In its 33rd year, the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) Club Challenge was about due for some good weather after years of cold, dreary start lines -- and on Sunday, February 24th, 2013, local runners were shocked and pleased line up amidst sunny skies and cool (but not too cool) 42-degree air.
Though the weather for the 2013 had changed, the race course’s reputation as a “crazy hilly course” had not. Runners were eager to tackle a series of steep hills among a windy, wide course -- and compete for their local running club with each step.
Hosted by the Howard County Striders, the RRCA Club Challenge is a ten-mile moment where all Maryland chapters of the Road Runners Club of America (as well as the DC Road Runners) meet and compete. More than 1,000 runners attended the event this year on behalf of running clubs including the Montgomery County Striders, the Falls Road Running Store, Prince George’s Running Road Runners, the Annapolis Striders, and more.
The race’s friendly-yet-competitive nature makes it unique among other local races. “ It's one of the few times you get to see runners work in teams to compete, outside of a school environment,” said Race Director Brad Murach.
The race is hosted at a Howard County Community College athletic center, which boasts locker rooms, an open gymnasium, and plenty of space for runners and fans to get ready and recover outside of the race. The 2013 course was well marshalled and featured three water stops along the way with plenty of snacks offered at the finish line. For a small, local race, I was very impressed with the professionalism and coordination of the event.
Murach assured me that the smooth logistics of the race aren’t as effortless as they appear. “It’s really eye-opening to sit down, identify, and coordinate all of the little things that have to happen,” he said. This was Murach’s first time to direct a race, and recaps suggest he -- and his team of volunteers -- did a great job.
A great job was also done by the Falls Road Running club, which snagged first place in the co-ed competition. The Baltimore-based club was closely followed by the Howard County Striders; the Montgomery County Striders, Annapolis Striders, DC Road Runners, and Baltimore Road Runners followed. More than 30 men finished in under one hour (average 5:30 minute/mile pace); more than 20 women came in in under one hour and ten minutes (average 7:00 minute/mile pace). Hundreds of other runners also crossed the finish line, proudly sporting their club singlets.
Whether they finished in 59 minutes or in an hour and 59 minutes, Murach said that almost every runner on the course faced the same obstacle: “They misjudged the course and weren’t expecting so many challenging hills.”
“I was struggling badly, each hill being more painful than the last,” reports one runner.
But like all wise athletes say, with pain comes improvement. With more than three decades of history behind it, the Club Challenge will likely remain a favorite race among local runners for its unpredictable weather and unpredictable results -- as well as for its predictable (yet still surprisingly painful) climbs.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Active Life DC.