Rachel Pocratsky isn’t your normal 22-year-old. The Gaithersburg, Md. native has set numerous middle-distance track records at Virginia Tech, achieved first-team status in the NCAA All-American indoor and outdoor track teams, and finished several events in times that rank among some of the fastest in NCAA track history. Oh, and she’s just a few months away from beginning her professional running career in the D.C. area.
Pocratsky is a student athlete at Virginia Tech poised to graduate in May 2020 with a degree in civil engineer … and scores of running awards and accolades under her belt. She recently signed with the District Track Club, an Under Armour-supported post collegiate track club in the D.C. area — where she will begin her professional running career in the spring.
For Shauneen Werlinger, a trip to the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials figured to be the culmination of a long development that started at Thomas Jefferson High School, continued through a spectacular collegiate career and evolved to include her career and family.
But instead of competing in Atlanta, she’ll be following the race alongside her husband and children. Instead of growing the Trials field by one, she’s growing her family by one, with a son due in January.
The decision to pass on the race is one Werlinger, 34, said she did not take lightly.
Bling on the Brain
A race medal is a symbol of achievement; a shiny token signifying a goal achieved. While these medals seem like a small part of an event, race teams put a lot of thought into them — everything from shape, design and ribbon color — to drive home the theme of the race and its significance in runners’ lives.
The Parks Half Marathon uses its medal as a marketing and branding opportunity, said Race Director Don Shulman. The Montgomery County race is often the first half marathon for a lot of its participants, so Shulman said the medal is vital because of the pride finishers have for it.
You can hear it bellowing from speakers as soon as you arrive at a race: directions to gear check, instructions to get into corrals and details about the race course. And when you finish: encouragement, commentary and pleas to keep moving beyond the finish line.
Race announcers play a huge role in running events — from keeping the race-day timeline to interacting with spectators and informing and encouraging participants. And there are scores of D.C.-area announcers who dedicate their weekends to help make races run smoothly and see that runners have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment no matter their finish time.
Creigh Kelley’s voice may sound familiar if you’ve run one of the more than 20 races he has announced for around the country, including the Chicago Marathon, the Walt Disney World Marathon or many in the popular Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon and half marathon series. In the D.C. area, he serves as the announcer for the D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll races as well as the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race.
Everyone knew Wendy Martinez as a runner. It was a huge part of her identity. So much so that when she wanted to meet her friends at a trendy brunch spot in D.C., she would run to the restaurant “and show up all sweaty. She didn’t want to miss a run,” said her best friend Kristina Moore.
“I think through running she found power and strength and serenity — it showed her dedication and mental strength, and so it was an integral core of her life,” Moore said.
Running fulfilled Martinez; she also died while running. Last September, a stranger fatally stabbed the 35-year-old while she was out for a run in D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood. It was a tragic act of violence that rocked her friends, family and the running community.
After her death, her friends and family founded the Wendy Martinez Legacy Project — an initiative that invests in the causes Wendy cared about most: empowering women in technology, supporting women’s entrepreneurship and connecting with others through running.
The days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer — which can mean one big thing for the running community: more runners are taking to the region’s sidewalks, paths and trails.
As more runners ditch the treadmill in favor of running outside, there are health and safety reminders to consider. Chief among them is knowing the correlation between warmer temperatures and running risk, said Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, the medical director of MedStar Sports Medicine for the Washington region. Spring can yield some warm-but-not-too-warm running conditions, but “just because the air feels [cooler], you have to be careful,” he said.
Temperatures can feel comfortable and quickly get dangerous as you exercise, he said. Runners need to be careful with outdoor exercise when temperatures are between 73 and 82 degrees, but with higher humidity levels — a foregone conclusion in the D.C. area — temperatures as low as 73 can be high risk, Dr. Douoguih said.
A little more than a year ago, Chris Neblett underwent a kidney transplant. This month he ran the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race with his kidney donor in an effort to bring awareness to the importance of organ donation.
Neblett and Ana Knott share a special bond: they are longtime friends, Knott donated her kidney to Neblett, and now they are running buddies, too. Neblett, Knott and her husband all ran the 10-mile race this past weekend, during which Neblett achieved his personal best; Knott and her husband both ran their longest distances ever.
But for them, the race was about so much more than just running. The trio all wore T-shirts with the name and phone number of a person who desperately needs an organ donation in hopes of encouraging others to get tested and donate to someone in need. Neblett said Knott’s sacrifice is immeasurable, and he hopes others come to know that feeling.
“I was inspired [during the run] by the gift that Ana gave me; she gave me the gift of getting back to running and being healthy,” he said.
The call went out on a Saturday — “does anyone have an Army Ten-Miler bib?” The race was the next day.
Responses on a message board wished the runner luck and others tried to start an impromptu waiting list. After a while, the sober voice of reason spoke up.
“Not allowed since it’s past the transfer period.”
It can be an unpopular opinion, but it’s backed up by the forms runners sign when they register for races.
At last year’s Credit Union Cherry Blossom races, thousands of runners crossed the finish line in either the event’s 10 mile or 5K events on a chilly April day. Upon finishing, runners were offered a heat sheet — a mylar blanket that provides a small source of warmth. So when runners are ready to toss the blankets and head home, then what? The race’s sustainability team had a plan to make sure there was an eco-friendly option.
Instead of letting the nearly 20,000 blankets end up on the trash, and eventually a landfill or incinerator, there were specific collection points on race day where runners could ditch their heat sheets.
A lot can go wrong with race pacing. Going out too fast could lead to an almost-certain wall-hitting, crash-and-burn scenario. Going out too slow could lead to a goal finish time slipping out of grasp. Pacing correctly can seem like a perfect science — and luckily there are some runners who work to master it and lead others to reach their goals.
Many pace group leaders around the region work hard to put other runners’ needs before their own and see that participants are set up for success.
“We have a chance to help someone achieve a goal — really, how precious is that, right?” said Lara Mish, a pace group leader who has worked at races around the region for the last seven years. Mish will lead a pace group at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., this month.