Montgomery County Road Runners dodged a thunderstorm on Friday to host more than 100 runners at its Midsummer Night’s Mile on the Gaithersburg High School track.
Chris Moen of Bethesda claimed the fastest time of the night, staying with the pack in the first two laps before taking the lead and crossing the line in 4:36. D.C.’s Jacqueline Kasal was the fastest woman with her 5:24 finish.
Race volunteer Stacey Geldin said she could sense participants’ excitement before the start of the four-lap race, which divided the field across eight heats according to their estimated finish time. Heavy rain passed through the area in the hours before the race, leaving behind temperatures in the mid-80’s with 75 percent relative humidity.
With all due respect to Rock Creek Park, I’m getting a little tired of Rock Creek Park, or at least the parklands in DC. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply appreciate the city closing parts of Beach Drive to allow socially distant recreation during the COVID-19 crisis, but when you’re an injured runner it’s kind of hard to go where seemingly all the healthy runners are going.
So I’ve been trying to branch out, using a few criteria to stave off cabin fever: easy parking; quiet trails; plenty of shade; friendly dogs, preferably leashed.
One weekend, a running friend mentioned that he used to run at Lake Needwood, and I immediately remembered seeing it on a map near Rockville when checking how far north Rock Creek goes (answer: about eight miles north of Needwood to Laytonsville).
The 40-minute drive from downtown D.C. was a small investment to check all the boxes. That Thursday afternoon was made for lake exploring; I almost forgot about the midday humid heat — and if you can believe it, the pandemic — as I followed the tree-lined trails. As tempting as it looks, keep your feet and pets out of the water. County tests for water quality in recent years have detected toxic blue-green algae.
The fact that parking at Lake Needwood is free is a big deal for me, though the small parking lots seem likely to fill up on busy summer weekends. The park is open from sunrise to sunset.
Montgomery Parks’ website on the Needwood Trails says that there is no way to walk around the lake, but Needwood Drive has a safe path on the side of the road for pedestrians and bikers to cross the water on the north end of the lake, which is what I used to connect the Westside and Mudcat trails.
It’s difficult to talk about 75-acre Lake Needwood without mentioning nearby 55-acre Lake Frank and the natural surface trails surrounding both. I would not recommend centering a long run at Needwood itself, which is only about 2-3 miles around, but the asphalt Rock Creek Hiker/Biker Trail connects both waterways to the District of Columbia border less than 15 miles away. Given the narrow, winding route, you’re unlikely to encounter aggressive cyclists.
Boat rentals and fishing could distract non-running members of your household on certain days of the week if they’re into that. Check online for their revised schedule during COVID-19 times.
Brian Harvey has come a long way from his 24-minute 5k during his freshman year of high school. The Ellicott City native, who now runs for the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), qualified for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials with a 2:17:48 finish at the 2018 California International Marathon. It will be his second appearance at the Trials.
The key to success for this Cambridge, Mass., resident has been his ability to balance consistent race performances with his full-time jobs as a biomedical engineer and as a father to his two-year-old daughter. Most days his training is done by 7 a.m. so that he and his wife can get ready for work.
“Running has become less of a priority than it was ten years ago, but it’s still something I care a lot about,” the 32-year-old says.
Though she had kept a relatively low profile since winning the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon, Perry Shoemaker is back after qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials April 28 at the Eugene Marathon. Her 2:43:33 was a PR of more than eight minutes.
“I’m still shocked that I did it,” Perry said a little over a week after the race. “And of course I’m still very excited.”
For years, Perry, 48, has challenged the notion that results slow down with age. She says that qualifying for the Trials became a dream when she realized she could do it with the right conditions and without injuries. “Without injuries” turned out to be a key challenge.
Boston, New York, Marine Corps, Chicago. Getting into one of these marathons is half the battle. Year after year, missed qualifying times and bad luck with lotteries are the source of much heartache for runners. To some, racing on behalf of a charity offers a back door to the starting line when all else fails.
But these charity runners will tell you it’s not about the race bib.
Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, Md. boasts more than 6,000 acres of nature trails and wildlife just ten miles off the Beltway.
What started as an innocent IKEA chair purchase in 2014 has turned into quite the display of race medals for Mike Katz of D.C.
His springy bentwood Poäng, which he pronounces POE-ayng, is adorned with 32 pieces of hardware from marathons, half marathons, relays, ten milers, and more. He layers them on with the completion of each race, hoping (with mixed success) they stay in chronological order.
His favorite? The 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA (now Rock ‘n’ Roll DC) Half Marathon medal has good aesthetics and was the first medal he draped onto the Poäng while unpacking in an otherwise unfurnished apartment in 2014.
Another notable design includes the 2015 Parks Half Marathon medal featuring a wine stopper welded onto the bottom.
His memento from the 2016 Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon is a round aluminum pendant that a friend hung on a candy necklace with “Good Job Running Boy” written on it in Sharpie.
The Poäng makes an appearance on Katz’s social media accounts from time to time, captioned with some variation of “Another medal for the Poäng!” and the occasional race report.
“I’m gonna need a new medal chair soon if I keep making these terrible choices,” he wrote in 2015.
If it gets to that point, he has his sights set on the children’s version of the Poäng as a contingency.
“If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.” Runners and bicyclists frequently use this phrase, either jokingly or sincerely, to describe the fitness-tracker-turned-social-network.
Miles, splits, maps and sweaty selfies are all compiled into one social media experience. It may be your non-running friends’ nightmare, but it offers a unique opportunity to connect with both local and international athletes.
“I love running.”
Those three words by Perry Shoemaker explain a lot about her success at the age of 45. She’s won the .US National 12k master’s championship three years in a row. In 2016 she was one of the top 10 American women at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler. In 2015 she was the second-place woman at the Army Ten-Miler and just missed the 1:15 qualifying time for the Olympic marathon trials with a 1:16:01 half marathon in Philadelphia.
“I love running,” she says. “It’s not a chore at all. It’s my peace.”
At the top of the local race results, she has become a bit of a local celebrity.
“Perry runs a lot of local races,” said Ray Pugsley, owner of Potomac River Running and a PRR DC Elite teammate. “To see Perry continue to improve and excel through her 40s is an inspiration to me and the Potomac River Running community.”
Shes somewhat legendary in local racing circles, as of late July third overall in the RunWashington rankings, behind only Olympic Trials marathoners Susanna Sullivan and Julia Roman–Duval.
Overheard by Roland Rust at a race: “I got second to Perry, but I don’t really count her.”
Up until five years ago, though, running took the backseat to her other athletic pursuits.
Her high school in Annapolis didn’t offer cross country or track, so she focused on field hockey, lacrosse, basketball and sailing. Throughout it all, running helped her stay in shape. But winning her age group at the Governor’s Bay Bridge 10K back then was an early sign of the success to come later in life.
She was a two-time All-American in sailing at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and coached lacrosse after graduation, but through it all she continued running. When she and her family lived in Pittsburgh, racing for Perry mostly consisted of small community 5ks through the neighborhood. It wasn’t until the Shoemakers moved to Vienna in 2011 that Perry began running competitively.
It started with a small 5k at her middle daughter’s high school, which she won. Then there was the Run with Santa 5k, which she won, followed by their New Year’s Day 5k, which — you guessed it — she won. It didn’t take long for the Shoemakers’ oldest daughter — “she’s the research girl,” according to Perry — to find the Potomac River racing team application online. The seventh grader encouraged her mother to fill it out. The race locations were convenient and the community was a great fit. By April 2012, Perry was on the team, complete with a pair of racing shoes, courtesy of her husband.
Perry trains on her own, averaging 45-70 miles per week on top of cross-training, core work, and strength training. She says the solo workouts suit her fine.
“I’m very much an introvert,” she said. “I don’t talk a lot when I run, I’m just kind of in my own space.”
“You’re not much fun to run with,” her husband once told her.
She keeps in touch with her Potomac River Running teammates over email during the week, offering words of encouragement and congratulations for weekend race results and warms up and cools down with them on race days.
“Conversations during those runs are usually about families and how other people are doing, other race plans, and injuries, but never about how Perry was beating everybody, and she’s always modest about anything she has done,” said teammate Steve Crago.
A preschool teacher during the day, Perry saves speedwork for her half-days, often running on the track at her middle daughter’s high school.
“I’m very competitive in my own person. I’m probably my worst and best competitor,” she said. That drive has helped her shave time off her Army Ten Miler finish year after year, culminating in an incredible 57:31 last year. She has finished second there in 2015 and 2016 and claimed four masters’ titles.
“That race let me know that she could rise to another level on occasion when there was top competition,” said Rust.
Perry and her husband talked about what could come next. They considered the Philadelphia Half Marathon the following month, where Perry would need to drop over seven minutes from her half marathon PR to get into the Olympic Marathon Trials in January.
“Is it really ridiculous if I think about trying to qualify for the Trials?” she remembers asking him. “It’s a big long shot,” he told her, “but let’s think of a plan. Let’s try to do it.” As with all her races, he designed a workout plan and coached her through the training. She missed the qualifying time by a minute, but has no regrets.
“We tried. We came close. Good experience and a lot of hard workouts. Glad I did it.”
Because of an injury, she spent the morning of the marathon trials watching the race on TV from a spin bike.
Some of her proudest races haven’t necessarily been her fastest. At this year’s Cherry Blossom Ten Mile, awful weather and a nagging injury left Perry questioning whether she’d even attempt the race. It would be her first run in two weeks.
“I was dreading it,” she said. “It was freezing cold, it was blowing head-on wind the last two miles of the race and I did it! I didn’t have the best time, but it was great. I’m very proud I did that race.”
While she trains alone, Perry often relies on her family and team to get her through tough races. At the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon, Perry heard her husband and her three daughters cheering five times along the course and ran with a Potomac River teammate for the last seven miles on her way to a 2:52:22 finish and fourth place. She calls it a “fulfilling day” that ended with a fifth birthday party for her youngest daughter.
All three of the Shoemaker daughters are now runners, with the oldest two running on their high school cross country and track teams and already wielding USATF National Junior Olympics XC and Track and Field Championship experience.
“Running’s always been part of our entire family,” she said. She brings her youngest daughter to the pool when she cross-trains; she texts her husband to let him know if a workout goes particularly well.
She even incorporates running into work. Recess at her preschool includes students racing around the playground and field and show-and-tell includes Perry’s race medals. Last October, her students barely stood taller than her Army Ten-Miler Master’s Trophy and thought it would make a good bowl to hand out candy in for Halloween later that month.
“Wow I love your jacket! Where did you get it?” one student exclaimed when he saw her brightly colored Boston marathon jacket one day. Perry spent the next few minutes explaining that running 26.2 miles would be like going back and forth to school about a hundred times.
Last year, Perry hit a PR at every distance she attempted, but remains humble in her accomplishments. Balancing family, her work, and her training has left her thankful to have the opportunity to compete. Looking ahead, she is open to whatever racing opportunities come up in the next few years, but she knows she’ll run Army Ten-Miler again because it has a special place in her heart.
“I start at the front so I get to see the marching in of the colors, see the singing of the national anthem, and watch the wounded warriors at their start. Inspiring,” she said. “The [Army Ten-Miler] is always a favorite for me.”
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of RunWashington.
Ibrahim Abu Asbeh was driving on a sunny day in Amman, Jordan, when he first saw Nina Brekelmans running.
“Wow, she is really good,” the running coach thought to himself. “I need to know her.”
Seeing a female runner in that country was rare, something Nina hoped to change.
She was in Jordan through the Center for Arabic Study Abroad while a graduate student at Georgetown and Abu Asbeh just happened to see her during one of her training runs along Amman’s Sport City trails. After picking up running at the insistence of a friend, she had competed for Dartmouth and kept it up after moving on to grad school.
As the General Secretary of the Jordan Athletics Federation, Abu Asbeh became a valuable resource for Nina when she looked to connect with the local running community, coaching her during her year abroad. She returned to D.C. in 2014 to finish her masters, but planned to work with her friends researching Jordanian women’s distance running under her Fulbright fellowship. Sadly, they never had the chance.
That excitement turned to grief when Brekelmans was killed in June 2015 in an electrical fire in her building near Dupont Circle.
But her work is still far from complete.