Women's Distance Festival 5K

Fri, 09 Jul 1999
The Mall in Columbia [map]
Columbia, MD

The approximately 500 women who assembled at the Columbia Mall last Friday night expected the St. Agnes Health Care Women's Distance Festival 5k would start on schedule at midnight, but the Phish concert across the street at the Merriweather Post Pavillion seriously disrupted the agenda. The race was supposed to take place entirely within the Mall's parking lot, but the lot was still jammed with Phishite vehicles long after the announced 11 pm conclusion of the performance. At midnight, the traffic had barely started to leave, and race officials had no choice but to delay the race. For over one hour, Howard County Police and Mall Security worked heroically to clear the parking lot, often against the wishes of the Phishes. At about 12:45 am, the women were gathered at the start line one the lot's perimeter loop near the new Lord and Taylor. There they waited for another half hour while police cleared Phish remnants from the northwest lot. The women raised a cheer at 1:10 am when Miles Weigold announced that police had finally cleared the course and would let the race proceed.

"They were pretty mellow out there for the most part," one woman said of the few concerteers who remained in the lot during the race. Theall-woman field made three loops around the Mall's perimeter, each time encountering friendly police and Strider volunteers as well as the Phishers in addition to escort by a police cruiser and two Vespa scooters from the Baltimore Bombers club. Most Phish offered encouraging words, but a few tried to run along with the women, and at least one attempted to skate-board with them! The women kept their cool, if not always their speed, and at total of 416 runners finished the appointed 3.1 mile tour of the Mall parking lot without incident.

In the actual race, national-class triathlete Amanda Gillam seized an early lead and then a commanding lead by the half-mile mark. She and the police car held a speed session that culminated in a time of 18:48. Well behind Gillam, Columbians Michele Smith and Vicki Lang duelled each other through the first mile until Smith, who runs for James Madison University, pulled away from Lang. A graduate of the University of Tennesse, Gillam celebrated her 27th birthday with the victory and credited her younger cousin, Jackie Fowler (1st, 11-14 yrs), for encouraging her to run the race.

The Women's Distance Festival also featured competition between 38 mother-daughter teams. Lissa George and her daughter Libby won the team championship for the second year in a row. They creditied their success to their training together and to a special diet of ice-cream.

Barbara Gorman of St. Agnes Healthcare and Courtney Blair of the Sexual Trauma Treatment Advocacy and Recovery (STTAR) Center were on hand to help race director Kelly Barton distribute prizes and random awards after the race, which didn't end until after 2 am. In its second year as a the principal sponsor of the race, St. Agnes made a donation to the STTAR fund on behalf of the Women's Distance Festival. Other sponsors included Moving Comfort and Runner's World, who sponsor the nationwide series of Women's Distance Festivals for the Road Runner's Club of America.

The overall race winners received medals, polo shirts, heavy medallions, and gift certificates from Feet First of Wilde Lake. In spite of the hour, many women stuck around for random awards and post-race refreshments of bagels, fruit, and veggie platters.

The WDF 5k is staged each year at the Columbia Mall by the Howard County Striders. Ms. Barton was assisted by Brad Speierman and Miles Weigold at the finish line, Carla Styczynski at packet pick-up, Lisa Lowe at race-night registration, Judith Colon as water coordinator, Jim DiScuillo on race results, and especially by Mick Slonaker and his all-male traffic control volunteers. Columbia Mall security and the Howard County Police "bent over backwards" to make the race safe and clear up the concert traffic.

by Jim Carbary