindness going viral, as she puts it. But for now she’s content to keep it to close friends and a birthday celebration. And people on the receiving end are still surprised by the gesture.

“People are just so unused to people just being kind for the sake of being kind,” Rosso said. “To see that, it’s sort of heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time.”

For her, this is as much a reason as any to perform more kind gestures for the people she meets. But you do have to get past that initial awkwardness of approaching and interrupting strangers. Rosso laughs brightly at their attempts.

“I’m not trying to sell you something, I’m not trying to convert you, I’m not trying to make you join a cult, I’m not trying to make you do this,” she laughs. “We had to preface it with ‘We’re on a mission to spread more kindness.’”


by Katie Bolton January 23, 2017 at 8:43 am 0

Local ultrarunner Patrick Vaughn. Photo: Kirk Masterson

Local ultrarunner Patrick Vaughn. Photo: Kirk Masterson

You probably know an ultrarunner, and not just the ones you read about in Born to Run. The sport has grown significantly in recent years as more marathoners ask what’s beyond 26.2 miles. In D.C., ultrarunners hide in plain sight, working for the government, opening donut shops, or practicing law. They infiltrate your road marathons, casually enjoying a bagel while you’re trying to stomach another gel. They’re your colleagues, your neighbors, your friends. And if you’ve been thinking about taking on these more extreme distances and conditions, they’re your best resource for getting into the sport.


The ultra club

With some 635 members, 20 events, and three major races per year, the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club is the hub of ultrarunning in the D.C. region.

“We’ve been here right from the start, sort of being a driving force to have events and runs that appeal to everybody,” said club president Alan Gowan.

The club has grown in the last few years as younger runners join the sport, and the club has adjusted to fit members’ interests. That includes partnering with the D.C. Capital Striders on a weekly trail run in Great Falls Park.

Striders President Rick Amernick has come to admire ultrarunners’ tendency to mentor one another.

“A lot of [Striders] (who) had never thought of doing an ultramarathon caught the bug because you’re running with people that sign up for these races, 50k, 50 miles, even 100 miles,” he said. “Some of our runners have completed those races over the last several years strictly because they were encouraged by the runners who they saw on a regular basis [who] said, ‘Hey, why don’t we train together?’”

Lauren Masterson, president of the Washington Running Club, came out to Great Falls while training for her first 50 miler this year. She turned to ultrarunning as a way to stress less about her road marathon times, but she still felt timid before her first run.

“All these people are gonna be so hardcore and they’re gonna be jumping off rocks and just blazing through these trails,” she remembered worrying. “And a lot of them are,” she added, “but they are so welcoming. They have this great Facebook page where people post questions and you’ll get like 10 responses and it’s just been so informative.”

“It’s a real close-knit group,” agreed Tom Corris, a 15-year VHTRC member, “and it’s cliche to say that we’re all family but yeah, we’re pretty damn close to it.”


More cowbell, please

In April, at the finish line of VHTRC’s Bull Run Run 50-mile race, runners rounded the final turn, greeted by the clatter of a cowbell. Kids toddled alongside their fathers to the finish, where race director Alisa Springman greeted them with a high five, handshake, or hug. Volunteers tugged perforated timing stubs off of race bibs and handed out t-shirts. Two-liter bottles of soda lined a picnic table in the finisher’s chute, but the good grub was up a hill in the Chow Hall, where members of VHTRC dished out chili, brewed coffee and shot the breeze.

“You don’t want to disappoint anyone,” said Springman, who has run the race herself 10 times but was directing it for the first time with her husband. “You know what your experience has been like as a runner and it seems seamless, so you want to provide that for the same reasons, so other runners experience that.”

For 350 runners, she recruited a team of 150 volunteers to support the race in rain and even an unseasonal burst of snow.

Like many others, she called the community “tight-knit” and “family.” In a race like the Bull Run Run, she relies on volunteers to make the event run smoothly, but she also relies on the runners to watch out for one another. “You don’t have to spend weeks and months and days and years with a person on the trail to get to know them very well,” she noted. “Oftentimes, an hour or two on the trail where you’re really open and connected to things emotionally, you share a lot more and you feel much more connected than you would otherwise.” This isn’t just talk for her, either; Springman and her husband met at a trail race. “It took off from there!” she said.


The D.C. Scene

Most people don’t think of major urban areas when they imagine trail or ultrarunning, but the D.C. region does not lack for training routes. In Rock Creek Park, more than 30 miles of paved and unpaved trails wind between commercial and residential neighborhoods of Northwest D.C. Great Falls has another 15 miles in Virginia, and across the river, the C&O Canal Towpath runs past miles of detours on its way to Cumberland. In a relatively short drive, you can reach the Shenandoah or Massanutten mountains, Harper’s Ferry or parts of Pennsylvania.

“You would never know that there’s opportunity for trail running here,” said Larry Huffman, who found VHTRC in early 2010 and ran a 50k within the year. Huffman lives in Tyson’s Corner, the rapidly urbanizing suburb just two miles from Great Falls. He runs to the Wednesday night workouts.

Although our mountains are a bit less majestic than the west coast’s, decorated marathoner and ultrarunner Michael Wardian sees a lot of upsides to living here.

“It’s not ideal to live in a major metropolitan area if you want to be really successful (running) in the mountains,” he said. “But it’s possible. You just have to work a little harder.”

Wardian has been known to train with his treadmill at its maximum incline to prepare for races out west, although he regrets that he can’t mimic the brutal descents that follow those climbs.

Like many of us, he stays here to be close to friends and family and the D.C. food scene. When he travels for races, which he does often, he can choose from three airports and virtually every carrier, making his trips more flexible and cost-effective. His friends in Montana don’t have that luxury.

“I feel like it’s worth that kind of tradeoff to be able to get all the perks that we have living in a place like this,” he said.

Wardian has raced around the world and has seen a lot of terrain, but he settled pretty quickly on the destination most like home: Costa Rica, where in 2014, he won the 225k Coastal Challenge Expedition race through the rainforest.

“The climbs aren’t super big and the trails are super duper similar to the U.S. […] That was really neat. I felt really comfortable on those trails,” he said. Most notably, the climate is “kind of like our summer heat. It’s like soupy, hot, humid, which is great for me but a lot of other people from different climates like the Northwest or West Coast kind of suffered. That was something that made me feel at home.” Endlessly optimistic, Wardian has found an upside to some of the worst traits of D.C.’s weather.

VHTRC member Josh Howe of Chantilly gushed about the Instagram photos of a friend who recently moved to Colorado, but he has no plans to leave just yet.

“It may be expensive to live here,” he said. “Traffic may suck awfully bad, but we have some pretty awesome trails around here. Within an hour you can be in the mountains.”


The ultra effect

Even if an ultramarathon doesn’t spark your sense of adventure, ultrarunners generally agree that thinking or training like them can make a difference at shorter distances thanks to the improved endurance, nutrition habits and mental toughness that come from their training regimens.

“You can use that speed that you get in a 5k, 10k, half-marathons, marathons to be able to have a quicker turnover and be a more efficient runner in [ultramarathons],” said Wardian, who turns up for shorter races around the city when he’s in town. “Then you can use that strength and power and discipline that you have from doing the longer stuff to be even that much of a stronger, more competent runner in shorter stuff. I think there’s a nice balance.”

Ultrarunners also develop an ability to eat real food on the run and a highly articulated sense of their nutritional needs. When Josh Lasky started training for his first ultra, he would buy a Chipotle burrito and try to eat it during the workout. “Bit by bit, bite by bite,” he said, “you take that burrito down.” With his stomach acclimated, he can sustain himself on slow-burning whole foods for most of his races, then get a boost from sugar and caffeine to power him to the finish.

“Nutrition is paramount in getting through these things,” Masterson said, who trains mostly on nutritional drinks but likes to grab some potato chips and soda during races. “I’ve seen grilled cheese,” she said of the aid stations, “They have little sandwiches, salted potatoes, french fries; it’s like a junk food fest and it’s awesome.”

If you do decide to take it on, ultrarunning can shake up everything you know about yourself as a runner. “Whatever you run on the roads really doesn’t matter,” Masterson said. Between technical skills, extreme conditions, and the sheer duration of the event, ultrarunning requires a totally new approach to training and racing. You cannot go fast and gut it out. Your GPS probably won’t work; even if it does, your mile splits will be at the whim of the next hill. Your supplies will disappear, your headlamp will die, or your feet will blister; something will go wrong despite your best planning. You will feel soaring highs and profound lows and you will learn to eat when you start crying. If you’re capable, you will keep going, pushing on to find out what physical or emotional boundary you can crack next. This is not a sport people do for fun in the moment; if anything, they do it to feel the pain, to endure it, and to find out who they are on the other side of it.

“[Ultrarunning] brings you to a place of resourcefulness and being uncomfortable in a way that you’re not in your normal, everyday life, where you’re very pampered and everything is accessible and problems are relatively mild and quickly solved,” Springman said. “So a little existential, but there’s something kind of primitive about that, I think, to just get back to something more basic, where the only thing you have to focus on is moving forward and all the other noise and distraction is gone.”

Lasky has a philosophical take that he’s mulled over the course of many miles. “I think the reason why ultrarunners do what they do is because they don’t have the ability to imagine it and they’re not satisfied with the imagination alone…” he said. “It requires a willingness to come face to face with your own mortality, your own limitations, your own strength.” Lasky took up the sport after several years caring for his disabled father as well as a lengthy recovery from a broken ankle. For him, ultrarunning is a test of his limitations and a display of gratitude for his own mobility.

“You’re gonna be in your head a lot,” Amernick said,  “I feel like crap, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He recalls his first 50-mile race last year; at mile 40, he blurted out to a volunteer, “Why do people do this?!” At the finish line, he announced, “I’m never going to do this again!”

Within a few hours, he was asking, “When’s the next one?”

“And that’s what happens,” he said. “That’s what happens. This experience has basically embraced you. You don’t realize it at the time but maybe a day later, a week later, you can look back and go:

“Oh my god, that was amazing.”


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016/2017 issue of RunWashington

by Katie Bolton October 21, 2016 at 5:17 pm 0

Photo: Steve Laico

Photo: Steve Laico

The Marine Corps Marathon brings thousands of spectators to Washington D.C. and Arlington every October, all of whom just want to see their runner and enjoy their time in the nation’s capital. In 2014, we published a spectator’s guide of advice from our editor. This year, we asked local runners and their friends for their best advice to making the most out of that morning. Use this guide while developing your plan for the day to best support your runner and make the most of your morning!

Get Around

Running & Walking – John Pickett of Alexandria attempted Marine Corps twice in the mid-80s, but estimates he’s spectated 10-15 times since then. “The MCM is great for spectators because the course folds back on itself,” he notes. “You can get two views of the runners relatively easy at Capitol Hill and in East Potomac Park, for example. And you can go from the start to the midpoint in a mile or two instead of 13 miles. It’s next to impossible to do this with a car or transit when a marathon is not going on. It’s worse with the race going on, of course.”

Bicycling & Capital Bikeshare – Pickett, however, is more in favor of bicycling to get around the course. “Bikes are much better [than walking] because they are faster and you can carry stuff (like your favorite runner’s discarded jacket),” he writes. He outlines a detailed spectating plan that rides past a half-dozen points on the course, detours for coffee and apple fritters, and still gets you to the finish to see your runner “in their death throes,” as he puts it. “Better them than you, right? Try this on foot and you’ll give up at the cafe on the Hill.”

If you don’t have your own bike, Capital Bikeshare is an affordable alternative to get you around that morning. It costs $8 for a daily membership, which offers unlimited 30-minute rides (fees apply after that) and docks available across the course. You can purchase single rides for $2 (fees apply after 30 minutes). Check CapitalBikeshare.com for pricing information, service disruptions, and other updates.

Metro – Metro is your best transit option if anyone in your party has limited mobility, but it has several drawbacks. It’s usually extremely crowded. This year, the system is in the middle of massive safety overhauls, so Metro will not open early on race day. According to the Washington Post, eight-car trains will run after 7 a.m. on the blue and yellow lines, with some expanded service during regular operating hours. If you do choose to use the transit system, make sure to purchase a SmarTrip card ahead of time and add enough money to get you through the day.

Driving – Not recommended! Check out the Spectator Shuttles being offered by race organizers to get you from parking areas to the course.

Get your Caffeine Fix

Between the early alarm, brisk autumn air and four-ish hours of movement, a coffee drinker is bound to need a pick-me-up. And while you can usually find a Starbucks, DC has a blossoming coffee scene that’s worth checking out. Samantha, a DC-based runner and coffee lover who blogs at A Brewed Awakening, has run MCM once and spectated once so far. We asked for her favorite coffee spots near the course.


Bayou Bakery (1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington)

“The best coffee you can get here is an Iced Nola. It’s made with chicory coffee from New Orleans, which is a dark, smoky style coffee, half-and-half, and simple syrup. It sounds unimpressive, but it really is delicious. The one big problem here is, it’s usually freezing at the beginning of the race! So if you want to try the Iced Nola, make sure to bring some gloves to keep your hands warm.”


Baked and Wired (1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington, DC) or Georgetown Cupcake (3301 M Street NW, Washington, DC)

“Almost every local will tell you to go to Baked & Wired for superior cupcakes and I know I am in the minority when I say I think Georgetown Cupcake is amazing. Either way, you can’t go wrong, though Baked & Wired does have a way better coffee selection.”

National Mall

A coffee desert, unless you have time or a bicycle to get you to a nearby neighborhood. Samantha suggests, “if you do have an hour or so to spare before seeing your runner one last time before they head over the bridge back to Arlington, take the metro to Chinatown and grab a cup of coffee at either Chinatown Coffee Company or La Colombe.”

Crystal City

Commonwealth Joe (520 12th Street S, Arlington)

A newly opened shop between Crystal City and Pentagon City. “I’ve never been here, but after looking at a map in the area to see what’s there I found Commonwealth Joe, and it looks amazing!”

Go to the bathroom

Runners usually line up dozens deep at the port-o-potties along the course, but you should leave those race amenities to the runners and find another option. If you won’t pass your hotel or home, the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument have public restrooms. Be prepared to wait in line.

Get a great photo

Cheryl Young can be spotted with her camera at most regional races, taking photos and cheering for her teammates with Capital Area Runners. We asked her for the best places to snap a memorable photo of your marathoner. In exchange for sharing these secrets, she asks spectators to remember not to step in front of the professional photographers on the course. “Go behind them so you both get a great shot of your friend. Yes, your iPhone pics are awesome, but….”

Key Bridge (Mile 4.5)

“This is my favorite spot by far. It’s mile 4.5ish- early in the race- and everyone is still pumped and happy! Plus, you can stand on the concrete barricade and get a nice bird’s-eye view to pick out your friends.”

Kennedy Center (Mile 8.5)

“It gets congested, so make sure you are in a spot where you have a long line of sight of the runners as they come towards you (if are on a curve, you won’t have as long to look for them – they’re coming faster than you think!)”

Lincoln Memorial (Mile 14.5)

“This is another of my favorite spots. Lots of time to look for them (as long as you are far enough down with a good line of sight).”

Last Mile

“Mile 26 is going to be crazy, so keep walking towards mile 25 until the crowds are less and you can find your friend. This is where your friend will need for you to give them every bit of your energy, so turn on the cheers, and I don’t care what they look like, you tell them they look GREAT – SO STRONG!”


Support the Runners

Runners appreciate the support of enthusiastic spectators, so come prepared to cheer, clap and make a ruckus. For the advanced spectator, “One of the best things is when [spectators] have salty snacks or Kleenex or something like that in the later half of the race when you really need a pick-me-up,” says Tammy Whyte, a three-time finisher. She remembers pretzels and chips in Crystal City last year, “and it was greatly appreciated.”

Definitely don’t…

Yell “You’re almost there!” “unless you are standing at mile 26 and the runners only have .2 left to go,” says Jess Milcetich, an MCM finisher and five-time spectator.

Get too edgy with your signs. “Good spectators cheer for everyone and do not make triggering signs,” says Megan McCarty, who was troubled by a sign at the Baltimore Marathon that made light of a presidential candidate’s recently unearthed remarks about sexual assault. Everyone is tired of this election, so find a more uplifting angle.

Dart in front of runners. “If you do have to cross [the course], be mindful of the runners – the best way is to run with them and diagonally run toward the other side. There is almost nothing worse for the marathon runners than to have a spectator jump in front of them and cause them to lose their groove,” Young says.

Definitely do!

Make a sign!

“Funny signs and young kids doing high fives is also great,” Whyte says.

McCarty agrees, asking for “positive and interactive” signs. In Baltimore, she saw a little boy with a sign that said “Tap this for a boost!” and a picture of a mushroom from the Mario games.

Download the tracking app!  


“Having the ability to know where your runner is at certain points in the race is really helpful to gauge how soon they might get to where you are waiting for them,” Milcetich says. “Plus sometimes races can be crowded and you might wonder if you’ve missed seeing your runner at a certain point, the apps usually let you check pretty quickly to get a sense if that is that case.”

Have fun!

Your friends and loved ones have worked for months to get to this point, so bring your best mindset and biggest smiles. You woke up early and trekked miles because you care about this runner. Enjoy it!


by Katie Bolton October 18, 2016 at 5:34 pm 1 Comment

Christine Taranto nearing the finish line of the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon. Photo by Cheryl Young

Christine Taranto nearing the finish line of the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon. Photo by Cheryl Young

From her early days at the U.S. Naval Academy, Christine Taranto knew she wanted to be a Marine. Marines were tough and disciplined, the best of the best. The ones she met immediately impressed her. She worked to meet the Corps’ high standards for physical fitness and academic achievement. When she struggled, she doubled down to prove that she wouldn’t hesitate to put in the work. She remembers wanting the Marine evaluators to know, “Look, I’m not gonna give up. I want to do this… I’m not going to give up unless you tell me to.”

Two years earlier, as a sophomore, the two-time Pennsylvania state champion (in cross country and the 3,000) left the Academy’s Division I cross country team. “I just wasn’t really happy running at that level and I realized that the end state is, I’m going to lead Marines and Sailors regardless of what my commissioning source is, so instead of focusing on athletics, let’s focus on passing school, becoming a good officer, and really moving toward the future,” she said.

In her time off, she used her savings to buy a bicycle. “I picked up cycling in the meantime because you’ve got to do something,” she said with a laugh.

She was commissioned as a Marine in 2007 and deployed soon after. Any running she did was, as she put it, “for the enjoyment and a little bit of sanity and to maintain my Marine Corps physical fitness standards.”

She focused on succeeding as a Marine first. Time passed. By 2011, now stationed in North Carolina, she was running every day.

“The running just kind of all came back to me,” she said. “I wasn’t deploying, it wasn’t just 30 minutes in because you wanted to. It was, I’m going to run. I’m going to do this.”

In 2012 she and her roommate decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012 together.” And though self-trained, her 3:16, in only her second race at that distance, caught the attention of the All-Marine Running Team.

Her coach, Joe Puleo, the author of Running Anatomy and the All-Marine Running Team’s coach until February 2016, saw profound talent when they met. He also recognized her fragility.

“I really just enjoyed running and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run competitively again,” she said. “At the same time, I also saw it as a unique opportunity and I had a lot of friends on the team.”

Puleo introduced her to his style of “creative coaching,” a program that meets the physical and emotional needs of athletes.

“At the highest levels, running isn’t what it looks like to most people,” he said.

He strives for smarter, holistic training of his athletes, which helped Taranto settle in. She was immediately honest about her fitness outpacing her confidence, which allowed them to communicate openly throughout their time together and begin addressing her mental blocks.

Taranto and Puleo brighten to talk about one another, their mutual admiration readily apparent. “He has been one of the greater gifts of my life,” Taranto said. “He is absolutely a phenomenal coach, knows his athletes, treats us well. He understands that we’re Marines first even though he has no association with the military. At the same time, he’s become a great mentor and friend. I think that if you can find all those things in a coach, you don’t let them go. He’s been absolutely astounding. It’s been phenomenal.”

Building their relationship took time; Taranto did not break through in her training until the Big Sur Marathon in 2015, where she ran 2:59 and placed second. She attributes her success to trusting the process, trusting her training, and trusting her coach.

“I think if you can do all three, then you can expect great outcomes,” she said.

Her outcomes have indeed been great.

“I’m 31 years old and I’m almost as fast as I was at 17,” she said. “I am achieving things I never thought possible.”

With the support of Puleo, the Corps and her teammates, she “found joy in racing that I hadn’t had since high school.”

Later in 2015, her breakthrough year culminated in a PR of 2:53:30 and second-place finish at the Marine Corps Marathon. At that race, her team also won the Armed Forces Marathon Championship, allowing Taranto to celebrate her victory with her entire team. Marine Corps is, of course, near and dear to Taranto’s heart, but the race is also, as she put it, “electrifying.” With lots of spectators, including her fellow Marines, and views of the major monuments, Taranto feels great pride to be representing her country and the Marine Corps.

Her victories mean a lot. It’s hard work to be a Marine and a competitive athlete. Each man and woman has to perform their job duties, to be a Marine first. She had to become hyper-efficient to balance these demands, which she sees as an extension of the Marines’ warrior ethos.

The support of all the commands I’ve been a part of and the Marine Corps as an institution is something I am truly grateful for,” she said. “We are an intense, focused, and passionate group of people and I truly believe Marines work harder for something they believe in and an institution that supports them as an entire person.”

The Corps enthusiastically supports Taranto; they have twice named her Woman Athlete of the Year, first in 2013 and again in 2015. Each time has been a surprise. She didn’t even know the award existed until her first win. She is honored to be recognized for her efforts and hopes she inspires other runners, women, and Marines. At all times, she aspires to lead by example and represent herself, her team, and the Marine Corps in the best possible light.

“Not only am I a role model as a Marine, I’m a role model as a Marine athlete,” she said. “That’s a really unique opportunity and that’s what I embrace the most. If that’s what people are going to know me for, I’m going to embrace it wholeheartedly and use it as setting the example for other people to aspire and achieve.”

It seems the more she succeeds, the harder she works.

Puleo cannot hide his esteem for her as a leader or a teammate. He is most excited at her athletic potential and plans to spend the next few years making sure her 31-year-old musculoskeletal system keeps up with her incredible cardiovascular abilities.

“She’s like a lung,” he said with a laugh. “She doesn’t really have a ceiling that way. She’s ridiculously capable of aerobic fitness.” She also continues to improve her marathon times on a “vanilla” training plan. “I think in a couple years we’ll break out the big artillery that my advanced athletes use,” he threatens. “I think it would be something pretty special.”

Although Puleo is no longer the team’s coach, he continues to train Taranto and many of her teammates as individuals. Already, he has his eye on Taranto qualifying for the next Olympic Trials. This would require a big push beginning in 2018; yet she is running so well now that he wants to let her ride that out. For her part, Taranto is focused on the People’s Marathon again this fall.

“I’m in it to win it,” she said proudly.

Quickly, her humility and perspective come back.

“At the same time, I realize that I can’t control who shows up and I can’t control anything outside of myself that day. If I can go out and hopefully if the conditions are right, run a PR and run the best race that I can, just hope that it comes out on top. If not, [I’ll] just be really satisfied with the outcome.”

Despite her accomplishments as both, she still hesitates to define herself as only a runner or Marine.

“If I identify as just a Marine, then I’m losing a part of myself, and if I identify as just a runner, I lose another part of myself,” she said. “Both are part of my identity, but they’re not strictly who I am.”

She also competes on the All-Marine Triathlon Team, bakes cupcakes, and reads, all of which keep her grounded. She mentions a book she’s reading about being positively present and practicing radical acceptance, both of which she tries to incorporate into her running and work. Her coach, Joe Puleo, cites her mindset as one of her great strengths, along with her leadership and joyfulness. 

“She’s a good woman. She’s a great leader. She’s got really great qualities,” he said.

In the middle of all this, Taranto received her MBA from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Now a captain and logistics analyst, she received orders to Quantico in April of 2016 and moved to Woodbridge. Most people would need to adjust after a cross-country move, but Taranto seems unfazed. Such changes come with the territory. After all, she is a Marine first.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of RunWashington

by Katie Bolton October 3, 2016 at 9:55 am 0

In its short life, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half-Marathon has been dealt some tough hands. In 2013, it was the first race put off by the government shutdown, though able to postpone by five weeks but seeing half of its registrants defer until the next year. Two years later, a hurricane forced a cancellation before missing the region entirely, an outcome that disappointed runners and organizers alike.

Race director Steve Nearman feels a little bit jinxed at this point. “I felt like a salmon going upstream ever since [2013], so it’s been tough,” he admitted after the race.

Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

Oct. 2, 2016, Alexandria, Va.


As this year’s event approached and another federal shutdown loomed, Nearman began activating Plan B, calling the many municipalities with jurisdiction over his course. Congress averted the shutdown late Wednesday night, but rain fell for the rest of the week. By Sunday, the fates relented, and on a cloudy and swampy morning, nearly 1,000 runners welcomed the race, the half and a 6k, back to Alexandria.

“I love it and I’m glad it’s back. I hope it’ll grow,” said Alex Hetherington of Vienna.

Ultrarunner, Sugar Shack owner, and former Virginia  delegate Rob Krupicka is training for the JFK 50-Miler in November and has run this race each year. He too welcomed the race back to the city.

“I think it’s nice to have a race that connects Fairfax and Alexandria and gets you over the bridge a little bit too,” said Krupicka. “It’s nice and compact. It’s a really accessible race. Lots of people can do it.”

The race isn’t exactly as it was, as many returning runners noted. In prior years, prize money drew fast competitors, but Nearman couldn’t afford the purse this year. “I’m not saying that we have eliminated it for good,” he clarified, “but we just had to eliminate it this year for budgetary reasons.”

Hetherington noticed. He entered the race hoping to break 1:22, but he didn’t expect to place. “In fact, it was sort of a surprise result for me,” he said. “In the past, this race has had prize money, so it usually had a pretty fast field. So I didn’t know what was going on at the beginning of the race.”  Hetherington eventually bested Matt Boyd of Fredericksburg to take third overall in 1:21:13.

The rest of the podium consisted of new faces. Colin McGrath dominated his debut race in the DC area, finishing in 1:13:30 with seven minutes on his closest competitor. McGrath moved from Philadelphia to D.C. with his girlfriend two months ago while he works on his dissertation.

While others found the course hillier than expected, McGrath called it cool and interesting. On the George Washington Parkway, he noted, “it’s either going up a little bit or going down a little bit but it sort of messes with your head because you can’t really tell what the grade is. It’s nice. At no one point can you totally check out because something’s happening.”

Behind him, Ron Gage of Houston came within a minute of his PR to finish in 1:20:32. A friend invited Gage to the race, and the trip appealed to Gage and his wife, who had not raced in the area before now. “It’s hot and humid down there, so this is a nice change,” Gage said of the slightly less hot but still very humid morning.

The women’s race, too, saw its pace slowed by humidity and changes to the field.

The Georgetown Running Club’s Kerry Allen echoed her victory on much of the same ground as the GW Parkway Classic, finishing in 1:25:16. She ran about half of the race with teammate and recent Clarendon Day 10k medaler Keely Eckberg (1:26:02).

“Then it got hard,” Eckberg said with a laugh.

Allen agreed, “Things sort of fell apart.”

Stephanie Cario (1:25:30), a former Virginia Tech cross-country runner and triathlete, crept between the two and managed to shave ten minutes from her finish time at the Parks Half Marathon last month.

“I thought it was going to be a lot flatter than it was,” she said. “And the humidity didn’t help.” She said she enjoyed the downhill portions of an up-and-down race and Allen and Eckberg agreed.

“Since we’re all training for marathons, I’m sure we’re all in the same boat, doing high mileage this week. Legs were feeling a little heavy, might be the consensus,”  Allen said.

Nearman does get emotional about two aspects of his race. First, he wants to revive the Visually Impaired Championship that he built with Bethesda’s Joe Aukward (2:07:47), a two-time Paralympian who still holds four Indoor Track & Field records with the Association of Blind Athletes. Nearman is Aukward’s longtime guide in distance races, and Aukward ran the course today.

In the past, after the out-and-back along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, runners crossed the Wilson Bridge to a finish festival at the National Harbor, then rode shuttles back to the parking zones in Alexandria. Unable to secure event permits at National Harbor this year, organizers changed the bridge portion to an out-and-back and moved the finish festival to the base of the Wilson Bridge. Though logistically easier on the whole, the change narrowed the pathway along the bridge considerably.

“I wasn’t sure how that was going to work with the out-and-back on the bridge, running two abreast,” Nearman said. “It was more out of concern for their safety this year because we didn’t have the whole bridge.”

“Every year I always get feedback, ‘I was really hurting at 12 miles and I went behind these visually impaired people and I thought, wow, if they can do it, I shouldn’t be complaining!” he recalls. “They’re very motivating. They’re a really nice component of the race. We do hope to bring it back.”

Finally, this year the race also introduced the Nicole Mittendorff Memorial Award in honor of the Fairfax County firefighter whose disappearance and suicide in April garnered national attention. Mittendorff completed the race in 2013 and 2014, and when Nearman learned of the connection, he knew he wanted to do something. At the finish line, Nearman presented an engraved firefighter’s axe to Mittendorff’s husband, mother and father, who ran the race with their #MilesforNicole campaign for suicide awareness and prevention. “It was very emotional,” says Nearman.

Although the axe went to Mittendorff’s family today, Nearman plans to present it to the first female firefighter to finish future races.

“We want to keep her memory alive for as long as this race is alive,” he said.

by Katie Bolton September 18, 2016 at 8:03 pm 0

Bethesda native Daniel Samet leads the way in his half marathon debut at the Navy-Air Force Half Sept. 18. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

Bethesda native Daniel Samet leads the way in his half marathon debut at the Navy-Air Force Half Sept. 18. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

At the humid and overcast Navy – Air Force Half Marathon, many a runner had to temper their expectations. After a pleasant, mild Saturday, the return of sticky summer air on Sunday felt almost punitive. Yet the conditions did not stop Susanna Sullivan (Capital Area Runners) from crushing the women’s course record or Daniel Samet (Georgetown Running Club) from a speedy victory in his half-marathon debut. The Bethesda native ran for the Georgetown Day School and later, Davidson College. 

Navy-Air Force Half Marathon
Sept. 18, 2016

“The weather conditions made it more challenging than I had originally anticipated when I signed up,” Sullivan said afterwards. “But I feel like I ran a smart race and I was happy with how it turned out.” For much of the race, Andie Cozzarelli of Raleigh, N.C. ran alone a few hundred feet ahead of Sullivan. Cozzarelli is a two-time All-American and alumna of NC State who now runs for Oiselle.

In an exciting late play, Sullivan made a move on Cozzarelli in the last half-mile, “which was a little later than I would have liked,” Sullivan said. “But coming out of Rock Creek on the downhill, I really feel like I picked up some momentum and rode that to the finish. I was relieved to pass her and I’m excited for the win.” She finished in 1:17:32, obliterating the 1:19:52 record set by Martha Nelson last year. In another universe, Cozzarelli’s (1:17:53) finish would also have broken the course record. In fact, the times of third-place Amy Laskowske (1:18:07) and age-group winners Perry Shoemaker (1:18:33) and Julia Roman-Duval (1:19:05) also topped Nelson’s 2015 record, an impressive showing considering the temperatures.

In the women’s masters race, Shoemaker bested Sullivan’s teammate Cristina Burbach, who has finished second in the category for several years. Burbach brushed off that history to give the race a go yet again. “This was a race that really rewarded patience,” she said. “You had to go out very conservatively and stay conservative far longer than you wanted to.” For her, this meant waiting until the turnaround in Rock Creek Park, nine miles into the race, to push.

She was surprised when she reached that point, that “really all I could do was hang on. But even as I was just hanging on, I found that other people were struggling, so the act of hanging on enabled me to pass quite a few people.” This humid half was Burbach’s last training race before the Chicago Marathon, which is also known for its unpredictable weather. She hopes that race will be more pleasant.

In the men’s race, Samet, Jordan Tropf (Navy), Blake Taneff (GRC), and Matt Deters (CAR) formed an early lead pack that strung out its chase pack by the time they left Hains Point, just 5 miles in. For his first half-marathon, Samet came out planning to run conservatively and executed that plan as intended. Like Sullivan would a few minutes behind him, Samet made his play in the ninth mile. After that push, he says, “I was lucky that I was able to hang on” to win in 1:10:37. Tropf followed him in 1:10:50 and Taneff took third in 1:11:17.

Runners at all levels powered through the soupy conditions anyway. Erik LeMoyne (1:33:05), a Marine, was recently stationed in Quantico and relocated to Virginia. He is training for his first marathon at Marine Corps and ran through calf  cramps and a wall at mile nine today. “I set a lofty goal for three hours [at Marine Corps],” he says, “but I’ll probably have to adjust. Maybe like 3:10, but it’ll be my first one, so it’s a stepping stone to others.”

Despite struggling, LeMoyne enjoyed the race and its atmosphere. “I love the fact that, with everything that’s going on in the news and all of this negativity, that we can get some positivity around. Everybody’s coming out just to have a little bit of fun with each other.”

Some runners, like Reza Mohaddes (1:57:59) of D.C., still gutted out performances that made them proud. With his wife and sister watching, Mohaddes exceeded his own expectations for his first half. “My goal was like, just finish alive,” he says, “but I didn’t expect myself to finish alive, but I did.” Indeed, the bartender broke two hours and pushed through some tough final miles to earn his time. He’s excited at the finish festival, eyes lit up and talking fast. Asked if he’ll race another, he says, “Absolutely! I’ll race all the half-marathons and I’ll try to do the marathon as well.”

Traci Scott (2:01:18) and Artis Jones (2:03:38), members of the District Running Collective, didn’t feel phased by the morning’s weather, especially compared to the thunderstorms originally forecast. Artis laughs, saying that he’d been terrified of the storms but unhappy about the overcast morning. “I was like, I don’t want all clouds,” he said. “But then the sun came out. I was like, I need another cloud.” Although it only made a brief appearance, the sun was brutally hot in the moments it shone through.

Coming into the race, Artis had hoped to beat his time from last year, but “It was exactly the same!” he groans. (Online race results show that he finished 16 seconds faster this year, a technical victory to be sure.) Traci was aiming for two hours and fell just short. Both runners chalked up the successes they did have to the District Running Collective cheering squad, strategically placed at the Kennedy Center to greet runners in miles seven and 11.

“Our cheer squad is so lit. They’ll keep you going and motivated,” Traci says.

“They’re the only way I made it through,” agrees Artis.

Melissa Dentch (2:21:04) noticed the quieter atmosphere and the flashes of spectator support as well. “The runners were more supportive of each other than on a lot of other races I’ve done, which was really cool,” she said. “There wasn’t music or entertainment on the course so maybe everyone felt like they had to pull together a little more.”

Dentch trains with Team RWB. Military races like this one mean more to her now that she has friends who currently or previously served. “A lot of them are running for people that they’ve lost and people that they know and people who couldn’t be here today for whatever reason,” she says. “So it’s really powerful and meaningful to run with them, run alongside them, and support them.” Her teammate, Jennifer Janowski, joined a few other Team RWB members and the November Project to cheer runners through the finish line.

“It’s not like some of the bigger races,” Janowski says. “You actually get to see people cross the finish line.” She’s one of several people who praises the size of this race; with about 9,500 finishers in the half-marathon, it’s a third of the size of the Army 10-Miler or Marine Corps Marathon. Because she is tapering for Ironman Louisville, for this race, Janowski was happy to bring flags, energy, and Eagle fire to the end of the course.

Ultimately, regardless of the conditions, half-marathons can be a tough race. Nearly everyone interviewed felt some pain in the final miles of the race. Samet’s advice? “It’s a grind, so you just gotta be gritty and go after it.”

Christina Wryter and Lindsey Bernal grin their way down Rock Creek Parkway at the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

Christina Wryter and Lindsey Bernal grin their way down Rock Creek Parkway at the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

by Katie Bolton September 18, 2016 at 5:58 pm 0

Ashburn's John Johnson storms down Clarendon Boulevard on his way to a 48:10 10k. Photo: Swim Bike Run Photography

Ashburn’s John Johnson storms down Clarendon Boulevard on his way to a 48:10 10k. Photo: Swim Bike Run Photography

With fall racing season upon us, runners of all ages and abilities converged on the 2016 Clarendon Day races. The 5k/10k/double race fell a week earlier than usual, and though September weather can be unpredictable, the morning dawned mild and slightly overcast. Undeterred by Safetrack delays, 1,145 runners gathered atop Wilson Boulevard to start the 5k. After the races, daylong festival 

Clarendon Day 5k/10k
Sept. 17, 2016

The course was quiet except for the pounding of shoes and panting of the fastest runners. Dashing towards Rosslyn, Clint McKelvy (14:36) of Arlington took an early lead that became insurmountable by the end of the second mile. At the finish line, McKelvy and his cheering squad debated his finish time, which fell just two seconds short of the course record.

“I thought I could have [the record] with a really good day,” McKelvy said. “I did not expect to get it when I was running solo for the last mile or so. It definitely helped having Stewart [Reich], the guy in second, pushing me the first two miles.”

Behind him, Reich (14:45) of Frederick and Tripp Southerland (15:11) of D.C. rounded out the top male finishers in the 5k. In the women’s race, Maura Carroll (17:35) of Arlington took first, followed closely by Jennifer Brill (17:51) of Arlington and Elyssa Gensib (17:54) of Alexandria.

Runners throughout the pack had strong performances and positive outlooks after the race. Waiting for her friend Tina to finish, Vinita Ollapally (28:32) mused about finish times. “I used to run a lot faster,” she said. “I’m not used to seeing 28 minutes on the clock. But I think it’s just, you know, you’re a runner no matter what. So even if you run slowly you’re not any less of a runner than the runners who are running really quickly.” She and Tina chose the race to set fitness goals for themselves.

Elizabeth Bolton (38:24) of Alexandria (who is this writer’s sister) smiled at the finish line and announced, “I just ran a personal worst!” with equal enthusiasm. She wasn’t disappointed, as she hasn’t been training and is now in the third trimester of her first pregnancy.

Another runner, Lizzie Gomes (38:59), chose the race for her first 5k at a friend’s suggestion. “I thought I was going to struggle and probably be last but I wasn’t!” she said quietly. That friend’s boyfriend, who declined to be interviewed, couldn’t help but chime in, “She’s a superstar today.” Although Gomes plans to stick to 5ks for the near future, she liked the course and felt positive about running the race again.

Shortly thereafter, 910 runners began the 10k. Many of them had trudged back uphill from the 5k finish–some 250 runners doubled up this morning. As in the 5k, a small lead pack broke away on the downhill, but even with the longer flat around the Pentagon, the winner proved unstoppable. Desta Beriso Morkham crossed the finish in 30:50, so nonplussed that he looked around and asked, “Finished?”

Morkam, who is Ethiopian, won his first American race by 40 seconds. “It’s good, it’s good” he said, grinning. “I am very happy because of this good weather for me.”

Behind him, Stewart Reich (31:40) and Matthew Barresi (31:52) took second and third, making Reich the overall top finisher in the double. Still panting, Reich said, “It went well. It was fun. I’ve never done anything like that.” Like Morkam, Reich and Barresi appreciated the conditions and shrugged off the morning humidity.

“The wind was in your face for a bit, but it’s September in DC so that’s what you get,” Barresi said. He added, “If the sun was out, it would have been baking us.”

In the women’s 10k, GRC runner and recent Northwestern grad Elena Barham dominated her first road race. Her 36:16 finish placed her ninth overall and was fully two minutes faster than the next woman, her teammate, Keely Eckberg (38:17). Barham’s strategy was to “just get out there and compete,” which she certainly did.

“There were some great men right around me and they were very, very helpful… [They were] just running really steady so I could kind of like, tuck in. Profit off their hard work a little bit,” Barham said.

Behind her, Eckberg seemed flustered by her finish. “I’m training for a marathon so [my strategy was] just hold a steady tempo pace, I guess. I’ve been feeling good in my workouts, so I dunno. Just to go out and run it,” she said, still trying to catch her breath.

She added, “I live right around here so it was motivating to see my apartment on the way back.”

Just past the finish line, third-place woman Barb Fallon Wallace (38:25) joined fifth-place Amy Nichols (39:56) to stretch and discuss returning to running after pregnancy. Wallace recently had her third child, and Nichols is newly returned to running after her first.

“[Barb] said just try not to set expectations and your body will get back into shape when it wants to,” Nichols said. “Of course I had impractical expectations but I was pretty happy with it, although I finished extremely out of breath. I thought I was going to die.”

For her part, Wallace simply wanted to run a controlled race. The first downhill mile challenged her, but she humbly accepted her finish, saying, “I figured if I didn’t catch [the leaders] then I wasn’t gonna be fast enough to run with them.”

Reich, Wallace, Nichols, and many other doublers used the race as a tune-up, particularly for the upcoming Army 10-Miler. Many set PRs thanks to the speedy first mile. Some, like Madeline Shepherd (22:03/49:44) and Justin Hewitt (17:55/38:55), thought they had taken down two personal bests. “This was my first time running any of the Clarendon Day races and it definitely is exactly as described — super downhill, really flat, really easy PR. Lot of fun,” said Shepherd, who also enjoyed the bananas.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better day,” Hewitt agreed. “Overcast, cool conditions, really  well-organized like [Shepherd] said.” He is training for Marine Corps after a friend unexpectedly transferred a bib to him. Shepherd is training for the Army Ten-Miler after appendicitis knocked her out of last year’s race. Both felt good about their fall season after today’s shakeouts.

An outsider would be forgiven their confusion at the sight of so many grimacing runners grunting, “I’m happy,” at the finish line. We don’t usually associate this much wincing or sweating with easygoing happiness. But with the pleasant conditions, PRs dropping like dominoes, and legs tested for upcoming goal races, these runners earned their good vibes.


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