Washington, DC
Willy Fink closes in on the first sub-four-minute mile run in Washington, D.C. at the 2019 DC Road Runners Track Championship at Dunbar High School. He ran 3:58.84. Photo by Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

Willy Fink came into Saturday’s D.C. Road Runners Track Championship wanting to accomplish something great. He accomplished something monumental.

Competing in a heat with nine runners who had previously broken the four minute mile barrier, Fink led from wire to wire at D.C.’s Dunbar High School and ran the first sub-four minute track mile recorded on D.C. soil (3:58.84). The race had its share of drama, however. Instead of the quick pace many spectators and athletes anticipated, the field started off conservatively and kept the audience in suspense as to whether the four-minute barrier would actually be broken.

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Roy Englert pauses briefly after setting the world record for 95-99-year-old men at the USATF Masters Championships in Ames, Iowa July 11. Photo: Courtesy of Jay Jacob Wind

Springfield resident Roy Englert, 96, ran 42:20.33 to shatter the 5k world record for men 95-99 at the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships July 11 in Ames, Iowa. The previous record was 50:10.56.

This article was initially published in June 2018.

At age 95, Roy Englert may not have competition in his age group. But he does have the clock.

“I was running against time, actually,” Englert said of his recent performance at the USATF Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships, where he broke three age group world records.

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Marc Goldman makes announcements ahead of the Marine Corps Marathon start. Photo: Courtesy of Marc Goldman

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.

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District Track Club runner David Timlin (left) charges to the finish of the 800 meters at the Mason Spring Invitational. Photo: Courtesy of the District Track Club

Even as the number of male American milers to hit that mark approaches 550, a sub-four-minute mile is still a middle distance runner’s milestone, bolstered by the stark difference between 3:59.99 and 4:00.00. For the 65 years men have been running sub-four miles, nobody has done it in Washington, D.C.

With a loaded field, that may change July 13 at the D.C. Road Runners Track Championship, when the race’s momentum, a national developmental effort and new track league converge at Dunbar High School. Eight men entered in the mile have broken 4:00, with Trevor Dunbar’s 3:55.54 PR leading the way. A field of more than a dozen women will race the 1,500 meters, several chasing the world championships qualifying standard of 4:06.50. Elinor Purrier (4:02.34) and Shannon Osika (4:06.17) have met the standard, with four more runners within two seconds. Abbey D’Agostino Cooper, a 2016 Olympian at 5,000 meters, is a late entry. Georgetown alumna Katrina Coogan and Lake Braddock alumna Katy Kunc will race in the elite field.

Brian Danza has been directing the meet and recruiting runners for years and watched the men’s mile times steadily drop over the last seven years down to 4:03 – in a deluge – from 4:16 in 2012. He feels like the meet has something to prove.

“New York and Oregon have a few big meets each year and D.C. doesn’t,” he said.

He saw no reason why the DCRR Track Championships could not be that meet for D.C.

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Mike Wardian runs through Prince George’s County, Md. June 29 while circumnavigating the Capital Beltway. Photo: Phil Hargis

Try as he might, Mike Wardian wouldn’t get to run on the Capital Beltway.

“There’s no way in Hell anyone was going to be able to do that,” said friend Phil Hargis.

So, like a lot of drivers, he took a detour. 

Almost 18 hours later, Arlington’s Wardian circumnavigated the D.C. area’s iconic roadway on foot, covering just short of 90 miles on a sweltering day. The Fastest Known Time organization ratified his June 29 run, which started in McLean, Va. and ended across the Potomac River, east of Carderock, Md. His GPS tracker counted 89.99 miles, taking 17 hours, 54 minutes and 58 seconds; he was moving for 15 hours of that time.

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Moses Powe shows off the notorious 2018 Marine Corps Marathon shirt. Photo: Courtesy of the Marine Corps Marathon.

When designing the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon’s participant t-shirt, graphic designer Corbin Stewart was excited to try a new technique, one that would illustrate the enormity of the race known as the People’s Marathon. 

Using full-dye sublimation, a design style where the artwork covers the entire piece of clothing, Stewart created a shirt with images of previous marathon participants all over the front and back. An image of the start line is on the front of the shirt, which is a long-sleeved mock turtleneck. The American flag and the Marine Corps flag are on the back. It’s a colorful shirt, to say the least.  

“It turned out a little brighter than expected,” Stewart said. “And then it took off on social media.” 

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Runners start the 3,000 meters at the Sept. 21, 2016 Tidal Basin Run. Photo by Karsten Brown

It may be older than the Marine Corps Marathon, but the Tidal Basin Runs might be the best kept secret in Washington’s running community — and its tight-knit group of members seems to like it that way.

Every month since April 1974, the club has met for what can only be described as the most covert race you’ve probably never seen or heard of. Yet the meticulously kept race results date back over 15 years and some runners have been participating for over 30.

There’s no entry fee (other than the club’s $10 annual membership fee), no bibs, no timing chips or race clock, no awards, and no commemorative t-shirts. In fact, there’s barely a start line — just a faint white line drawn across Ohio Drive SW that’s been slowly erased over the years by the elements and countless runners, cyclists, and vehicles that have made their way around the tip of Hains Point.

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Road racing is a different world from cross country and track.

It’s harder on knees, ankles and feet than other surfaces. But the crowds are bigger, the runners potentially faster and the atmosphere at many races is a wild diversion from dual meets and invitationals.

For high school runners, the road is a place to experiment, learn and challenge themselves. It is also where many will continue their running careers later in life. For coaches, many of whom raced at one time, the road is fraught with risks and dangers. There is a conflict between athletes’ enthusiasm and coaches’ wisdom.

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The team arrives at the Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton, N.C.

Tim Schleining agreed to take part in the White House to LightHouse Relay before he knew anything about it.  

His friend Jennifer Miller just asked him if he was free, and after checking his calendar for the dates she’d asked about, he said yes.

A day or two later, Schleining learned more. And his reaction?

“Initially shock at the audacity of it, but I was really intrigued and excited to participate,” he said.

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