The race is put on by my local running club and is held on the the third Wednesday of every month. It was the 399th consecutive running. That makes it over 33 years old, maybe. I say maybe because some "lost" races were discovered awhile ago, which added to the total, and occasionally a special running is held, like the race on September 11th, 2002, run in memory of the 184 victims who perished when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon the year before. (Wearing a shirt honoring the fallen heroes of FDNY, I finish the 2002 9/11 Memorial Tidal Basin 3K run in front of the Jefferson Memorial in 14:14 (7:38).)
I myself have run 66 of the last 75 races since I ran my first one on 5/16/01 in 13:05 (7:01). I hate to miss them. Of the nine I have missed in the last six years, I missed two because I was on vacation, five because I was on work travel, one because I was at my own Equitable Division Trial (equitable-yeah, sure), and two because I was in the middle of important conferences at work. If the work conference isn't important, I just leave.
I view the race as a monthly speed workout. I jog the 2.5 miles there, sprint 1.8 miles around the Tidal Basin, and then run back to work. Fortunately, my building has shower facilities and my agency believes in fitness.
I keep trying to talk my friend Bex into running one of these races. You know, go mano a mano in an all-out sprint to see who's faster. She always gives me the old yeah yeah, sure sure, but she has never shown.
I try to make it a rule not to tell people I don't think I can beat about the race, but I'm not very successful at this. I told G, a co-worker, about the race and he liked it so much that he is now a regular. He just ran 3:14 at Boston. Do you think I made a good choice by telling him about it?
I also told my running buddy A about it and she has shown up three or four times. She also beats me every time. She even won it once. But she always pulls me along to a better time whenever she comes. She's tall, over six feet, and I remember one race where she was going hammer and tongs with some guy who was running beside her on the narrow footpath the whole way. I was trailing along behind them thirty yards back and I was keeping up but I couldn't catch up. The old route had a lot of low-hanging cherry blossom tree limbs across the path and you had to bob your head to go under a branch about thirty times every race. Whenever they ran by a tree, this guy crowded A to the outside where the trees were and the overhanging branches were the lowest. She would have to fall back to avoid braining herself, then catch back up to him. This went on the entire race until the last 500 meters where the course crossed the broad plaza in front of the Jefferson Memorial. I guess they duelled to the finish line in a sprint across the plaza and she took him because she logged a 12:40 and he placed one second behind her. I finished in 12:52 (6:54), in time to see her stroll by the guy in the recovery area and stick her tongue out. At him. That's A for you, unabashed. (Caught on tape: A and her wagging tongue ran a 12:40. And that's my friend G behind her, he of the 3:14 Boston on Monday, who ran an 11:53 in this race last summer.)
This isn't a race for the thin-skinned because you're probably not going to do well. The same good, motivated runners show up every month to bury you. I regularly run a 6:54 to 7:40 pace and I just as regularly finish in the lowest quartile. Fortunately there are some octogenarian men and sexagenarian women who regularly run whom I can usually beat, and sometimes a tourist comes to run it that I can beat as well.
It was at this race that I learned that with kids, if they start out fast and purposeful, they're not likely to come back to you. You won't reel them in, they'll just beat you badly. For awhile a mother was bringing some home-schooled kids to every race. It was their PE, I guess. These nine to twelve year old kids just added to the swell of runners who beat me every month.
But this short fast race makes me better and I love it. Did I mention it's free?
After the Fifth Anniversary 9/11 Special Run last year, with forty-seven runners participating and the press in attendance, the cops moved in. I guess they were tired of the small heap of water bottles and sweatshirts being left unattended for ten minutes beside the Jefferson Memorial once a month. With the publicity generated by the presence of the press, the race was becoming impossible for the authorities to ignore.
The National Park Service Police summoned the race director in and told him that any gathering of over twenty persons on National Park Service land, which encompasses the Tidal Basin and it's footpath, required a permit. Oh, and did he know that a permit had never been issued for the Tidal Basin? They didn't care, post 9/11, about the hallowed tradition of the race or the venerable nature of the course. Security, you know. The two factions worked it out amicably though. Maybe Republicans and Democrats can get along post November elections after all.
The race used to run around the Tidal Basin on the footpath alongside the water. Now it runs around the outside perimeter of the Tidal Basin on the sidewalks next to the streets. (The narrow footpath around the Tidal Basin is adorned with beautiful cherry blossom trees which present low-hanging obstacles to unwary runners.)
I liked the old course better, running right next to the water and watching tourists scatter as they saw a body of sprinting men bear down upon them on the narrow footpath. The new course actually has a hill on it, over by the Tulip Library. But it's the same distance and the same good noontime running once a month. (The new course now has a hill.)