A hundred meters away from the park, a lone tree stood tall. Its leaves were scattered all below you, crisp and golden in a pile worth playing in. Fall had arrived and change was inevitably coming.
On the park’s grounds, a few kids sat in swings while others huddled up and tossed around a football in pickup games. Further into the park, past the runners and through the trails, you’ll reach the Anacostia River.
At Kenilworth Park, hugging the boundaries of Maryland in Northeast D.C., around 3,000 high schoolers congregated to run on a late September Saturday just as they did last year. The colleges were coming too this fall.
A 20-minute drive from GW, the Colonials headed to their first home cross country meet since 2005. Howard, American and Catholic joined them for a 5K race that was a little bigger in size than your typical dual meet.
GW was hosting the college arm of the DCXC meet. Put on by Pacers Running and sponsored by New Balance, the meet is in its second year. Last year, it hosted 2,500 kids from around the District. This year they allowed for 25 percent growth – plus a college component.
“You’re not going to hold it on the Mall,” said Kathy Dalby, CEO of Pacers Running and an alumna with a master’s degree in public health. “We wanted something that was legitimately like part of D.C. and not D.C. touristy.”
And so the city got one of its only races for its students. DCXC entertained 19 different heats, starting off with two elementary school races, followed by the two collegiate 5Ks. Next came two middle school-age races and then 13 different heats for the high school races, with Varsity A and Varsity B races. From Canada to Kentucky, they came to the District to race.
Head coach Terry Weir has been waiting to host a race in D.C. for years. Since the Colonials last hosted a decade ago, a few people with various GW ties worked together to end GW’s hosting drought. In 2006, then-freshman cross country runner Stephen Rutger interned with the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, where he met Dalby. Turns out Dalby and Weir knew each other too from their shared Pacers Running days.
“When I ran into Terry, he mentioned he had he wanted to host A-10s. He wanted to host a race, so I got us all together because the DCXC would be an easy, great fit,” Rutger said.
Then, Weir and Dalby talked. At one point Dalby considered hosting DCXC at the Armed Forces course, but they don’t often issue permits. Instead, she found a place within the community.
“He wanted to do it in the heart of the nation’s capital, so here we are in Kenilworth Park,” Dalby said.
The course is not world class. The terrain is uneven. The course is flat. The 5K course, the typical length for a women’s conference races, but shorter than the typical men’s 8K, requires a loop. If an 8K was added, they would need to take advantage of the more of the park’s grounds to do so. This could work out since the park is still developing, including a trail being built down to the river.
“At some point down the road we would like to host the A-10 [Championship] if we can do it,” Weir said before the season started. “If we can do it in D.C. proper, that would be great too. That’s the challenge we’re trying to do now.”
The flatness of the course, a roughly 15-minute walk from either the Minnesota Avenue or Deanwood Metro stops, might not be a problem though. This year’s A-10s will be run on the fairly tame course at Richmond, Va., which could just equate to faster times.
The team’s early MVP, sophomore Miranda DiBiasio, ran the course comfortably on Saturday. She went out at the gun with the rest of her team and then picked up the pace in the second mile. She finished one-tenth of a second short of her college personal record, which was 18:39.90 set back at last year’s A-10 championship. A week after finishing in first place at the Salty Dog Invitational at Navy, she would finish in second place finish at the DCXC race. GW would go onto win the meet on the women’s side. The fourth through eighth place finishers all came in wearing buff and blue – prompting one of the race officials at the finish line to remark, “Ooh, GW, looking like they’re dominating.”
It felt more like a high school race at its start though, DiBiasio said, adding her teammates had commented on it.
“I was kind of skeptical. I couldn’t see this as an A-10 course,” she said.
But, if you build it, they will come.
“The whole atmosphere will change and it’ll feel like a college race once all the other colleges are here,” DiBiasio continued.
As the men came across to end the day for the Colonials, a group of about a dozen alumni crowded the finish line situated along the park’s newly refurbished track. Senior Ryan Tucker led the team’s second place overall finish, coming across in fourth place with a personal record of 15:56. A couple places later, fellow senior John-Louis Pane came in a couple seconds behind a runner for American, who strode commandingly in front of him along the track’s final turn.
After the race, it was all smiles. There were even some dances to some to Taylor Swift tunes. In many ways, it still felt like a high school meet. Except if you looked around, the college runners were the biggest and fastest on the rocky course and along the track for the final 100 meters. It’s still up in the air whether GW, and the A-10, will decide it is the right place to host a conference tournament, but the blueprint has been drawn.
“It just shows that GW can, if they put their minds to it, can host something big like A-10 Championship for cross country,” Rutger said.