Washington, DC

It may not be the Appalachian Trail, but to some local runners, traveling the length of the W&OD Trail is a goal worth pursuing.

The Washington and Old Dominion Trail stretches 45 miles through Northern Virginia between Purcellville and Shirlington. The asphalt path is beloved by cyclists and runners alike, but running the entire trail in one day is an uncommon feat. 

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When Kristen Serafin felt like a failure, running helped come back. Twice.

The first time, it was on a monthlong road trip with her now-fiancé Erin Kelman. The second time, when it was even more complicated, it gave her insight and an incentive to share her experience and strive to come out of it more motivated.

Back in September, recovering in Garfield Memorial Hospital in Utah, Serafin asked her attending doctor what would sound like an insane question: Could she run Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim? A 47.5-mile run though the Grand Canyon and back, 10 days after losing a pregnancy she only learned about two weeks prior. To her surprise, she got the go-ahead to accompany Erin.

“He was practical about it, he told me ‘you’re going to be tired, you lost a lot of blood, but I think you can do it if you want to give it a shot,'” she said, “He told me I might need to bail, but there’s nowhere really to bail.

“When I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t do this thing my body was supposed to be able to do, I still wanted to do something amazing.”

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As fog rolled rapidly though the Cumberland Mountains in Eastern Tennessee, it created a strobe-like effect as dawn was breaking. From a fire tower, Rockville’s John Kelly could be seen, then not seen, then seen again… climbing a long hillside cleared for power lines.

Conrad Laskowski and Ed Aramayo watched Kelly pick up something orange, shake it around and put it on his head.

“It was a wool hat,” Laskowski said.

Photo: Conrad Laskowski
John Kelly climbs “Rat Jaw” on his fifth loop of the 2017 Barkley Marathons. Photo: Ed Aramayo

Even five days later, the excitement perked up Kelly’s otherwise calm even-keeled demeanor.

“I spotted that orange hat I’m like, ‘Score! this is awesome!” he said. “It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen.”

That hat, along with the plastic grocery bag he had fashioned into a poncho, helped Kelly, 32, mitigate the cold and rain and repurpose them to help propel him forward, with just a few miles to go in what was likely 130 miles over 59 hours and 31 minutes, over some of the most rugged terrain in distance running.

In 2017, he became the 15th person to complete the Barkley Marathons over 30 years, the first from the Washington, D.C. area.

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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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Twenty-one years of distance didn’t make the recent explosion at the Beirut seaport any easier for Zé Dagher.

Though he has been away from his native Lebanon for roughly half of his life without plans to return, the explosion, which killed more than 180 people, injured 6,000 others and caused more than $15 billion in property damage prompted the Falls Church resident to do something.

At this same time, his friend, Patrick Vaughn, had been making nearly-annual trips to the country over the last two decades, mostly with his Lebanese ex-wife and their children. Their commisseration led to inspiration.

“It was a pretty rough moment, we decided we had to do something together,” Dagher said.

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Jarad Schofer shares stories from the streets during his nine-month journey around all of D.C.’s public streets and alleys.

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For almost nine months, a giant paper map of D.C.’s streets took up a good bit of Jarad Schofer’s floor like an oversized jigsaw puzzle. Now, to his wife’s delight, he can pick it up for good. After almost 2,500 miles of running, Schofer put in the last piece of the puzzle June 13 — filling in a 2 kilometer route near Logan Circle — and met his goal of running every public street and alley in Washington, D.C.

But he didn’t achieve his unwritten dream. 

“I really wanted someone to see me running and invite me to their barbecue, to offer me a beer,” he said.

As the weather and grills heated up, Schofer instead found himself running through streets of a city dealing with a deadly pandemic, one that kept people from approaching him the way they did before and while it made it easier to navigate the streets, he couldn’t be as friendly and open with people he met along his way. He also worried public health restrictions could approach some in Europe, where people couldn’t stray too far from home.

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Ashley Donovan is used to starting off her ultramarathons with a low-key command. “Go” usually suffices. But the start of her latest 24-hour run was accompanied by sirens. 

At 6:01 a.m. May 9, as she started on a day’s worth of solitary 0.2-mile loops around the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad building and parking lot, an ambulance rolled out on a call. That service, and her fundraising run, hammered home the 24-hour nature of emergency response and demonstrated why she was doing this. The secretary on BCCRS’ Board of Directors, Donovan, of Upper Northwest D.C., has been a volunteer EMT since 2015. 

“People have been surprised when they hear I’m still volunteering,” during the coronavirus pandemic, she said. “This was a fine opportunity to highlight the role of volunteers in our emergency response system.”

The fundraising effort around her feat totaled more than $11,000, which will be split between the rescue squad and Feed the Fight, a nonprofit that feeds emergency and healthcare workers meals from local restaurants and caterers. 

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Tysons’s Chris Gellene, 58, spent his Easter Sunday differently than most. While families around the country were asleep in bed, Gellene was finishing up a 100-mile run sometime between 3:30 and 4 in the morning. But after some rest and a good night’s sleep, he says, “I got up the next day, it was Easter morning. I got and went about my Sunday.”

Originally signed up to run the Pistol 100-Miler in Tennessee, Gellene was worried when he learned that he would not be able to run the race. Gellene is no stranger to the 100-mile distance. The Pistol 100-Miler would have been his 12th.

“I trained for it and I was in shape and I’d run a lot of mileage,” he said.

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