Marathons becoming a headache in D.C.

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The number of marathons the city has, along with the restrictions those runs have, are starting to become a headache for the community. (photo courtesy of Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Washington.org)

Marathons and 10-milers. They have become a regular feature of life in many District neighborhoods.  Like Embassy Row, folklife festivals and presidential motorcades, they are part of the spice of life for D.C. residents. And among its headaches.

Will Smith wonders if the races and runs are getting to be too much of a good thing.

“We all recognize we’re sitting in neighborhoods which are  traditionally race routes,” said Smith at a Feb. 21 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End), which he chairs. “We enjoy the public spirit of the capital. What we’re wrestling with is the impact this is having on city activities, for hotels, for churches, for other folks. The number of races has reached the threshold in terms of what the city feels is appropriate.”

Representatives from the Marine Corps Marathon and the Army Ten-Miler attended the ANC’s meeting to ask for approval of their special event applications. Both races take place in October every year.

George Banker, the operations manager for the Army Ten-Miler, answered questions about the event. In 2014, more than 26,000 runners finished the race.

“The race has gotten to the point where it cannot get any larger,” he said.

Organizers of the race have capped the number of runners at 35,000. And some runners turn out to be in no condition to run 10 miles.

“Last year over 200 people visited the medical tent,” Banker said. “They were out of shape. This year I will enforce the 15-minute-per-mile requirement. Runners will have to maintain a 15-minute pace.”

Commissioner Florence Harmon objected to the effect the event has on residents of the Watergate.

“Every other race doesn’t block people in the Watergate.” she said.

Banker said the race will be stopped in the event of a medical emergency that makes it necessary for an ambulance to reach the Watergate.

In an interview, Smith said the stream of runners along Virginia Avenue in front of the Watergate effectively prevents most residents from leaving or entering the complex while the race is in progress. The only way to get across Virginia Avenue, Smith said, is to join the race and keep up with the runners and work your way across the street through the sea of participants. For most older residents, that is not possible.

“The Army Ten Miler is the only race that doesn’t allow egress and ingress during the course of the race,” Smith said.

At the meeting, Smith spoke of one possible economic impact the race can have on the neighborhood.

“You may have people at that hotel [the Watergate] who have a flight to catch. They need a taxi to the airport but can’t get one because of the race. They will book their hotels elsewhere that weekend.”

Jared Kline from the Marine Corps Marathon also appeared before the ANC and described the race’s schedule and course through the neighborhood. He said the roads used for the marathon are closed at 5 a.m., and that runners leave the starting line beginning at 7:55.

“We allow an additional 30 minutes [after the race] for our clean-up crew to leave this ANC better than we found it,” Kline said.

The commission approved the requests from both races.

Another run, the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, scheduled for Saturday, had been approved by the ANC at its Jan. 17 meeting. As The Current reported on Jan. 24, the race’s representative “agreed at the meeting that organizers will relocate a sound stage slated to be set up at the corner of Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue, in a grassy area on the east side of the parkway. The ANC’s approval of the special event application was contingent on moving the stage.”

Smith announced at the Feb. 21 meeting that race organizers had notified him that they were reneging on their agreement.

“They let me know this week they are not going to move the soundstage,” Smith said.

Smith said the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon’s timing in backing out was especially problematic.

“[The timing] makes what they did worse because they waited. I specifically had to reach out to them and ask. They left it late deliberately, I think, to avoid having any potential fall-out on the event.”

Commissioner Patrick Kennedy also spoke of what he called a “process issue.”

“We heard from two applicants [tonight] who came to us eight or nine months before their event. Every single year Rock ‘n Roll comes in January, two months before their event, and it creates these situations where they try to get stuff through at the last minute.”

Harmon suggested the commission authorize money to pay fees for a lawyer to address the situation.

The commission discussed the wording of a new resolution withdrawing their prior approval of the event.

Smith thought the resolution should contain some whereas clauses spelling out why the ANC would now oppose the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. He named some possible whereases.

“Whereas representations were made, whereas the ANC accepted those representations in good faith, whereas subsequently those representations were not honored, therefore the ANC opposes the event.”

Harmon was strongly of the same opinion.

“You let them know the reason you’re disapproving this is you had an agreement with them and they said they would live up to it and then they pulled this stunt where they wait until shortly before the race to renege on that agreement.”

Smith was shaking his head in disbelief as the discussion continued.

“The ANC needs to rely on representations from applicants as part of their regular business,” he said. “We come to good faith understandings with people and proceed on that basis all the time. If people walk away from that it has a huge impact.”

A member of the audience pointed out the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon is a for-profit event, unlike non-profit events such as the Marine Corps Marathon and Army Ten-Miler.

In the end, the commission voted to oppose the marathon and to authorize $1,000 for a lawyer.

However, in a Feb. 25 email, the ANC chairman said race officials had had another change of heart.

“Diane Romo Thomas was the organizer who appeared at the [Jan. 17] meeting,” Smith wrote. “After I laid out the situation in an email, she has assured me that they will move the stage. At this point, I am inclined to de-escalate, since the organizers appear to have moved toward compliance.”

In a March 5 email to Smith, Romo Thomas confirmed that race organizers intend to get rid of the offending stage.

“There will be no band stage at 27th and Virginia Avenue/Rock Creek Parkway,” Romo Thomas wrote.

Among the disruptions caused by the runs are road closures and detours for some Metrobus routes. This year, for the first time, residents must move their cars from the streets along the route of the marathons and races. Parking will not be allowed on roads used by runners.

Smith thinks the 2018 race season will mark a watershed in how residents feel about seeing their neighborhood streets becoming a race course for a day.

“This is going to be a decisive year in a lot of ways in terms of what we hear from the community,” he said.