Varsity Letter: Under the Lights of Brentsville, a Rare Treat for Runners

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Okay, cross-country team. We have a scheduling conflict. The original plan was to go to California for a meet. But that's the weekend of the Brentsville Relays.

So should we go to the meet in California and skip the relays, or go to the relays and skip the meet in California?




Yes, the elite Lake Braddock cross-country runners chose western Prince William County over the western United States, just so the entire Bruins' contingent could take part Saturday in the Brentsville Relays instead of a few going out West.

Now, before you cast what in the world were they thinking? aspersions on the Bruins, keep in mind that they settled for a jaunt to Florida on a different weekend. Not a bad substitute. But even so, what a ringing endorsement for the Brentsville Relays, one of the coolest high school events in any sport in the Washington area.

The featured "A" races begin about 8 p.m., with the 1.5-mile course illuminated by two dozen portable light stands, the kind used at nighttime construction sites.

It's a daylight, spectator-unfriendly sport run under the lights on a spectator-friendly course. The initial events get started at 4:30, with races for community members and visitors of all ages, including runners' siblings, parents and coaches, and relays for high school runners of varying skill levels, giving the event a festival feel.

Then, the deeper the sun sets, the greater the top competitors' adrenaline begins to surge.

"On football Friday nights, everybody's there and the lights are on," Lake Braddock Coach Mike Mangan said. "It's a big show. This is cross-country's version of it."

Clusters of spectators stand at various points on the winding layout, and the course wends around corn and soybean fields and through a patch of woods and even has a semi-spooky, dimly lighted stretch in which the only sounds might be an unseen competitor's breathing or the grunts and sighs of cows and donkeys in an adjacent pasture.

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