Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The Capitol Hill Classic 10K is one of DC's most hallowed races. Its 28th running was Sunday. The race is a journey around Capitol Hill, a trip where runners casually pass by several American icons.

Runners set off from Stanton Square near Union Station and bolt out past Lincoln Park to RFK. There they circle that multipurpose refuge from the seventies and return to Lincoln Park before running down to Pennsylvania Avenue near Eastern Market, the city's oldest continuously operating mercantile space. Then it's back to East Capitol Street where the runners take aim at the back of the Capitol, running past the Supreme Court Building on the right. A left turn takes them past the front of the Folger Shakespeare Library and a sharp right on Independence takes them down steep Capitol Hill alongside the Capitol.

With the Mall laying out in front of them, at the bottom of the hill the racers turn right at the U.S. Botanic Garden and run past a statue of the martyred president James A. Garfield. They pass below and in front of the Capitol with its innumerable stairs where, to their left, the busy Civil War statue with Grant bestriding his horse dominates the east end of the Mall. As the runners approach the Robert A. Taft statue they turn right one last time and come upon merciless Capitol Hill on the uptake in the sixth mile. After laboring up its quarter-mile length, runners enter Stanton Square from the opposite direction and cross the finish line.

Running up that long hill last Sunday in my first Capitol Hill Classic 10K was the toughest hill mount I have ever done during a race, bar none. (I am not counting a few spectacular hills I have walked up during races, like the Calvert Climb at National. The nineteenth mile of the first Baltimore Marathon also springs to mind, as does the 26th mile at Washington's Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt.)

Capitol Hill sucked all the energy out of my body on Sunday. Those two or three or four minutes I toiled up it are still vivid in my memory.

My splits dropped from the mid-sevens for the entire race up to that point to over nine in the sixth mile. Depleted, I ran the last quarter-mile on level ground to the finish at a pace of well over eight.

I have run up Capitol Hill plenty of other times and it has not bothered me before. I ran up it in the 2002 Marine Corps Marathon, the last of my five-hour marathons. The hill didn't seem so noticeable then, but I was five years younger and I also expended considerably less energy in marathons in those days.

At the tail end of a fast 10K, the hill is brutal. But that's all about to change.

Reporter and local running legend Jim Hage aptly calls it a "gut-check climb" in his post about Sunday's race. He also reported that this year's run up Capitol Hill could be its "last rites." Security, you know. (Don't you feel so much safer now than you did when the Decider declared war on shapeless amorphous terror oh so long ago?)

The course will be moved to eliminate its charge down and then back up The Hill. What?

That is the race's signature moment, it's defining experience. When you turn right and start ascending The Hill, you encounter the exquisite feeling of being so close and yet so far. Also, there is plenty of time to brood about the hill lying in wait as you first go flying down its other side, knowing that soon payment will be extracted for your freewheeling flight downhill in the fifth mile.

Here's what the race director told me about the impending course change. "The course will change next year. The Capitol Hill Police has a long standing rule preventing races from running entirely around the Capitol. For 28 years we've been exempted from that. However, I was told in late April that we were not going to be allowed to run this course. I argued that it was too late to change this year, and they relented, on the condition that we change it next year. I don't know what the course will be at this point, although we might be able to work out something that involves the Hill, just not around it."

The older I get the more I hate change. I am so glad I ran the 10K on Sunday so I could experience the hill's soul-sucking effect during an otherwise fast race. If I had not done the race this year despite some nagging injuries, I would have lost my chance at experiencing The Hill in its full form, possibly forever.

May the Capitol Hill Classic stay true to its origins.

1 comment:

Dori said...

Nice tour. Sounds rough, having to climb a hill after racing almost six miles. I'm not sure I'd complain about it being gone. :-)

Thanks for your encouraging words for my Dad. When I last saw him, his hair was all gone. It was weird, because he's always had a full head of hair; I've never even seen him with a crew cut. It took a while before I could comfortably look at him, but he has no problem with it. His game is golf, so the only speed he needs is on the ball.