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Running in Arlington, a History Through the Eyes of Its Champion

Jay Jacob WindJay Jacob Wind has numbers running through his head.

One hundred and fifty-one marathons. Three thousand shorter races. Nineteen minutes and 19 seconds on his first 5K more than 30 years ago, and 39:39 on his first 10K. His first marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon — he ran in three hours and 27 minutes. He finished his first Boston Marathon in 2:47.

Consider another number: how many people in Arlington know more about running in the area than Wind? Probably zero.

Not only has Wind published a local running blog/column, the Arlington Running Roundup, for years, and served as a inspiration and mentor for a generation of younger runners, but he has also been such a presence in the local athletic community that he was appointed chairman of the Arlington Parks Commission from 1996-97 and was later named an “Arlington Community Hero.”

(The honors were detailed in a Washington Running Report article that also quoted Wind as saying, “I want to be the known as the guy who got all of Arlington running.”)

ARLnow.com struck up a conversation with Wind this week to discuss the past, present and future of running in Arlington with the county’s foremost authority on the matter.

ARLnow: When did you move to Arlington, and when did you first start running?
Jay Wind: I moved here in June of 1978. That spring, I was in graduate school at the University of Georgia when I ran my first race. I had been running for years and years before I even knew there was such a thing as a race. Those were my first races after about a decade of training. When Frank Shorter won the Olympic marathon in 1972 and came in second in 1976, I had no idea. That thing that fired up thousands of Americans about running was totally lost on me.

ARLnow: What was the running scene in Arlington like back then compared to today?
JW: Back then there were still lots of people running. The Cherry Blossom 10-miler was 10,000 people instead of 30,000, and the Marine Corps Marathon was the same. There weren’t charities doing races. Race For The Cure changed all that, and it proved that really huge money could be made by charities, because the net proceeds of a race are generally half of the gross proceeds, and it’s really hard to find that kind of margins in any other event. The running stores — in particular Georgetown Running Company — have recognized they can promote their store by being a generous sponsor of a race. The fact that we’ve got so many runners, and therefore so many running stores, and therefore so many core sponsors has really made a huge difference.

ARLnow: What’s been the biggest change in the running scene since you started?
JW: The biggest single change has been the proliferation of private gymnasiums to get fit. It used to be that there were community centers and a handful of other gyms, but now, there are way, way more private gyms, and there are a lot of people who would prefer to work out on a treadmill or an elliptical on a hot day in the summer or a cold day in the winter, so it’s enabled more people to get fit. And you don’t necessarily have to be fit to run, but it sure is a lot more fun.

ARLnow: So just how different is it when you’re out on the trails these days?
JW: I’d say, nowadays we see 10 times as many runners as we did 30 years ago. There have been so many breakthroughs in running fabrics so we’re not running in cotton t-shirts and boxer shorts. We’re running in high-tech shirts, non-chafing shorts, polytech socks, running shoes. All these technological improvements, and that’s enabled more people to participate, it’s enabled, at the front end of the pack, for records to be set. The technology improves and it enables us to do our best.

ARLnow: What about Arlington do you think makes it so appealing for runners?
JW: Arlington’s got a ton of great trails. All you need is a good pair of shoes. We’ve got this beautiful perimeter around Arlington with the W&OD and Custis and Four Mile Run trails. You can run that whole distance about 26 miles with only two small street crossings in Rosslyn, two in Shirlington and Gravelly Point. Only five points. That’s so significant. The visionaries like (former County Board Chairman) John Milliken, who put together the Arlington perimeter… it was a brilliant idea, and it’s great for bicycles, too. It’s great for nature lovers or bird lovers. We are so lucky.

ARLnow: Did you ever think running would explode the way it has?
JW: I’d have to say yes. I knew that something couldn’t be this much fun and this easy without attracting many more people. Many others shared that same vision. It was going to get big whether or not Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. It’s too much fun. The cat’s out of the bag. It’s cheap entertainment.

ARLnow: So what’s the future of running for Arlington?
JW: There’s a lot of things that are going to happen. First of all, I think we’re going to see a couple more Olympic trials qualifiers from Arlington. Michael Wardian ran the [marathon] trials in 2004 and 2008. (Also, Arlington resident and UK transplant Claire Hallissey made it on the British Olympic marathon team last year. -ed.) That’s one measure. Another measure is the proliferation of small races. You’re going to see more races at Bluemont Park and more races from the Ballston campus of Marymount University on the Bluemont Junction Trail. It would be nice if there was a single organization that could speak for Arlington runners. There are structural constituencies for a number of sports, and there’s not a structural constituency for running, and my prediction is that there will be one in 5-10 years, because there needs to be. It’s lacking.

Wind also commented on the Arlington County Fair’s claim that this year’s planned 5K race was the first in the fair’s history, recalling that he organized a 5K at the fair from 1982-1984. “I’ve got the T-shirts to prove it,” he said.

In addition to the highs of running, Wind has also witnessed the lows. This year, he finished the Boston Marathon about 30 minutes before the bombs went off. He was close enough to hear and feel the blasts, but not to see the aftermath. He told the Sun Gazette the bombings were “tragic and senseless,” and hasn’t updated his blog since.

If there’s a race or training run in Arlington these days, you’re still likely find Wind, well into his 60s, running in it. You might not see him during the race, since he’ll likely be finishing well ahead of you.

“I have a saying: if someone’s going to win the age group, it might as well be me,” he says. He still clocks under 8 minutes a mile for the marathons, and he’s not slowing down any time soon.

Photo via Marathon Charity Cooperation

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