Photos courtesy of John Roemer
Are you a Hereford runner with your own Falls Road experiences to share? Are you a runner from another school with a similar famous (or infamous) running location or workout you want to see featured? Contact us at the email at the bottom of the page!
Perhaps more than any other school in Maryland, Hereford High School feels isolated. Only a 15 minute drive north of the Baltimore Beltway, the steep rolling hills, winding back roads and mix of farmlands and forest contrast starkly the backdrop of the rest of Baltimore County's 23 other public schools and many private schools. What other schools can boast both one of the most unique and storied courses on the east coast and goats on its property?
In many ways, Hereford's isolation and rural setting has created a cross-country culture that few schools in the state can rival. The Bulls boast a legacy possibly unmatched in Maryland, beginning with 12 state titles in 22 years from 1957-1978 and continuing strong today, with the girls winning seven titles in nine years from 2010-2018.
In our newest re-imaging of our Where We Run series, we want to tie in the physical running destinations with the traditions and stories they have produced throughout the years. At Hereford, one such location is Falls Road, a rural stretch of pavement on the other side of I-83 that descends to - and then ascends from - Gunpowder Falls.
Hereford alumni and coach (and MileSplit Maryland photographer) John Roemer, who was part of the workout's inception, recounts it below:
John Roemer joined his father on an 8-mile road loop in the Hereford Zone in the late 1970s. Six miles in his dad suggested hitting the half-mile hill on the rutted dirt road up from the Gunpowder River as hard as they could. At the top one of them said "Let's try that again". And of course that morphed into "Are we weaklings? One more time". This became a once- or twice-a-year tradition and continued when Roemer began coaching cross country and track at Hereford.
Years later another Hereford coach tried the run solo and crossed paths with a pair of older runners. She described what she was doing and in florid terms told the guys that the Hereford coach obviously is a sadist and and should be fired. One of the guys laughed and explained that he was the coach's father.
The run's elevation map. The three hill repeats can be found in the middle, climbing about 150 feet per rep.
The team begins at the water tower on campus and runs into the Gunpowder State Park via Bunker Hill Road. The stone road through the archery range joins the rooty, rocky Mingo Forks single-track with multiple small stream crossings and minor hills. Runners take the Gunpowder South trail west along the river to Masemore Road and then to Falls Road, 3.5 miles from the water tower. This is not the Falls Road that extends from Baltimore City to northwestern Baltimore County. It is the smaller one between Prettyboy Dam Road and Middletown Road. It was paved in the 1980s.
Heading south from the steel Falls Road bridge is the 0.4-mile hill. It has a short steep section near the bottom, then the grade lessens a bit, then gradually steepens to the curve at the top and a paint mark that has been refreshed annually for more than 40 years. The top is the same elevation as the Dip on the Hereford course, but the Dip gains only about 60 feet on the south side; this hill rises 220 feet.
The topography means a consistent effort will cover the first half of the distance faster than it will take to get to the hilltop, which by then seems maddeningly close after a couple of minutes of climbing. It's doubly dejecting since you can't see the crest until you're almost finished. Then you jog back to the bottom and do it again. And again. The objective with active recovery is to do each rep in about 10 minutes.
After the third rep, runners navigate a stone road to a trail beneath overhead power lines and follow the Highland Trial up a steep hill and then back to the South River Trail. Another pair of hills gets you to Bunker Hill Road and another climb back to the school. The Falls Road repeats are a beast when you're in the middle of them, but generally the nearly 4-mile run back to school is what tanks most people.
Over 25 years a broad spectrum of talent has negotiated this workout. Roemer coached track for more than 15 years so a few middle distance runners tackled it during the winter or spring. A thrower or two did it, asserting that they had occasionally done some weekend distance and were lured by the run's reputation. One to three dozen people do this each time. Only once did someone fail to get back to school without assistance, but that was from dehydration.
State champions whose victories were prefaced by superior performances on this workout include Ryan Chelton (Indoor, 800), Mason Rivera (Cross Country), Kevin Payne (Spring, Pole Vault), Erin Causey (Cross Country), and Emily Konkus (Cross Country). Jon Luckin put up good times here before breaking Hereford's 41-year-old school records in the mile, as did Kelly Wesolowski who went under 11:00 several times in the 3200. As a sophomore Kristen Malloy crushed this workout before she broke the Hereford course record by a substantial margin. Top athletes who became hardcore members of the military include Kate McFarlane (Naval Academy) and Meghan Anderson (Army). Adam Hittner (State medalist in the hurdles at Urbana) coaches at Hereford and has posted respectable times on these.
Chelton was the first high school athlete to break 2:30 on one of the three hills. Rivera averaged under 2:30 for all three the year he won states. Malloy was the first of only two or three females to average under 3:00. Konkus had the best breathless line, mid-workout: "If we're going to do this stuff we sure as heck better win states". She didn't use the words stuff or heck. Two months later she got an individual and team title.
Time benchmarks here, whether you run 2:30 or four minutes, help structure subsequent workouts. Success on the hills also assists coaches in figuring out who may be better on the Hereford course in November.
Former Hereford runners - all having completed the workout, some many times over - also weigh in on their experiences at Falls Road and with the Hereford program.
Britta Miller (Class of 2018) - Hannah Ace (Class of 2017) - Sarah Coffey (Class of 2016) - Jonathan Luckin (Class of 2013) - Konrad Shire (Class of 2018)