A photo of the course's covered bridge from the previous year, 2015. (Photo by Lisa McArthur)
If you've run at Smokey Glen Farm in Gaithersburg, Maryland, you know just how difficult the course can be. Single-track trails, creek crossings and one particularly grueling hill make for one of the most feared cross country venues in the area. For 11 years, however, it was also the site of one of the most unique invitational races in the DMV.
Each year, usually during the period between the Maryland and Virginia state championships and the national qualifying meets, Battle XC hosted its annual "Border War" race, open to all runners from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. (the four states/cities which the Potomac River flows along). Runners received singlets depending on their home state (the Maryland ones always reading "MD") and team scores were kept by state. For many years, it attracted some of the top names in distance running from around the area. Consider the Maryland "team" from the fall of 2013:
- Ryan Forsyth, Severna Park: Three-time state champion, 9:09 3200
- Danniel Belay, Gaithersburg: 4A state runner-up in 2013, 9:27 3200
- Brent Musselman, South River: 4A 3200 runner-up in spring 2014, 4:13 full mile
- Chase Weaverling, Poolesville: Seven-time state champion, 9:12 3200
- Ben Freed, Thomas Johnson: 3A state champion in 2013, 4:20 1600
- Evan Woods, Whitman: Two-time state champion, 4:12 full mile
On the girls side?
- Nora McUmber, B-CC: Four-time state champion, 2013 Team Nationals Southeast regional champion
- Jessica Narr, Cambridge-South Dorchester: Two-time state champion, 17:34 three mile
- Abigail Levine, B-CC: Two-time 4A state medalist, 19:09 5K
- Hayley Jackson, Patuxent: (no introduction needed)
- Courtney Mattson, Calvert: Two-time top-eight state meet finisher, 11:38 3200
During the final years of the Battle of the Potomac at Smokey Glen Farm, attendance dwindled somewhat as many of the area's top runners seemingly focused more on recovering from states and preparing for the national qualifying meets. However, for those less laser-focused on the meets in Cary or New York City, the Battle of the Potomac provided a laid-back, no-pressure opportunity for one final cross country race (for many, the last of their high school careers).
Middletown senior Riley Caldwell was the first girl to cross the line in the combined boys and girls championship race on a blustery, overcast day in November 2016. Her race was sandwiched between a ninth-place performance at the 2A state meet a week earlier and a race at Team Nationals Southeast a week later. Meanwhile, Calvert's Justin Diehl (only a sophomore at the time) raced ahead of the boys seeded field, while Poolesville's Ryan Lockett and Andrew Lent (1-4 at the 3A state meet a week earlier) cruised in the open race.
While the 2016 edition of the meet wasn't the star-studded, must-see border war it had been a few years prior, the atmosphere of friendly competition between runners, previously rivals, now all wearing the same jersey and chasing ghosts of the course's historic past, has not been - and may never be - duplicated again.