- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

For the past 20 years, the streets of downtown Washington have played host to an annual St. Patrick’s Day road race. Only twice did the race fail to take place, once because of snow and once because of a change of ownership in the race’s management company.

This year almost was the third time.

After a year of dealing with various agencies within the D.C. government, Capital Running Company last week presented its plan to the Mayor’s Special Events Task Group at D.C.’s Emergency Management Agency for the March 12 race and hit a road block.

Now, at the 11th hour, Capital Running has been forced to chop a mile and a quarter off its traditional 10K race. This year, it will be the St. Patrick’s Day 8K.

“We just could not squeeze a 10K course into the restrictions,” said Kathy Freedman, co-owner of Capital Running with husband Rick. “We had a 10K course two weeks ago that was approved by [District Department of Transportation] and the police. But a rescue station shot us down. We can’t go by churches, can’t go by here and there. Then the Mandarin Oriental Hotel voiced their opposition to our going anywhere near them.

“Last year, we affected 12th Street southwest of the Mall. We did come close to [the Mandarin in Southwest Washington], a few blocks away. We weren’t running right past the hotel.

“No more west on Independence beyond Seventh Street,” a frustrated Freedman added. “That cuts a couple of miles off the course. U.S. Capitol Police will not let us circle the Capitol. You can’t go north of Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m not sure why. We can’t go past any churches. We can’t go past any police and fire stations.”

Luckily, Capital Running has a certified 8K course that it uses for the Stop the Silence 8K race, a course already approved by all of the agencies.

“[Monday] we went to the meeting and showed the 8K course,” she said. “Now we need to go to the [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions] before getting the permit.”

In the meantime, Freedman said 4,000 already had registered for the 10K race. Capital notified its registrants last week that the race was cut to an 8K.

Barbara Childs-Pair, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Special Events Task Group, understands the frustration but explained that road closures on Sundays in downtown Washington are being met with resistance.

“The reason is that, one, it’s a Sunday morning,” she said. “There are four churches that it would impact severely. Churches themselves can tell us whether or not they are being impacted. If there is great opposition from the churches, they go to the [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions]. The ANCs have a say-so in all activities. Saturday would have been a better day for them.”

The city mandated a few years ago that the race alternate Saturdays and Sundays so as not to inconvenience parishioners on a Sunday morning every year.

In addition, Childs-Pair said, “Downtown now is much more residential than it used to be, so getting signatures is getting more difficult.”

She confirmed that the Mandarin voiced its concern with road closures that could affect access of its guests to the hotel.

Childs-Pair said her office is working with Capital to get quick approval — with a week to race day — in a process that typically can take at least a couple of weeks.

“They still haven’t gotten the signatures on closing the street. That’s something they have to do. They need to go to the folks to close the streets. We’ve approved the course contingent on doing these things,” she said.

In the end, the new distance just short of five miles could be a blessing in disguise.

“Only about 20 people asked for refunds,” Freedman said Friday. “On the contrary, some people are signing up because it’s an 8K.”

Photo finish — On the day of the deadline to raise $50,000 to build the new Callas Stadium track in Hagerstown, Md., to USATF specifications, Mike Spinnler pulled in the last $5,000 to reach the goal in just three weeks.

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