Few think of Arlington as an open-spaced paradise for runners.
But online, you find hundreds of trails mapped out along our streets, graced by some impressive distance-running competitors.
Last month, in a bit of a journalist’s stunt, I executed a project that combined marathoner talent with old-fashioned Arlington history.
I’d had my eye on Michael Wardian, the 43-year-old ultra-marathoner who in January set a record in the seven-continents-in-seven-days marathon. In April, Wardian placed first among 66 Arlingtonians who finished the Boston Marathon, and he has clocked the fastest time ever in marathons in Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York. In 2015, he set the world record for 50 kilometers on a treadmill.
This July I noticed a Kindle booklet newly for sale on Amazon titled “Running through Arlington History” by Noah Kaufman. An avocational runner who does accounting for federal agencies, Kaufman assembled a run-down of Arlington monuments, historic sites and schools. Building his text around themes of wars, civil rights and 9/11, he recommends routes that pass commemorations of our county’s noteworthy heritage.
So I put these dudes together. Using a bicycle map and yellow marker, I roughed up a route: Begin at the Pentagon Memorial, cut through Crystal City up 23rd St. to Ridge Rd. to Prospect Hill, over Columbia Pike on Washington Blvd. to Pershing Dr., west to N. Glebe Rd., left on Wilson Blvd., taking the Custis Trail back to Glebe, moving down toward Chain Bridge to Military Rd., to Quincy St. to Washington Blvd. through Clarendon and ending in Rosslyn.
Wardian, who works in international shipping, mapped the route using the Strava app.
We had a couple of detail meetings (Michael almost postponed for a challenge to run the 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal).
But on a humid July 27, I arose before dawn and drove to Wardian’s Arlington Forest home just before 6:00 a.m. With him was a protégé training for the Iron Man competition, Jeff Horowitz, age 46, a Foreign Service Officer. We picked up Noah, 40, at his apartment in Ballston, and I dropped the three off in the parking lot of the Pentagon Memorial about 6:30.
For three hours, my heroic role was to drive—in my air conditioned Honda with my favorite music on—skillfully carrying water bottles and tracking the marathoners on sidewalks and bike lanes as we navigated rush-hour traffic. I also took pictures.
My biggest challenges were finessing bathroom breaks and safely leap-frogging behind or ahead of the athletes. (Odd to find myself rooting for stoplight delays.) Only twice did I lose them, which is where cellphones came in handy. They stopped as needed at intersections, and occasionally pow-wowed to adjust the route.
Noah peeled away first, around 8:15, having made it nine miles. I picked him up on Harrison St. near I-66 and drove the exhausted but satisfied guy home. Jeff called me from a corner near Washington-Lee High School, having made it til 9:05.
The skinny but sturdy Michael continued, shirtless and wearing a backward cap over his long hair–his only water break coming at the end. When I linked up with him in Rosslyn near the Netherlands Carillon, he’d run 18.89 miles in under three hours (2:57:14, said his meter).
“That was fun,” the ultra-marathoner told me cheerfully. And he jogged off to start his workday.
As a schoolboy in the 1960s, I learned a bit about World War II. But I never knew of the renowned hero who lived up the street.
Maj. Gen. Marion Carl, a pilot and the Marine Corps’ first fighting ace, fought at Guadalcanal and Midway, I recently learned from my Rivercrest neighbor Fred Gosnell, who owns a copy of Carl’s memoir. After that global conflict, Carl as a test pilot set speed records in private aircraft before returning to hot wars Korea and Vietnam. His Washington-area service included being director of Marine Corps Aviation.
After his tragic 1998 murder during retirement in his home state of Oregon, Carl was buried in Arlington Cemetery.