Washington, DC
Boyds native Andrew Lent runs the Appalachian Trail section of the 2020 JFK 50 Mile. Photo: H3 Photography

Time moves differently now for Andrew Lent. 

Part of it is his age — he’s 21, and a minute, an hour, even a month exists on a broader scale than it did a few years before. 

But he’s also made new choices. Since he finished his high school career at Poolesville with a state runner-up finish in the 3,200 meters behind teammate Ryan Lockett, he’s now competing in situations where those same 3,200 meters can include two walking breaks, even on his way to a top-10 finish at the storied JFK 50 Miler.

“You can get a real second wind in ultra running,” he said. “It could take hours, but at some point, you usually come back around. 

“It amuses me that it can happen. You come from track and cross country where your race is about 15 minutes and if things feel bad, it’s not going to get much better. Now I’m in situations where an hour ago, you couldn’t fathom taking another step and all of a second you’re running even better than you had been.”

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When Gavin McElhennon decided on a college last year, he didn’t expect to spend his first semester thousands of miles away from Johns Hopkins University’s campus in Baltimore.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing classes online for his first semester, Gonzaga alumnus McElhennon and 13 of his first-year classmates took their academic flexibility to Flagstaff, Ariz. The Blue Jays weren’t alone — college runners from across the country, including many in and from the D.C. area, took a consolation prize from a deferred fall season and did some altitude training.

“We started texting pretty much as soon as we found out we wouldn’t have classes in person,” McElhennon said. “Within a few days we had a house that could fit all of us.”

Though some parents voice concerns about letting 14 college freshmen — six men and eight women — spend their first significant stretch away from home without resident advisors and meal plans, before long they figured out their independent living situations.

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Photo: Members of the Georgetown Running Club warm up before a workout on the fields they know as the “cell tower field.” Photo: Charlie Ban

Tom Martin isn’t sure what he’d do without the towers field in Bethesda, Md. Maybe his cross country runners would have to do more workouts on the track, he says. Maybe he’d even think about retiring from coaching. That’s how important the roughly 1.25-mile, grass-and-dirt loop around the WMAL radio towers is to him. It’s more than just a 75-acre field nestled between two highways and not far from Walter Johnson High School, where Martin coaches. It’s a crucial piece of the local running culture in Montgomery County.

“For me, it’s almost as if, when that goes away, I might consider retiring,” Martin says. “It’s invaluable just to have… this nice open space where we can do all different kinds of workouts. It would be a tremendous loss to our program.”


WTOP caught the four towers fall Nov. 4 at 6:30 a.m.


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George Alexander was somewhere new, all alone in front of a cross country race. He pulled away from the rest of the field in the red race at the Virginia Elite Invitational at Hanover County’s Pole Green Park, and he alone fought the wind that picked up throughout the day. He surged as he approached the three mile mark as the clock neared his PR of 15:52, crossing the line, flexing and expecting his time to be just under 15:50. The problem was, the was 5k.

“I guess I was mentally checked out,” he said. “I was ready for it to be over, and I was wondering why people were yelling at me to keep going.”

Alexander recovered and won in 16:16 with a 14-second margin over second place.

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Bowen Shuttleworth left for Williamsburg last month, eager to join the dozens of young men from Northern Virginia who, over the years, made their academic and athletic marks while running for the College of William and Mary.  

Last Thursday, he skipped a physics lab to make a mandatory track team meeting. There, Athletic Director Samanta Huge told the men’s indoor and outdoor track athletes that their teams, along with men’s and women’s swimming and gymnastics and women’s volleyball teams, would be cut at the end of the school year, attributing the decision to budget pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Huge abruptly hung up the video call, Shuttleworth said, taking no questions.

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The weight of the ink on her cross country uniform was almost imperceptible, but it dragged Julia Clark down when she raced. 

For three years, since the first time she walked into her high school as a freshman, the building taunted her. J.E.B. Stuart High School, named for a Confederate general. 

But as a senior, wearing the simple J of the renamed Justice High School Wolves, she felt something she hadn’t for her entire track and cross country career up to that point – unmitigated pride. 

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Chantilly Coach Matt Gilchrist offers his thoughts on the nascent club cross country movement. This is a good reminder that RunWashington welcomes input on issues related to Washington, D.C.-area running on all levels, and if you have thoughts to share, contact Charlie Ban at charlie(at) runwashington (dot) com.


The sun rises over Burke Lake and it’s 7 a.m. on an August morning.  We’re the first ones there, the first Monday of a new cross country season, with all the promise and potential that lies ahead.  We are brimming with enthusiasm and filled with confidence and energy that is gained by a full summer of group conditioning, motivated for another successful fall season.  This has been the same ritual that we’ve practiced year in and year out, but this year when August came, we stayed home.  For the first time in my 25 years of coaching, there have been no practices at Burke Lake.  Instead of heading to Lost River, W.Wa. for our annual team camp, we all stayed home.  The motivation hasn’t changed and the hunger to run and to compete is still there, but in the world dealing with COVID-19, these annual rites of passages are chief on a list of things that we are missing out on.

There is no denying that our student-athletes miss sports.  There is no questioning the benefit to them participating, just as we have debated over the best ways to re-open schools this fall.  Running cross country (or participating in any sport) is beneficial to our emotional and mental health, our physical development, and being amongst teammates is a vital link to some level of socialization that many of us have missed over the last six months.

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Kelly Deegan lives close enough to a park that almost every day, she sees organized sports practices and games happening. She also got a phone call from the Westfield High School administration, asking if three teenagers — who a local resident saw running together — were on her cross country team. She hasn’t seen her runners since March… they weren’t her runners.

That drove home her frustration about the fate of high school cross country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You want them to do it, but you also don’t want to be responsible for bad decision making,” Deegan said. “We’re in this limbo where we can’t do what we’re driven to do, which is help kids run.”

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Though she put away her jumping spikes a few years ago, Lake Braddock alumna Maddie Manhertz Swegle is still flying through the air, this time in a navy fighter jet. On Friday, she will become the first African American tactical air pilot.

Though she was primarily a long and triple jumper at Lake Braddock and later at the U.S. Naval Academy, Swegle was willing to pitch in on the track too, including running a leg of the 2012 AAA state champion outdoor 3200 meter relay team that finished with a six-second lead over West Springfield in 9:20.9.

“My guess is that she enjoyed jumping more than she enjoyed the 400 and 800, but if we needed her on a relay, she was always in,” said Bruins Coach Mike Mangan. “That tells you a lot about her, doing that for the state championship. She was super team oriented and her teammate adored her. People felt good just being around her.”

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