Rain pelted the starting line. Sleet and snow traded places. Wind gusted in stiff spurts. Even hail made a brief appearance.
But the race went on.
Hundreds of runners flocked to South Lakes High for Sunday’s Runners Marathon of Reston, refusing to let freezing temperatures and constant precipitation dampen their spirits. Men and women from 30 states and three countries hit the trails at 7:30 a.m. for the second annual event put on by the Reston Runners, a community of runners and walkers of all levels and abilities.
Sunday’s marathon and half marathon wound through Reston’s paved trail system and spanned streets from Sunrise Valley Drive to Lawyers Road. Runners finished on the South Lakes track, where they were serenaded by the sounds of The Sean Chyun Band drifting from a covered patio nearby.
Coasting toward the tape was Michael Wardian, a 39-year-old Arlington resident who has made a name for himself with long-distance running feats around the world in recent years. Wardian, a former Oakton High (’92) lacrosse player, finished the 26.2-mile course in 2 hours 44 minutes, eight minutes faster than last year’s winner despite Mother Nature’s obstacles.
“I love the people here. They had volunteers all over the place, even with the bad conditions,” said Wardian, who crossed the line 25 minutes ahead of the runner-up finisher. “I’m a local boy, so I like to try to represent the area. For me it was a real treat to be able to bring some of that international experience that I’ve got and apply it to this race. The group here that puts it on did a really good job making sure we had everything we needed. It was challenging, and that’s what I was looking for.”
Wardian, an international shipbroker by trade, viewed the experience as a tune-up for a race at the North Pole this weekend. The coming months will bring him numerous challenges all over the world, including competitions in Boston, California, Miami, South Africa, Ethiopia, Germany and Canada.
Another local man emerged victorious in the half marathon, as Matthew Clark (1:20.10) edged Alex Harrington (1:20.19) to take first place. Clark, a 30-year-old Reston resident, overtook Harrington about halfway through the race, then kicked into high gear to stay just ahead of him on the track’s final stretch.
“I know all the roads. I run out here every single week,” said Clark, a member of the Reston Runners. “It’s a hometown course, which is nice. It’s not easy, but having done it a few times, you know all the hills, you know the layout and when you can make moves.”
Jill Atherton-Melli, also a Virginia resident, was the first woman to reach the finish line in the marathon, her final time of 3:34.55 coming about five minutes faster than the runner-up. Dawn Gillis, a 29-year-old Virginia resident, placed first in the half marathon with a time of 1:32.43.
Finishing a minute behind Gillis was Deedee Loughran, a 55-year-old Reston Runners member who switched from the full marathon to the half in the wake of a recent hamstring injury.
“I like the course because there’s a lot of variety to it, and I much prefer ups and downs than a flat marathon,” Loughran said. “I always think you can gain on the downs, and you can push it because the hills aren’t severe.”
A total of 188 runners completed Sunday’s marathon, while 350 completed the half-marathon. Many of them entered the week with certain time goals in mind, but the weekend’s weather had most participants just aiming to complete the slushy course.
Among those just looking to get through it was Bill Goodier, a 46-year-old Oklahoma City resident who ran the Queen City Marathon in Cumberland, Md., on Saturday. Goodier finished Saturday’s race in 3:40, placing third in his age group. A combination of fatigue and weather brought him to the finish line in 4:55 on Sunday.
But like everyone else munching on pizza and Subway sandwiches inside the school afterward, Goodier was just happy with the camaraderie that kept the race afloat.
“Probably the biggest thing was going through the trails and through the neighborhood,” said Goodier, who has now run marathons in 42 states. “There’s not many places that have very secluded and scenic trails like that. It’s absolutely beautiful. And there’s great course support. The police here are phenomenal. I was impressed with how well they were keeping us safe out there.”
There were 250 volunteers on hand to provide support to runners throughout the course. Among other duties, volunteers set up 10,000 cups and 800 gallons of water at aid stations and marked six miles of the course with 250 pounds of lime. Above all, they withstood the downpour to keep the runners going with their cheers.
“You just want to give them some encouragement and smile,” said Joe Stiskal, a Reston Runners member volunteering for the first time. “I think that helps them, and it helped me too.”
The proceeds from Sunday’s event will go to the Reston Runners Community Fund, which contributes $1,000 scholarships to one boy and one girl at both South Lakes and Herndon High.