Washington, DC

Emily Hart’s friends raved about how Marine Corps would be the best “first marathon” for her, with deafening crowds, thousands of volunteers, aid stations and the atmosphere of running through her home city.

When finally she ran it, her experience was completely different from what she’d heard about, but no less memorable. Like many of the D.C. area’s marathoners, she charted her own course for 26.2 miles in 2020 — straight up the W&OD Trail — one of hundreds whose options were only limited by their creativity and motivation. And, public health orders limiting gathering sizes.

With the November postponement of the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Marathon, usually in March, and the undetermined rescheduling of the Boston Marathon, these will likely be the stories of more runners who feel the itch to go for a very long timed run though at least the first half of 2021. While a smattering of small marathons are being held in the D.C. area, with others tending larger in other parts of the country, fortune will favor the self-motivated. 

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The DMV Distance Derby, RunWashington’s substitute for a robust road racing season, has recorded 677 times for 22 segments since May 2020. Using the Strava app, runners can run a variety of distances on courses throughout the D.C. area at a time of their choosing to earn bragging rights. Often, they are a break from the tranditional 5k, 10k, etc. distances common in road racing.

The 2.5-mile Hains Point segment, clockwise between the gates in East Potomac Park, has seen the most action with 80 men and 45 women trying. Brian Rich (12:34) and Nina Zarina (13:30) hold the leads so far. Others are ripe for more attempts, with only a few people running the WB&A Trail and the Washington’s Birthday Marathon loop in Prince George’s County, Kenwood in Montgomery County or the National Aboretum.

Even if you don’t run all out in an attempt to set a personal best, these courses are also an opportunity to try running in a new place.

We’ll be doing a full year, running through April 30, and I will write glowing profiles of the runners with the most segment leads over that time.

View overall results for the first seven months of the DMV Distance Derby here

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When I cobbled together a few routes for the DMV Distance Derby, I arbitrarily said it would last through the end of 2020. It makes a lot more sense to have the term of the challenge last for an entire year, so as of right now, let’s go through April 30, 2021. By then, if reports are to be believed, COVID-19 vaccines should be reaching wide circulation and the road racing industry will likely have a clearer path forward for resuming operations.  I may retire some underused segments at the end of the year, however, in favor of more popular or accessible routes.

View overall results for the first six months of the DMV Distance Derby here

The segment results are generally organized to fit compactly.

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Keira D’Amato has made her own fun the last nine months, refusing to let her momentum from the Olympic Marathon Trials go to waste, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the racing landscape. This morning, she made her own race, and came out of it with an American record for the women’s-only 10 mile in 51:23. Janet Bawcom had set the previous record, 52:12, at the 2104 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile, which she watched up close, holding the finishing tape.

A Cherry Blossom-managed race in Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C., dubbed by D’Amato the “Updawg Ten Miler,” drew Olympic Marathoner Molly Seidel of Boston, locals Susanna Sullivan and Bethany Sachtleben (now of Boulder) and Flagstaff-based Emily Durgin. But D’Amato, an Oakton High School and American University alumna who lives near Richmond, was already two seconds ahead of Seidel roughly a quarter-mile into the race and wasn’t in jeopardy the rest of the way as she ran to a 2:13 margin.

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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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Though it hung around longer than usual this fall, the humidity seems to be receeding for the fall and winter, opening up conditions for some more pleasant attempts at the longer segments in the DMV Distance Derby.

Admittedly, last month’s addition of a 10k in the Arboteum was a little confusing – blame that on me making a wrong turn while putting the segment together. This month’s addition is simple – downhill on the Capital Crescent Trail, starting in Bethesda and finishing at the Key Bridge. It’s a few steps under 7.1 miles starting at Bethesda Avenue and ending under the Key Bridge. There are two things to keep in mind: the key bridge is under the Whitehurst Freeway past the trailhead gate and Little Falls Parkway is closed to traffic on the weekends, leaving one low-speed intersection- Dorset Ave, about a mile in, as the only major hazard.

View overall results for the first six months of the DMV Distance Derby here

The segment results are generally organized to fit compactly.

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The bats are silent in D.C. at a time when a year ago, the Nationals were winning their first World Series. Instead, Oakton native and American University alumna Keira D’Amato is standing at home plate, pointing to the Washington Monument and calling her shot — an attempt at the U.S. 10-mile record in less than a month.

Backed up by the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile team that she’s been working with for nearly a decade, D’Amato will run a small road race in the D.C. area Nov. 23 to try and top Janet Bawcom’s 52:12 time for a women-only 10-mile, which she set in 2014 at Cherry Blossom.

“It makes no sense, why I have the guts to go after it,” she said days prior. “But I’ve known since the spring I’m capable of running 52:12.”

D’Amato came close Oct. 28, splitting 52:37 en route to 1:08:57 at the Michigan Pro Half-Marathon, which she won. That performance made her the 10th fastest American woman at the half marathon.

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It had been a while since I had added a new loop, so to celebrate the return of reasonable hours for the National Arboretum, there is now a 10k segment in there, mostly free of car traffic.

The loop follows the outer loop, going clockwise, with a trip up to Mount Hamilton (counterclockwise around the top loop), and then a smaller interior loop. You can follow the path of the loop, which is a few steps over 10k, here. The start is the R Street exit sign and the finish the cross street on the road leading to the out-of-use gate. It’s really easier to follow the map, but it makes sense when you’re in there. If people are interested, I will add chalk markings.

View overall results for the first five months of the DMV Distance Derby here

I didn’t get all the September marks, so I just have the overall results, though I may have missed one or two.

The segment results are generally organized to fit compactly.

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A former West Point classmate needed a new kidney, and Dave Ashley did a blood test to see if he was a match.

After further testing, it turned out he was. But when he tried to research whether he’d be able to keep doing endurance sports, which helped him with anxiety issues resulting from deployment, he wasn’t able to find answers.

“So I really had to make this decision kind of blindly, hoping that on the other end I’d still be able to do at least some of the activities that I’m really passionate about and are therapeutic for me,” said Ashley, now 46, who lives in Arlington.

This coming January will mark four years since the now-retired U.S. Air Force colonel donated his kidney — and he’s showing that living with one kidney isn’t stopping him as he completes athletic feats, from ultramarathons to bike rides.

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