The Landon School has a nice plot of land tucked away from the urban city streets of nearby downtown Bethesda. While it cannot boast an on-campus golf course like its archrival Georgetown Prep, it does have plenty of grass and trails padded by pine needles and woodchips. Tall trees around the perimeter of the property offer shelter from the hot sun.
The Landon XC Invitational has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2004. The meet started with just a handful of teams after Addison Hunt took over at the Landon School as the head cross country coach of both the middle and high school programs.
Coach Hunt explained: "I started coaching at Landon fifteen years ago. I was at the Field school where I had no track and I had no cross country course, so to come to a place like this and find out that they did not run an invitational on their course, I thought it was almost tragic. With the cooperation of the school, we've tried to always block off the last weekend in September as the Landon Invitational."
Scheduling the meet on the last Saturday in September usually meant that the Landon Invitational was up against some very tough competition like Bull Run, Frank Keyser, Maymont, Paul Short, and most recently, the DCXC Invitational. The meet's deceptively challenging course and low key atmosphere kept many teams coming back year after year while attracting more schools of similar makeup.
The meet grew to over 400 athletes in 2013, but it took a notable step backwards in attendance in 2014. Perhaps not a coincidence, 2014 was the first year that Pacers hosted the DCXC Invitational. It was understandable if a few Landon-faithful wanted to test the waters at the new mega-meet in the nation's capital.
The 2016 rendition of the Landon Invitational experienced a spike in the total number of teams wanting to attend. The number of teams ballooned to thirty, and the total number of competitors was right up there with the record high in 2013.
"I'm not exactly sure what the reasoning is," said Hunt. "When a race is on the calendar a while, it starts getting a reputation. That just starts to happen. We had some schools that left, went to other races, and just decided they wanted to come back to this one."
"I think this is about as large as we could probably do it just because of parking if nothing else. I think for a lot of schools, the fact that we start the thing at nine in the morning and everyone should be off the campus by one, I think works well instead of some meets that will sometimes go until 7:00."
The course itself is a horseshoe shape that starts athletes running on a practice field towards the front entrance of the school. As runners veer away from the school's main entrance, they run a u-shape around the school's perimeter until they hit the front entrance again from the opposite direction. The course reverses direction and, without getting into all the nitty gritty details, ends on the track in front of the stadium bleachers. Runners encounter a variety of terrain and multiple hills that most spectators never see.
"The concept of the course has basically been the same since the beginning," said Hunt. "People can kind of get a historical feel for their performances."
With that being the case, Wesley Feldman's 2016 time of 17:15 places him eighth all-time at the Landon Invitational according to Mocorunning's records, excluding years in which the course was officially listed as 3 miles in length. The 5k meet record is 16:27.25 set by Hale Ross of the Potomac School in 2013.
Cady Hyde of St. John's recorded a winning time of 20:10, which places her sixth all-time at the Landon Invitational according to Mocorunning's records. Gloria Roberts of Archbishop Carroll recorded a time of 19:19.67 in 2006. The course may have been a little different that year but it was officially listed as a 5k in 2006.
Feldman of Landon and Hyde of St. John's won the male and female "Brown" races in very different ways. Feldman jumped out to the lead from the gun and never looked back. Nobody challenged him at any point in the race. The St. John's freshman had to shake opponent Genevieve DiBari of Stone Ridge who started off her season flying out of the gates. DiBari in turn easily outdistanced ISL rival Kristen Bitsberger of Holton Arms, 20:26 to 20:55.
Bishop Ireton won the girls team battle in the "Brown" race while the Heights boys won the corresponding race on the boys side. Flint Hill boys and Mercersburg girls won the "White" team titles.
New this year was the concept of "Brown" and "White" races. The concept of utilizing school colors to identify races is used at meets elsewhere particularly in college meets. The idea was necessitated from the fact that all races consisted of varsity and junior varsity runners. Some out-of-state private institutions including Abington Friends School, Mercersburg Academy, Flint Hill School, and Spire Institute for home-schooled athletes, were not sanctioned to compete against Maryland public schools; therefore, the Landon staff separated those schools from Maryland public schools and contested four races with the "Brown" and "White" designations.