I’ve recently hit my 10 year mark as the coach at NOVA, and that auspicious anniversary has caused me to reflect on the many, many great moments that I’ve had the pleasure to be part of during those 10 years. While it’s impossible to list all of the wonderful accomplishments of our athletes in the last decade, here is my list of the top 10 moments of my 10 year tenure. – Coach Jerry
1. Martha Merz breaks the American record for 45-49 year old women in the 10,000 meters.
Martha was a dominant road runner well into her 40s, and her many stellar performances on the roads included her 5th place finish in the 2007 Marine Corps Marathon, when she ran 2:56:46 off of no marathon specific training. But her greatest moment came on the track, when she ran 38:08 for 10,000 meters to break a 17 year-old American record, after having not run for two weeks prior to the race with a hamstring strain. To do this monumental accomplishment justice, read the piece I wrote about it when Martha moved away a few years back. As a Navy spouse, Martha isn’t always here to work out with NOVA, but she remains a faithful member and always stops in for track practice when she’s passing through.
2. Emily Potter runs the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon.
Emily is a national caliber marathoner who ran in the Olympic Trials Marathon in 2008 and 2012, when she earned 40th place. She qualified for her third Olympic Trials in 2016 doing her runs with a double baby stroller, and she got into PR shape for the Trials doing hard track workouts with NOVA. It’s not often we at NOVA have the opportunity to see a runner of Emily’s caliber work out with us, week in and week out, and it was a special experience to have Emily with us for a great training cycle leading up to the Olympic Trials. It was my great pleasure to be with Emily at the Trials in Los Angeles, and while she struggled in the oppressive heat, Emily finished an excellent 102nd, and passed several runners in the last 10k.
3. Dave Wertz develops into a star.
When I started with NOVA, Dave was an inexperienced 30 year old runner who appeared to have some promise if he got serious about the sport. Ten years later, with a lot of hard work behind him, Dave has developed into a national class masters athlete, with PRs of 8:58 for 3k, 15:11 for 5k, 25:38 for 8k, and 31:30 for 10k, all of which are NOVA club records. Dave’s dedication and work ethic have earned him the respect of his GRC teammates, and the best is yet to come for Dave as he continues to improve every year.
4. Samantha Kirby Cole breaks 3:00 in the marathon.
Kirby is another athlete who was at my first NOVA practice in 2006, and while her marathon PR of 3:19 was solid, at 37 years old there was little indication that she had star potential. Over the next couple of years, however, Kirby put in consistently high mileage, and the results started to come, indicating that a major breakthrough was imminent. That breakthrough came in Houston in 2009, when at age 39, Kirby ran 2:59:52, which was truly an outstanding performance. Kirby continued to excel after her 40th birthday, and established herself as one of the top masters runners in the country.
5. Katie Kieran runs 17:30 for 5000 on the track.
Katie was an All-American at Boston College who took 14 years off of running to pursue a career and a family. At age 35, with an infant at home, and after training with NOVA for only six months, Katie ran an outstanding time of 17:30 in her first track meet since college at the 2015 Maryland Invitational 5K. Katie has taken her considerable talents to GRC, but her club record performance will likely be with NOVA for many years to come.
6. Mark Drosky’s consecutive-day running streak.
Mark has not missed a day of running since January 1, 1989. Think about that for a moment. The level of dedication it has taken for Mark to run every day, without a break for illness, injury, blizzards, heat waves, or anything else, for more than 27 years, is astounding. Mark is a 2:41 marathoner who has run excellent races well into his 50s, and his continued devotion to the sport is an inspiration. Mark plans to complete his 53rd marathon at Chicago this fall.
7. Lisa McNichols runs 5:02 for 1500 meters.
In 2016, at age 47, Lisa ran 5:02 for 1500, which is equivalent to a 5:24 mile, a national class performance for her age group. To get the level of competition that she needs to excel at this level, Lisa runs in local collegiate meets. She’s competing against women who are less than half her age, and she always more than holds her own. And it’s not like Lisa is training all day to achieve these outstanding results. Rather, she’s got four kids who keep her constantly on the go. Lisa is truly an exceptional talent who keeps getting better, and in the right race, she will break 5:00.
8. Erin Masterson’s PR streak in 2014 and 2015.
Erin has been running at a high level for a long time–she was a four-time Maryland state champion in high school (which caused me to vigorously recruit her to run at American University, but that’s a whole other story), and she went on to an excellent career at William and Mary. But the best running of her career came over a 12 month period starting in November 2014, when she ran a six minute PR of 3:14:21 at the Richmond Marathon, another six minute PR of 3:08:24 in Boston in April 2015, a PR of 18:25 at the Clarendon Day 5k in September 2015, a 1:04:11 at Army 10 in October 2015, a PR of almost two minutes, and a five minute PR of 1:25:23 at the Philly RNR half marathon three weeks later, in what was arguably the best race of her life. While I didn’t get to coach Erin in college, I sure have enjoyed working with her at NOVA!
9. Mike Naff Breaks 3 Hours in the Marathon
Coast Guard Mike has been with NOVA for several years, and his goal since he came on board has been to break three hours in the marathon. Mike just missed hitting the target in 2011, but suffered some serious health issues that derailed his training. He made a big comeback in 2015, when he ran 3:03:16 in Boston in April, and at age 45, he was in the best shape of his life going into MCM that October. Mike was on pace to run 2:57 at 20 miles, and while a late fade caused him to just miss breaking three hours, he more than made up for it in December 2016, running 2:57:56 to finish 10th overall in the Tuscon Marathon.
10. Greg Swiatocha runs 55:51 at Army 10 Mile.
Greg joined NOVA in 2014, and it was the best decision of his life for reasons that have nothing to do with running, since he met his future wife at practice. Greg has provided NOVA something we’ve been missing for years: a top-tier man who is committed to NOVA long term. With Greg as our bell cow, we’ve built up a strong men’s front pack. Greg’s top performance for NOVA was his excellent PR of 55:51 at the 2015 Army 10 Mile. Greg has been dealing with some injuries since then, but he is on the mend, and we’ll see many more big PRs from him in NOVA colors in the months and years to come.