Washington, DC

Dan Frank hadn’t done the training he normally would have for an ultramarathon, and he didn’t have a route planned. There were some tough points during his run, which lasted nearly a day. 

But the Columbia resident and Paint Branch High School math teacher had plenty to keep him going as he ran about 102 miles in a fundraiser for the Community Action Council of Howard County, which includes the Howard County Food Bank. 

The idea came about when Frank and his wife were on a walk. Their daughters’ school, Phelps Luck Elementary, usually has a mobile food pantry available one day per month, he said. But now, schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“In good times, about 40 families show up every time we have that mobile food pantry, and I can’t imagine what it would be like now, with how many people have lost their jobs and everything,” Frank said. 

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When the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Marathon, stripped of its permit in the face of D.C.’s state of emergency order, announced its postponement, it hit a lot of runners right as they were starting their tapers.

But not all were planning to wait for the Nov. 7 makeup date. They had a marathon on their calendars for March 28, and they were going to run a marathon on March 28.

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New stay-at-home orders in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. carve out exceptions for outdoor exercise, which includes running. I’m sure I’m not the only person breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s up to runners to be responsible with this. In the grand scheme of things, running in a group isn’t as likely as most social activities to promote transmission of the coronavirus, but considering the ground runners cover, it’s a high profile activity that I worry could easily be seen as nonessential. It’s low-hanging fruit. And frankly, you should be doing everything you can to limit your exposure to other people.

Chicago closed its Lakefront Trail after it got too crowded. D.C. closed part of the Mall when people crammed the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms. The D.C. Parks and Recreation Department just closed all of its facilities. In France, you can’t run more than 1.25 miles (they call it 2 kilometers) from your home. It’s not runners tipping the balance in most of those places, but let’s not change that.

Most of the sidewalks and trails around here aren’t wide enough to accomodate two people running side-by-side with approriate distance between them (and six feet is the minimum distance you should keep from people, anyway). Heck, Beach Drive is barely wide enough for that, given all the people out there on weekends. Run alone for a while.

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The response to COVID-19 has been wide reaching, affecting the lives of millions of Americans and shuttering businesses nationwide. The pandemic is affecting businesses in all sectors, and the running community is not exempt. D.C.-area specialty running stores are closing their sales floors, canceling events and working to find ways to virtually connect with patrons in an industry that thrives on face-to-face interactions.

Most specialty running stores rely on business in the spring to help set them up for a successful year. It’s when many runners hit the streets again and think of their apparel and footwear needs, said Potomac River Running Owner Ray Pugsley.

Most years his stores see an uptick in sales in March, and sales stay strong through the Marine Corps Marathon in October. However, the novel coronavirus has been a gut punch to his business and has him concerned about what the future could hold. Potomac River Running’s Virginia stores have reduced hours; the D.C. store closed last week after Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.

“If businesses like us are shut down for two months, we can’t recover … It’s so grave I can’t even wrap my brain around it. I can’t even wrap my arms around how bad this can get so fast,” Pugsley said. “… As long as you’re selling stuff every day, it’s not a problem. But when you pull the sales out, everything stops. We can’t do anything; we’re paralized.”

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Motivating high school runners is not always easy, even without a global health crisis going on. But with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, preventing kids from coming to school-sponsored organized practices or attending track meets, keeping high school runners motivated becomes an even greater challenge.

Anthony Belber, head track and field coach at the Georgetown Day School, anticipates that it will be weeks until the team can reunite in person, something he acknowledges is going to be difficult.

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“[In not having our regular season], we are being tested at this moment in a way which might be far more substantial than in a championship meet. We are being asked to show just how strong we are,” he said.

This challenge becomes even harder for coaches in Virginia. Last week,On Monday it was announced that there will be no track and field season for the rest of the spring season in the state of Virginia. Maryland and D.C. schools and sports are on an open-ended suspension.

Gina DeGaetano is the head track and field coach at Riverside High School in Leesburg. She knows firsthand the difficulties that this announcement brings, but is trying to stay positive in light of the news.

“The news on Monday was not what any of us expected,” she said. “I hope we get back to track rather sooner than later. I miss it. I think it’s important to note that as much as the athletes miss it, we (the coaches) miss it too.”

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When Kerry O’Brien woke up on Friday, March 13, she hadn’t expected to have an entire day free, because she’d been planning to go in to school to teach her 6th grade special education class. When she got the memo that her school would be closed for at least the next several weeks due to COVID-19, she seized the opportunity to tackle her bucket list of local trails. O’Brien set a goal to run a new trail every weekday she is out of school, which Governor Northam just announced will now be until the end of the school year in June.

O’Brien has an inspirational notebook where she keeps lists of places she wants to travel, books she wants to read, and of course, trails she’d like to run. When she first moved to the DC area from upstate New York in 2012, she craved community, so she joined a Meet-Up group that met every Saturday morning at Teddy Roosevelt Island for long runs.

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No running group is good right now. Run alone for a while.

Most of the paved paths around here are barely six feet wide anyway.

If you’re on a single track trail and you have to pass people either way, stop for a moment and move off the trail so you keep each other at a safe distance.

Arlington County probably didn’t want to close its tracks and trails to group use, but it did so in hopes of limiting the spread of the coronavirus, so take that into account when you decide where to run, even if they can’t enforce those closures.

Nova Parks is closing its parking lots but not its trails. That would seem to cut down on crowding on trails by discouraging people who had to drive from visiting.

The National Arboretum, however, can close the gates, and did Tuesday afternoon.

I’m hoping by the time this is all over, I will have updated and upgraded our running group schedule and database, but for now, please don’t waste the sacrifices that people and businesses have made in the name of public health just for some company for a few miles.

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The first time Tony Valenti got into a wheelchair meant to be pushed in races, he loved it so much that it took four people to get him out of the chair.

In October 2015, Valenti became the first rider in the National Capital Region ambassadorship of Ainsley’s Angels, a nonprofit group of volunteers that push those who can’t run in races. Valenti has cerebral palsy, a motor disability that prevents him from bearing weight on his legs, so can’t run races on his own. But with the help of a volunteer, Valenti gets to be part of two or three races a month, feeling the wind on his face as he tackles distances ranging from 5ks up to marathons.

“They have brought joy to my sons’ life like I’ve never seen. He is wide awake when it comes to racing. If it takes a few hours to get there, we’re going. … He loves it that much,” his mother Linda Valenti said, adding that she’s driven up to nine hours from her Lorton, Va., home so her son can participate in events from Ohio to Massachusetts.

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Diego Zarate was in Albuquerque for a job interview. 

He was hoping that, as one of 16 men who qualified for the mile at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships, he could make something good happen and bolster his chances at signing a professional contract this spring after graduating from Virginia Tech, a few years after winning the Maryland 4A title in the 1,600 meters while a junior at Northwest. But he never got his chance to show what he could do in the mile and 1,500 meters after both the indoor and outdoor championships were cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Preliminary rounds were due to start a day later. 

“It was a shock,” Zarate said. “Everyone was there to be the best they could be. I’m wondering ‘could I have won? Could I have been an All-American?’

“I want to run professionally, but it’s going to be difficult figuring everything out,” Zarate said. “The way the seasons ended for a lot of sports, it’s going to be messy.” 

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At long last, data from the 2019 runner rankings is complete. You have until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, March 19 to review your data and make sure the races you ran are reflected. If you see a discrepency, contact [email protected]. This is the only email address that will accept flagged discrepencies.

These races were ranked

These are the preliminary rankings

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