Reston residents are accustomed to seeing runners weave through their roads and wooded trails on weekends. On Sunday, however, they got a taste of the community’s first marathon, one that culminated a full year of planning by a local group bent on showcasing an event to remember.
The Reston Runners, a club of about 1,000 runners and walkers, have hosted races here and there for nearly 40 years, but had never attempted to put on a full-fledged marathon. That changed last year, when members decided to host a marathon that would incorporate everything they liked about marathons while eliminating some of the meddlesome aspects that often greet participants in such races.
After months of working alongside multiple community organizations, the group finally got its chance to shine Sunday in the inaugural Runners Marathon of Reston.
“Our motto is, ‘By runners, for runners,’” Reston Runners President Dennis Hays said. “What we tried to do was think about the things as runners that we like to have in marathons and put as many of those as possible into our marathon... We have a tough course, a fair number of hills, but we think we make up for that with the level of support that we can provide.”
Chilly temperatures and overcast skies could do nothing to dampen the spirits of race participants, many of whom were impressed with a setup that was as well-stocked as it was intimate. Chips, Pop-Tarts, jelly beans, oranges, bananas and other food items could be found alongside plenty of water throughout the course. Bright trail markers snaked along the entire course, making it nearly impossible for runners to get lost along the way. Organizers also wanted to be sure the packet-pickup was a no-hassle process by allowing easy race-day pickup, a change from bigger marathons that tend to be more strict about gathering needed materials prior to race day.
Sunday’s race featured a full 26.2-mile marathon that began at 7:30 a.m. and a half marathon that started at 8 a.m. Runners lined up near Langston Hughes Middle School and took off down Ridge Heights Road and Sunrise Valley Drive before finishing the race on the track at South Lakes High School. Lee Kaufman, a 20-year-old Maryland native, crossed the finish line in 2 hours 52 minutes to take first place in the full marathon.
The race accommodated 679 entrants from 24 states and four countries, including Canada, Guatemala, Norway and Germany. Hays said those numbers will likely increase in next year’s race, as organizers wanted to keep a manageable total somewhere between 600-800 for the group’s first attempt at putting together an event of this magnitude.
About 10 percent of those entries were members of the Reston Runners, which also saw many of its members participate as volunteers to help the event run smoothly. Group members running the race enjoyed the encouragement they received from friends cheering them on outside the ropes.
“It’s a difficult course, but what I liked about it was that because it was staffed by our Reston Runner volunteers, there are familiar faces all around, so there’s a lot of support,” said Mike Mackert, a group member running his sixth marathon after participating in his first a year-and-a-half ago. “Not that you had to know somebody for them to cheer you on, but it’s kind of neat when so many people do know you and they’re high-fiving you and that kind of thing.”
Sunday’s race filled a void for locals disappointed in the fact that Northern Virginia hasn’t boasted a real marathon of its own. According to Hays, the Marine Corps Marathon starts in Virginia but veers into Washington, D.C., for a large part of it. Runners had previously needed to travel to Charlottesville or Richmond to find marathons that took place entirely in Virginia.
Making that endeavor happen Sunday was no mean feat, but Reston’s long-standing running culture ensured their vision became a reality.
“Our group has a volunteer culture to it, so we had people that were willing to get up at 4 in the morning on a frosty spring day to come out to help put it together,” Hays said.
Reston Runners member Shira McDonald was one of about 200 volunteers helping out Sunday. McDonald said she made a New Year’s resolution to volunteer in more races and run in less. Stationed at Mile 4 and Mile 17, she was there mainly just to cheer on the participants, knowing from experience the boost a runner gets from the encouragement of friendly faces.
“You can’t beat it,” McDonald said. “It’s a local race, and we have so many committed runners in this group, you knew they were going to do everything they could to kind of make the stuff that matters happen.”