Washington, DC

Name: Nate Rathjen

Self-described age group: slowly admitting I’m not a recent college grad anymore (25)

Residence: Historic downtown Leesburg!

Occupation: IT guy

Volunteer roles in the running world: Treasurer, Loudoun Road Runners

Why you run: What’s not to love? It’s free. I love exploring on foot. I meet awesome people. It’s a really time-efficient way to stay in shape. Also, I’d be lying if I said part of it wasn’t being able to eat whatever I want. Food’s a big motive.

When did you get started running: Actually, it all started when I ended up on UVA’s club quidditch team in 2012, my first year there. If you’re wondering what that looks like as a sport, combine basketball, rugby, and dodgeball, move the whole thing outside, and you’re close! Later that fall someone started group runs to work on the team’s conditioning, we became training partners, and the rest is history.

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Frank Perna runs the 1991 George Washington’s Birthday Marathon. Photo: Courtesy of Frank Perna

Frank Perna remembers smiling a lot as he ran the Jacksonville Marathon earlier this month. 

The Bethesda man, 56, was aiming to finish in under three hours, making this his fifth straight decade of running sub-3 hour marathons. 

He crossed the finish line in 2:53:17, overcoming a chronic hamstring injury that he’d initially worried would derail his race.

“I knew I was going to hit my time, and I was just taking it all in,” said Perna, a member of the Montgomery County Road Runners and sports psychologist and program director at the National Cancer Institute. “It felt very satisfying to execute a race and just do it.” 

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Editor’s note: Five years ago, we published one of my favorite stories, and I wanted to share it with you here.

Matthew Hua relished his first season of cross country at J.E.B. Stuart High School (now Justice High School). With no prior athletic background, his 24-minute three mile time is a point of pride. Lifelong health problems have been an obstacle in his running career, but they haven’t stopped him from fully participating as part of the team — except maybe in the team dinners.

Matthew’s gastrointestinal system has never functioned normally. He is unable to eat at all and drinks very little. In fact, virtually every one of his bodily systems is compromised. He is deaf in his left ear and his left vocal cord is paralyzed. Underdeveloped lungs have led to chronic conditions such as tracheomalacia (softened cartilage around the trachea) and asthma. He has ongoing orthopedic problems and his immune system is compromised, leaving him susceptible to infection and illness.

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Name: Hannah A.

Self-described age group: Millennial (25)

Residence: Crystal City

Occupation: Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist

Why you run: Because I can! Running has not only helped keep me in shape but also allowed me to achieve some of my biggest dreams and goals. Plus, living in this area, it’s the perfect excuse to do some local sightseeing!

When did you get started running: I ran JV cross-country all four years in high school and ran here and there throughout college until the summer before my junior year when I decided to train for a half marathon. That was August 2014, and I’ve been hooked ever since!

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The weekend of the 2019 Houston Marathon, Maura Linde reviewed the course map for a final time — not to make sure she had every turn, hill, and water station memorized, but rather to scope out the medical aid stations so she could drop out with people nearby.

“I really did think I wasn’t going to finish it,” she said.

Just five days before the race, she had caught a stomach virus that had torn through the cross country athletes she coached at Johns Hopkins University. She was aiming to run under 2:45 to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials, but she and her coach, Jerry Alexander of the Georgetown Running Club, almost pulled the plug.

“I couldn’t eat real food till a couple days before,” Linde recalled, saying she instead focused on staying hydrated. “I didn’t run again till the Friday before for a shake out.”

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The D.C. area is at the heart of some of the most beautiful and dynamic running routes in the country. The DMV is surrounded by scenic paths, urban gems, woodland trails, historical parks, lakes, and sprawling fields. But despite all that the area has to offer, many runners will time and time again repeat the same set of loops from their front door.

Vivian Smith is a cybersecurity consultant in Manassas. She does not want to fit the trend of running from home or work each day. She travels somewhere to run at least four days a week, even if that means driving only a minute or so to get there. “I’ll drive half a mile to a park so that I can enjoy more of my run in the park than on the shoulder-less road on the way to the park,” she said.

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Chip time doesn’t mean a thing while chasing an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. It was going to be up to Rachel Viger to hurry across the starting line at the California International Marathon, then run the 26.2 miles even faster than the 2:45:00 qualifying time. 

She wound up taking 12 seconds to get across the starting line because she didn’t make the elite start, coming into the Dec. 8 race with just a 3:03:59 personal best, set a year before at the Marine Corps Marathon. From that alone, running under 2:45, plus those extra seconds, would seem daunting. But she did it, with 46 seconds to spare.

“She was a 3:03 marathoner but she wasn’t really a 3:03 marathoner,” said Capital Area Runners Coach George Buckheit. “It looks shocking to a lot of people, but most people don’t realize how good she was in high school and college.” 

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Mark Robinson poses with members of the Bell Multicultural High School track team. Photo: Courtesy of Mark Robinson

In 2011, Mark Robinson, a longtime coach at Catholic University, was at a crossroads. 

He was essentially juggling two full-time careers: His job as head cross country coach and assistant track coach at Catholic, and his job as a curriculum manager for a D.C. nonprofit. 

Robinson, a CU graduate who set records on the track that still stand today, opted to retire from coaching to focus on the job that paid his bills. 

“It was a gut-wrenching decision,” he said. 

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Running along the C&O Canal Towpath last fall, Dan Meteer bumped into Arlingtonians Mike Crozier and Clint McKelvey. Typically a solo runner, Meteer joined them, and listened to the two discuss a friend’s marathon training.

By Meteer’s retelling, they expressed skepticism their friend was running enough to help him break 2:19 and qualify him for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Approaching his own debut marathon at California International a few months later, Meteer, 24, was eager to hear their opinions, then horrified.

“I’m just like oh god, they’re basically talking about me,” he said. “I decided, ‘screw it, I’m going to run 100 miles a week.'”

It was a risky move for a guy who spent most of five years at Brown going from injury to injury, still new to having consecutive months’ worth of training. But the gamble paid off, and he ran 2:17:43 in his first marathon.

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