Most of the folks who pin on bibs and head to the starting line of a 5K know one thing: They’re not going to win. Top prizes always go to the elites, so the best the masses can hope for is a new personal record. And that seemed like a bummer to 31-year-old running coach Mike Hamberger of Woodley Park.
So, he’s decided to change the way things are being run. Next month, he’s launching the National Road Racing League (Nrrl.org), which is essentially a cross-country program for adults. Instead of entering a race on your own, you’ll register with a group of pals, in the hopes that you’re collectively faster than the other teams. “Stop competing against each other, and start competing with each other,” Hamberger says.
At the end of the eight-race season, which stretches from April to October, the entire team will take home the glory — along with a cash prize and a four-foot-high trophy.
Calling it “National” is ambitious, especially since he’s starting with just D.C. and Delaware this year. But Hamberger hopes to eventually get local leagues going across the country and invite all of the division winners to an annual championship.
The league motto is “It’s about time,” which refers not just to the scoring system, but also the fact that Washington boasts leagues for nearly every sport imaginable except the most popular one. “Running is usually considered an individual sport, but anyone who’s been on a high school or college team knows how important the team aspect is,” says Ray Pugsley, co-owner of Potomac River Running (Potomacriverrunning.com), a chain of local specialty stores and a race management company.
Although his stores have an informal team for events — and several big races offer team competitions — it’s not at the level Pugsley remembers from his school days. “They’re usually one and done,” he says. There’s no continuity in who’s on the teams, and there’s no one keeping score over a series of races. That’s why Potomac River Running will be fielding an NRRL team of its own.
To sell the idea to other groups, Hamberger’s been jogging alongside just about every running club in the region, visiting stores and contacting track coaches to find their local alumni. Last Thursday at Vida Fitness, he answered questions from gym members looking to form a team and found a responsive crew.
Dan Hunt, 38, has been running regularly for the past 10 years and hopes signing up will force him to push harder. “It gives you a goal to work towards instead of just logging miles,” he says. As for Guillermo Saenz, 38, the team promises to make his solitary hobby a more social one. “Normally, I go to a race 15 minutes before and then leave right after I stretch,” he says.
Hamberger hopes the league fulfills both needs — motivation and socializing — while providing another athletic outlet. “If you don’t want to play softball or kickball, start a running team,” he says. Even if you don’t get the trophy, you’re guaranteed to be in the running.
April 23: Stop the Silence 8K
May 14: 5th Annual Bulldog 5K
May 28: Alexandria Running Festival 5K
June 4: Chris Carter Memorial Twilight 5K
July 30: Friends of the W&OD 10K
Sept. 18: Kit’s Miracle Mile (10K)
Oct. 2: Run for the Parks 10K
Oct. 16: Accumen Solutions’ Race for a Cause 8K
Photo by Marge Ely/Express