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Traffic jams make it hard for distance runners get to the starting line

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The Golden Knights — the U.S. Army Parachute Team — have figured out the ideal way to get to the starting line of the Army Ten-Miler. They jump.

“One or two of them will take off their uniforms, put on running gear and go for it,” says race director Jim Vandak, who’s always happy to accommodate any of the parachutists. But arrival by air won’t work for all 30,000 participants in the Oct. 21 event. “I don’t think the FAA would appreciate that,” he says.

Like many races in the Washington area, the Army Ten-Miler depends on Metro to get runners in place and on time. The Marine Corps Marathon’s transportation plan? “Metro, Metro, Metro,” says spokeswoman Tami Faram.

But trains will take you only so far, and as races have tackled new territory, organizers have had to find other ways to stay on course.

Sometimes, they’ve failed spectacularly, as in the case of the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K last December, which would have been more appropriately named the Hot Mess. When 20,000 runners tried to descend on National Harbor — nowhere near a Metro stop — their cars clogged the Beltway, forcing the event to be delayed by an hour and leaving a lot of angry people in the cold.

The angry mob was at least warmer last month at the Tough Mudder in Frederick. Traffic got so bad on the way to the mud run that people abandoned their cars on the highway, and many of those who did manage to park in the proper field wound up having to push their vehicles out of the muck to escape. The planned two-day event never got to the second day.

Disasters like these teach plenty of lessons to race directors. You probably won’t see events with more than 5,000 people at National Harbor again, and last weekend’s Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, which ended at National Harbor, shuttled participants to and from the Eisenhower Avenue Metro.

Andy Liverman, co-founder of Rogue Runner, a mud run with obstacles that’s launching just outside Warrenton later this month, has been taking notes on traffic problems. Just a few weeks after the Tough Mudder debacle, there were similar issues at the Warrior Dash race near Richmond.

“It’s a new industry, and everyone’s figuring stuff out,” says Liverman, who explains it’s tricky to find sites remote enough to hold messy obstacles and accommodate the crowds they attract. “But we’re thinking about the whole day from when they get in their car to when they get home.”

That means two parking lots — one for folks with four-wheel drive and one for folks without — and two feeder roads to avoid backups. And it might also mean organizing buses from the Vienna Metro Station. (His team is deciding this week whether there’s enough interest to make that a viable option.)

There could also be a bus to the Metro in the works for the Anything Is Possible 5K in Bethesda on Nov. 7. The point of the event, which debuted last year, is to start at 1:50 a.m., right before the clock falls back an hour, so you wind up with a negative time. One added benefit of being such an early-morning race on a weekend is that the Metro is still running for a while. So it’s also possible for runners to enjoy the finish-line festivities and still head home via train in their pajama pants.

Race director Bob Fleshner hasn’t seen a need for a bus so far, but that could change as the allotted number of parking spaces fill up. “The last thing I need is people showing up at 2 a.m. and not being able to park,” he says.

Because parking is frequently a pain at races, carpooling — which has become easier to organize through social media — and biking are both increasingly common, says Kathy Dalby, who manages Pacers Events.

And at early-morning races, the taxis dropping off and picking up runners are getting joined by black cars from Uber, a limo service that uses a smartphone app to arrange rides. “You don’t have to worry about cash because it’s all charged through the account on file,” says Alex Priest, Uber D.C. community manager. Plus, Uber cars are usually stocked with water bottles, a nice pre- or post-run amenity.

None of those options, however, appeals to 47-year-old Eve Mills of Bethesda, who prefers to use her own two feet in order to log even more mileage. “The longer, the better,” Mills says.

So how will she be getting to the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 28? By running five miles from her house. That’s one way to beat traffic.

@postmisfits on Twitter

Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.

Read past columns by Hallett and Lenny Bernstein and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter to get health news e-mailed to you every Tuesday.

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