An Almost Perfect 10

What began as a friendly fitness challenge among friends 28 years ago is now one of the most popular 10-mile running races in the United States. Rated in the 1990s by Runner's World magazine as one of the top races in the nation, the Annapolis 10- Mile Run put this city on the map for runners. Hosted by the Annapolis Striders, it is known as a "destination race" for which runners from 20 to 30 states, and sometimes other countries, come with their friends and families. On Aug. 24, 5,500 runners---including about 400 from Annapolis---will enjoy the city's hospitality and historic charm while testing themselves against one of the country's most challenging 10-mile courses.

John Astle, Annapolis resident and state senator, tells the story of the race's not-so-humble beginnings. During a cocktail party, a group of women were talking about the merits of aerobics classes they'd been taking. Randy Fox, who Astle says "does everything to the max," overheard their discussion and challenged them to run 10 miles in the morning. Much to his surprise, they accepted. In the morning, which happened to be the last Sunday of August, Fox, Bart Rohrbach, Debby Fox, Phyllis Beardmore, Bonnie Phillips, Donna Jay and Astle met at City Dock. They marked the finish line, piled in one car, set the odometer, drove 10 miles north and ran back downtown. The Annapolis 10-Mile Run, or A-10 as it is known locally, was born over coffee that day, and Astle, the first to cross the finish line that day, has not missed one since.

According to Richard Hillman, a founding member of the Annapolis Striders and former A-10 race director, there were 350-plus entrants in the run down Ritchie Highway by 1978, and it was getting too big for the original group to organize. Later that year, the Annapolis Striders, Inc., was founded. The two groups shared race direction in 1979 when there were about 1,000 entrants. The following year, the Striders began directing the race. Since that time, the A-10 has grown primarily through word of mouth to an all-time anticipated high of 5,500 runners this year---the maximum allowed.

The bigger the race gets, the more challenging are the logistics. "Destination running races are big tourism business, and the Annapolis 10-mile race is hot," says Ron Bowman, a former A-10 race director and current Strider president. "We can't do this race without the support of the City, the police, the Naval Academy and the hospitality of the residents. In the early '90s we started stressing the limits of the streets. Each year we have to turn away runners, so we have tried to figure out how to accommodate more people and keep it enjoyable for everyone." Working together, they've fleshed out all the details and run a well-coordinated event which fills up quickly. Less than one week after this year's registration opened in June, 3,100 people had signed up.

Bowman cites three primary reasons that the race keeps people coming back: the top-notch prize given to every runner who finishes (this year it's a sports watch); the unique locale; and the fine-tuned, friendly organization of the race.

Despite its high profile and large size, the race is still very much a local event with a hometown feel. Last year, some 450 of the 1,000 or so Strider members signed up for the race. Hundreds of other Striders and community members form the corps of 600 volunteers who orchestrate the event. Bowman, an information systems project manager for NASA and an avid long-distance runner, regularly competes in all of the club's dozen-plus races each year, except the A-10 and the Governor's Bay Bridge 10K. He considers those two races to be the Striders' contribution to other runners and running clubs. "We see them as our way to give back to other runners," he says.

Current race director Will Myers, principal of Severna Park High School, agrees. He runs all the Striders' "championship series" races plus two 50-milers, a 50K, and usually two or three marathons each year, but skips the A-10. "We don't run this race---we put it on for others," he says.

Penny Goldstein and Donna Cogle, both active Striders who coordinate running classes during the summer, have the giant task of making sure there are enough volunteers. With seven or eight committees needing help, they look to schools, churches, clubs of all kinds, the Naval Academy, and just about everyone they know. "There are some people who have done it for years," Cogle says. "But you always need more."

Chris Cechak is one volunteer who didn't need to be convinced to help. In 1998, he collapsed with heat stroke while running the race. Medical teams, which are positioned in so many locations on the course that they are never out of site of each other, came to his aid immediately. He was rushed to the hospital with a temperature of 108 and believes the only reason he is alive today is because the race is so well organized. Cechak is now in charge of organizing everything at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which is where the race starts and finishes.

The Striders are so committed to health issues that they have donated nearly $75,000 in proceeds from the A-10 to the Anne Arundel Medical Center. Their donations have funded equipment for the DeCesaris Cancer Institute and the cardiac rehabilitation facility. "Their donations help address the two leading health care issues in Anne Arundel County," says Lisa Hillman, vice-president for development and community affairs at the medical center. "It's been a great partnership and of great value to our cardiac rehab patients."

After a recent tour of the hospital and seeing the equipment purchased with the club's donations, Bowman wrote in an e-mail to all members, "You can feel a great deal of satisfaction that your efforts have and will continue to contribute to doing great things for a lot of people."

On race day energy is high and everyone kicks into overdrive. Almost everything has to be set up or well underway before the 7:50 a.m. start time. Start and finish line staging is set up, mile markers are placed, more than 150 people fill upwards of 50,000 cups of water at five water stops, medical stations and communications systems are set up all along the course, parking is coordinated, and an elaborate post-race expo and party is set up.

"The community gets really involved," says Astle, who will not traverse the course this year for the first time ever due to a vacation scheduling snafu. Homeowners, particularly in the Ferry Farms, St. Margaret's and Pendennis Mount neighborhoods enjoy cheering the runners on. Jenni Riley, whose husband Chris usually runs in the race, and her neighbors set up a water stop. "Chris is a runner so we understand the need," Mrs. Riley says. Her neighbors, the Gunthers, play music, ring bells and otherwise encourage the runners on. Some offer make-shift sprinkler showers to the competitors while others offer orange slices and other refreshments as they near the eighth hot, hilly mile.

"It really helps," says Annapolis resident Janice Fisher of the neighborhood spirit. "They are there just when you need them most."

By the time runners reach those neighborhoods this year, they will have circled the stadium, run through the historic downtown, and crossed over the Severn River on the picturesque Naval Academy (Rt. 450) bridge for the first time. Then the route winds through shady but hilly neighborhoods before crossing the bridge again and heading for the finish line back at the stadium.

Despite the beauty of the course and its views, participants commonly cite the conditions as their least favorite aspect of the race. The otherwise perfect race is held at the end of August each year, when it is notoriously hot, humid, hilly and sometimes hazy. Organizers rarely draw nationally-ranked runners, according to Ron Bowman, because of the difficulty of the race. "It's not a race to set a "personal record (PR) or make a lot of splash," he says.

Myers calls the A-10 a people's race. "A good local runner can win," he says. Just last year, 19-year-old Arnold resident, Dustin Lieb, won in a time of 54:50. A number of years ago, Annapolis Strider, Pat O'Brien, was the first woman across the line. Her accomplishment is honored each year with the Pat O'Brien Memorial Award which is given to the top-finishing Anne Arundel County woman. The vast majority of finishers are 20 to 40 minutes or more behind the lead runners.

Organizers of this race have no time or desire to rest on their successes. Myers has a vision that the race will eventually become an end-of-summer celebration for the city and its residents. To that end, they are always working hard to keep it fresh and interesting and to draw in more of the community. This year, for example, a new award will be given to the top finishing Naval Academy alumnus in the name of Cmdr. Willie McCool, the Academy graduate who died in the space shuttle Columbia accident earlier this year. The expo, which is open to the public, will have more vendors, and the post-race party will be larger than ever. Next year, the Striders hope to be able to finish the race inside the stadium with giant viewing screens.

With its strong history, current momentum, good will in the community, and commitment to excellence, it may soon be the perfect 10. Aside from the weather, it may already be.

To volunteer, or to learn more about the Annapolis Striders, visit or call 410-268-1165.

When Sue duPont is not at work at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, she can often be found jogging through Annapolis, paddling a kayak or spoiling her feline children.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

Additional comments ?

Last time we asked, "How many past issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine do you have? " Out of all the responses, we found that most of our readers keep at least 3 issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine around the house, but a couple of our readers have over several years of issues! We're glad to hear that so many of you stay with us!

Thanks to all those that voted!

Results Posted Every Issue!!

Backyard Publications, LLC. ©2004. 433 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403 - Phone 410-263-6300 - Fax 410-267-8668