All alone on the Marine Corps Marathon course, Kyle King had a lot of time to think. Even as he led Jon Mott by a minute in the 16th mile, he reflected on the extensive research he had done on his rival, specifically Mott’s recent 2:17 at the Berlin Marathon.
“I stalked him pretty hard before the race, and he ran some 5:05s in his last 10k at Berlin,” King said. “I started hurting early on, my calf started acting up in mile 12, so I knew I didn’t have a safe lead because he was gunning for me. I was running scared from 16 to 23.”
While Mott, 35, had raced five weeks prior, King, 33, had spent all summer and fall in the California desert, where he’s a captain stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. Aside from his girlfriend accompanying him on a bike, he trained alone, but as he approached two 180 degree turns in miles eight and 17 on race day, he wanted to make sure he didn’t waste the chance to be seen.
“I needed to look like I felt fantastic,” King said. “If he knew how much I was hurting, I was in trouble. Some races, I feel like I’m floating until mile 18, but I was working really early on today. I wanted to exude confidence and strength.”
His 2:19:19 was the second-fastest finish in 25 years, three seconds behind a tie for the 10th fastest in the race’s 47-year history. Mott was roughly 3.5 minutes behind in 2:22:46.
King took the lead from the start, coming through two miles in just under 11 minutes.
“I didn’t want to go out any faster than 5:25s, but that was hard because I was excited to race, the weather was great and I was ready to go,” King said. “I thought he was going to cover my moves, but I guess he decided not to go with me.”
Mott is a Lakeland, Fla.-based coach and three-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, and while he initially picked Marine Corps as a race he could try to win, the trip became as much about supporting the nearly two dozen of his athletes who were racing the marathon and 10k after he was invited to race Berlin in September.
“I ran the race that I thought would win it, but I had no idea what kind of fitness he was in,” Mott, 35, said. “I was playing defense, hoping he’d fade, but he never did. I thought I might be able to catch him, but by 20 miles I could tell he wasn’t coming back.
“It was the easiest marathon I’d ever run, but I couldn’t go any faster.”
While he took time off after Berlin to recover, Mott felt he was missing the 160-mile weeks that had carried him to that recent personal record.
King spent much of 2021 and early 2022 living in Alexandria while in officer training school at Quantico, and had planned to race the 2021 Marine Corps Marathon before the in-person race was canceled a month out. The disappointment led him to take drastic measures — running a 100k in Natural Bridge, Va.. He got a grip and focused on his road training, which led him to a win at the MCM Historic Half in May.
Fascinated by search and rescue, King initially planned to join the Coast Guard after graduate school, but found his skills weren’t in high demand. But the Marine Corps seemed like it would be a nice blend of amphibious operations, making for a challenging career. Several years later, the Good Boys Running Club in Denver reawakened his love for running.
He had planned to race Marine Corps in 2019, but was selected for the World Military Games, where he ran 2:16:56 for eighth place. He was the 2020 Marine Athlete of the Year after his 47th place finish in the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. Mott, coincidentally, was 47th in the 2016 Trials.
The King sought in the Marine Corps came into play during his run up to the marathon. A weeklong training exercise in the desert left him only nighttime to try to fit in any running, and an encounter with a rattlesnake put an end to that. After that, a trip to Big Bear Lake in California for a long run at altitude became a four-hour fiasco when the fire roads he planned on were closed, a detour took him through zealously-guarded private property and the way out means crossing rocks that threatened to wreck his ankle. It wasn’t the smoothest buildup, but he couldn’t argue with the outcome.
Experience breeds improvement for women’s winner Baker
The last time Chelsea Baker ran Marine Corps, it might as well have been half a lifetime ago. In a sense, it was.
Her 2019 effort, ending up in a 59th place in 3:22:48, run in a downpour that transitioned to a steam bath, was just three years into her running career, which stared when she joined the British Royal Navy.
“I wasn’t really athletic before I joined the military, but I got pulled into cross country,” Baker, 32, said. “This was my second marathon when I ran it in 2019.”
In the intervening years, the dearth of major competitions gave Baker time to develop as a runner, and by the time she got back to Arlington for the 2022 Marine Corps Marathon, she was confident and like King, fed off of that confidence to carry her to victory in 2:42:38, the ninth fastest time in a race history that has seen more churn than the men’s, with five other top-11 times run in the last 25 years.
Not that she knew she was winning from listening to the crowds.
“They must have gotten confused with the 50k, because people kept telling me I was in fourth or third,” Baker said. “I just tried to drown them out and focus on my own race. To come back and win this has been mind-blowing.”
The 50k started 40 minutes before the marathon, and women’s winner Melissa Tanner ran just fast enough that she finished 23 seconds ahead of Baker, too close for the finish line crew to stretch out the finishing banner again for Baker. While most runners want to make sure they have enough left in the tank to finish strong, particularly on an uphill final stretch like Marine Corps, Baker got to prove it when she went back and crossed the finish line again for her photo op.
She had some input into her race plan from her boyfriend Adam Stokes, who was the 2019 runner up.
“I knew I didn’t want to go out too fast, so I stuck to that plan and didn’t start hurting until mile 23. I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I might have run faster if I had someone on my shoulder pushing me.”
Now a Royal Navy team elder, it fell to Baker to stress the restraint her coach had preached, and she followed to success.
“It’s hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere,” she said.
Fun for the whole family
Ryan Udvadia’s work as an accountant stresses details, but there was one he forgot in the lead up to the Marine Corps Marathon — changing his wife’s last name on her registration after the Clifton Park, N.Y couple’s June wedding. Cara Udvadia, 25, will go in the record books as Cara Sherman, but her time — 2:47:08 for second among women, is just as sweet.
“After I graduated from college, I felt a little lost, not having a team with goals to work toward,” she said. “It was definitely an adjustment, but once my dad started coaching me, I felt like I was on the right track again.”
Now a few years into her career as a hydrological engineer for the U.S. Geological Survey and out of the pandemic, she’s back to the level of consistency she missed from college.
She started the race relaxed but found runners to keep her company from mile eight to 18.
“I felt smooth until mile 24.5,” she said. “If another woman would have caught up with me, I’m not sure I could have responded. But I see how people get addicted to this.”
The Udvadias, both University of Albany alumni, chose the race because of Ryan’s connection to it. In 2019, he made good on years’ worth of threats to run his first marathon with his grandfather, Frank Capone.
“When he was little, he used to call me an tell me he ran around the block,” Capone said. “Then he went on to run in high school and then college, but he would always tell me ‘Grandpa, you got me into running. I’m going to run my first marathon with you.’ I tell him I’m too slow, but he doesn’t care.”
The pair ran 4:52:18 in 2019, mostly in the rain, and Ryan realized he bit off more than he’d bargained for.
“It was so cold, it rained so much, but I’ll never forget running with my grandpa,” he said.
His 2:27:36 debut for a competitive effort was enough for hm to need a few days to commit to another, but his response to the crowds was undeniable.
“It hurt, but the crowds made all the difference,” he said. “Even when I was slowing down after 19 miles, every time I passed water stop, I’d speed right up. The energy from the cheers is real.”
Bonnie Keating, 37, a Robinson Secondary School alumna, returned for another crack at Marine Corps after finishing fifth in 2019. A transplant to San Diego, where she is a strength and conditioning coach, she felt the temperature drop from California and spent most of the race trying to warm up.
“It wasn’t by design, I just couldn’t get myself going,” she said. “I just felt off, but it wasn’t all bad.”
She ran 2:47:47 for third, though she thought she was in fourth after she passed a woman in the last few miles.
“I had good miles here and there, but they didn’t stay consistent until after 18,” she said. “When they gave me a pass for the awards when I finished, I thought there had to be a mistake.”
Like Baker, she improved on her 2019 time, when she ran 2:55:03.
The 50k returned for its second running, with Davidson, N.C.’s Chris Raulli, 34, running 3:05:45 and Baltimore’s Tanner, 41 running 3:22:15.
Raulli ran his first sub-2:30 marathon, with hopes for a sub-3:00 50k, but his last five miles suffered.
Tanner finished third overall in her first Marine Corps race since the 2008 marathon, where she fell apart in Crystal City and was mindful not to do so again.
The winners in 2019, Arlington’s Mike Wardian, 48, (3:18:27) and Rockville’s Liz Ozeki, 34, (3:33:05) both finished second. Wardian felt like his potential finishing time was wide open, given his lower training volume since finishing a coast-to-coast run this summer. Ozeki was pleased to improve on last-year’s time, particularly after she hadn’t committed to the race until two months prior, her eyes on marathons and halves this fall. Dale City’s Jonathan Ladson, 31, (3:24:50) and Hagerstown’s Lauren Cramer, 38, (3:49:43) finished third, with Ladson holding second place until the final miles.
Rick Nealis made some choices on the fly while running the Marine Corps Marathon in 2020.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the race he has directed since 1993 to go virtual, he crafted his own course, though without his usual authority to close down roads he was accustomed to. He meandered the W&OD and Mount Vernon trails in Northern Virginia to get his 26.2 miles. With a course change after a mental remapping, a detour into Alexandria and a stop for refreshments in Old Town, he took what the day threw at him. It fit the perspective that has helped make his race a pillar of the American running community.
“I’ve basically taken a Semper Gumby approach,” he said. “I try to be very flexible, and that’s a trait that you need as a race director. You can’t be afraid of change, because the best plan pretty much goes out the window when you start up, because once everything is in motion, things change.”
After nearly 30 years of that welcomed uncertainty, Nealis is going to have a slightly more predictable lifestyle. He’ll retire in January at age 69 from what has grown under his watch to be a series of successful races, including more than a dozen races over the years in addition to the annual marathon. The current event series includes several trail races, a half marathon, a turkey trot, and a 17.75k that commemorates the Marine Corps’ founding. He also added a 10k and 50k to the marathon weekend.
“The soul of the Marine Corps Marathon is Rick Nealis,” said George Banker, the race’s longtime historian and participant since 1983. “It hasn’t moved off the mark since he’s been in charge — he’s moved the quality forward, moved people’s confidence in the event forward. The way he leads that team shows up in all of the Marine Corps’ races.
“It’s more than a race, it’s an event, and he’s made it that way.”
A Marine supply officer in the early ’90s with a 3:09 marathon best from an MCM nearly 10 years prior, Nealis initially thought of his assignment to the race as a demotion, even though he was an avid runner.
“I went from having about 180 Marines and civilians working for me down to three officers and 12 enlisteds,” he said. “It didn’t take long for me to realize the opportunities this race presented.”
Though it’s the centerpiece of the Washington, D.C. area running scene, drawing a national field and boasting what a Towson University study found to be an $88 million regional economic impact in 2013, the marathon serves as a logistical assignment for the corps.
“It’s a chance to introduce the Marine Corps to people on a personal level. For a lot of the public, Hollywood tells the stories of Marines and there’s often a lot of dramatic license, but it’s different to show thousands of people what they can do when they work together to put on an event like this and contribute something to the community.”
When the traditional two-year rotation would have moved him out, the Marine Corps decided to keep Nealis on permanently as a civilian race director in 1995.
Nealis credits fellow race directors with ideas that seeped into the Marine Corps series, but Chicago Marathon Race Director Carey Pinkowski said Nealis ensures that it’s a two-way street.
“Rick is incredibly generous with his time and experience,” Pinkowski said. “He always makes himself available to help out a fellow race director, whether it’s a world major or a 150 person road race.”
Pinkowski described him as a living resource of the best practices in the road racing industry, and noted his adaptability and eagerness to adopt new ideas.
“He’s always looking toward making things better, trying to improve the runner experience and make everyone involved feel special,” he said.
Two years into Nealis’ tenure, Oprah Winfrey’s successful race at Marine Corps in 1994 opened the door for him to work on the torch relay for the 1996 Olympics. While he learned a lot about logistics, he truly soaked up the opportunities that sponsorships would create for the marathon and followed through aggressively
“These days, if you don’t have the support from sponsors, you really can’t afford to do the race the right way,” Nealis said. “When you look at the basic measures like closing down roads or having the supplies to keep the runners safe and healthy, it’s hard to think about how we did things in the early ’90s.”
“A lot of people wouldn’t be able to stand in his shoes the way he has for so long,” Banker said. “Not only does he have to deal with the needs of the runners, it’s a military event, and I think there’s been more than one time the Marine Corps commandant has asked whether this is the best use of the Marines’ time and effort. Every time, Rick has shown that the answer is ‘yes.'”
“I’ve had a lot of receptive bosses over the years,” Nealis said. “To their credit, I’ve never had any idea dismissed out of hand, and sometimes some of the crazier ideas, like running an urban 50K, turn out to work pretty well.”
The last two years, with COVID-driven cancelations, have worn on Nealis, particularly having to cancel the 2021 in-person race a month before the race. The 2022 race, scheduled for Oct. 30, is set to go off with some additional measures that will be announced in mid-September.
“I hated having to pull the rug out from under people,” he said. “That one really hurt. I knew that if I didn’t have a live event for my last race, it would probably eat at me until my dying day. There’s something about being on that start line, hearing the howitzer go off and seeing those 20,000 marathoners head out. Even when you’re soaking wet on the finish line and all of a sudden the sun’s out and you’re sweating and suddenly the Secret Service wants to get the vice president in to watch his son finish, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
The end of his tenure as MCM race director mirrored the closing miles of his 2020 virtual marathon. Long past when his water bottle emptied, Nealis headed back toward his car and, on a whim, approached the water fountain at Lady Bird Johnson Park.
“I figured if there was any water running, it was probably going to drip out of the nozzle and I’d probably get COVID putting my mouth on it to get any,” he said.
Instead, he pressed the button, and what was seemingly the only working water fountain that day in the D.C. area shot like a geyser. He finished on a high note.
More than 600,000 white flags have filled part of the Washington Monument lawn in late September, a temporary art installation memorializing and visualizing the American death toll from COVID-19. Anyone practicing the 18th mile of the Marine Corps Marathon course run nearby, and the juxtaposition became unavoidable when the race announced its second straight cancelation.
Citing safety and security precautions, Marine Corps canceled the Oct. 31 in-person marathon, 50k and 10k on Sept. 24, 11 days after the Army Ten-Miler canceled its Oct. 10 race. After the Army cancelation, Marine Corps race director Rick Nealis said he felt good about his race’s logistics to reduce crowding by runners before, during and after the race, including a vaccination requirement, but the linchpin was the support staff’s availability. Nealis had been confident enough in the race’s outlook that he had executed nonrefundable supply contracts for the race.
“It came down to the federal workforce and the national priority of defeating COVID-19,” Nealis said. “I draw my workforce from the Marine bases in the National Capital Region, and we’ve had some uptick in case positivity recently. Looking out 30 days, the feeling was that we probably aren’t going in the right direction.”
The U.S. Marine Corps is working toward a Nov. 28 deadline for COVID vaccinations, and Nealis said earlier in September that the availability of Marines to work the race was a significant variable, but one he hoped would be mollified by vaccination efforts.
In addition, conducting the race requires hundreds of law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, and Nealis said it was a tough sell to divert them to support the race and potentially expose them to the coronavirus.
“Everybody has their own opinion or definitely of ‘safe,’ but in the end, the Marine Corps Marathon has to look at the debate over keeping 9,000 runners safe, the Marines safe and the support staff safe,” Nealis said.
The race will offer full refunds, deferrals to the 2022 race and cover any price increase or a transfer to the virtual race and a refund for the difference.
A 2013 study by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute charted the race’s economic impact at $88 million throughout the Washington, D.C. area, with $59.7 million spent in Arlington County. The 2021 race was planned to be much smaller, with roughly 9,000 runners entered among three races, compared to nearly 31,000 finishers in 2013’s marathon and 10k.
D.C.’s John Camarillo was left looking for a contingency marathon after running his first effort virtually in the 2020 Marine Corps Marathon. He completed his run in heavy rains on Oct. 25, running solo around the National Mall and Mount Vernon Trail, with fluid and vocal support from his wife.
“I was really hoping it would go off as planned,” he said. “I was really looking forward to running an actual time,” with a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Camarillo soon found the Mayflower Wind Cape Cod Marathon, also scheduled for Oct. 31, which will allow him to stay on his training schedule.
Arlington’s Emily Hart, who also ran her first marathon virtually in 2020, is deciding between running her race Oct. 16 or just running 26.2 miles tomorrow in lieu of her planned 20-mile training run.
Despite last week’s cancelation of the Army Ten-Miler’s Oct. 10 in-person race, Marine Corps Marathon race director Rick Nealis believes his Oct. 31 race is ready to go off as planned.
The key to Nealis’ hopes is a waiver from the Department of Defense that will allow the race to assemble groups of 250, 10 times more than current COVID-19 mitigation policy on the Pentagon grounds. The race uses the Pentagon as a staging area and “runners’ village” before moving to the start on Virginia’s Route 110. There, the race will be free to arrange runners in whatever size starting wave it wishes.
“I think the measures we provided met the spirit of covid mitigation safety,” he said. “We did our homework for this back in May based on Arlington County’s guidance at the time, and I think the whole process has been pretty reasonable.”
Though Nealis acknowledged that canceling the pre-race expo and pasta dinner would detract somewhat from the race weekend experience and camaraderie, it would be a small price to pay.
“If we had to give up indoor events to keep the race, that’s an easy decision,” he said. “We’ll mail everything out in early October, well before anyone starts driving or gets on a plane to come to the race.”
The smaller in-person field size, with roughly 9,000 entrants, will also be a price to pay for having a race at all.
“We knew we couldn’t have 30,000 person race, but we didn’t want a 30,000 person race,” Nealis said. “This makes it all feasible.”
The race will require masks while on Pentagon grounds and before the start, but new masks will be supplied at the finish line and required at the US Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington and will be suggested in Rosslyn
Nealis did not expect much resistance to the race’s vaccination requirement, but said any objectors will be free to choose a deferral to 2023– when he anticipated not needing vaccine requirement–the virtual race or a refund.
“If you love the sport, you’ll know it’s time to follow the rules,” he said. “Take it easy on race management, we’re trying to make things happen, here.”
- General registration for the Oct. 31 Marine Corps Marathon races opens at noon eastern Wednesday, May 26 and proceed on a first-come-first-served basis.
- The lottery for the Sept. 12 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile will run fom June 1- June 30 at 11:59 p.m.
- The Army Ten-Miler has not annouecd plans for an in-person race, but the race is preparing for one, likely Oct. 10. Registration for the race’s virtual component will open June 14.
The Marine Corps Marathon announced it will hold a race in-person Oct. 31.
Runners who had registered for the 2021 virtual races or who deferred from the canceled 2020 race, rather than opt for the virtual 2020 race, will have the first opportunities to register. General registration will available, first-come-first-served, at noon eastern May 26.
Race fields for the marathon, 50k and 10k will be reduced and runners will be divided into waves beginning at 7 a.m., among other public health measures. to all Since 2013, the number of marathon finishers has ranged between 18,355-23,513, the 10k has seen 5,069-7,778 finishers and the inaugural 50k in 2019 drew 1,329 finishers.
“Throughout my many years heading the MCM Organization, we have faced various challenges and hurdled them all, often repeating the Marine Corps mantra to “adapt and overcome.” This year will be no different,” said race director Rick Nealis. “The MCM’s mission is to highlight the high standards and organizational excellence of the United States Marine Corps and we are excited to showcase that as we plan to safely gather and celebrate the 46th MCM in person.”
A former West Point classmate needed a new kidney, and Dave Ashley did a blood test to see if he was a match.
After further testing, it turned out he was. But when he tried to research whether he’d be able to keep doing endurance sports, which helped him with anxiety issues resulting from deployment, he wasn’t able to find answers.
“So I really had to make this decision kind of blindly, hoping that on the other end I’d still be able to do at least some of the activities that I’m really passionate about and are therapeutic for me,” said Ashley, now 46, who lives in Arlington.
This coming January will mark four years since the now-retired U.S. Air Force colonel donated his kidney — and he’s showing that living with one kidney isn’t stopping him as he completes athletic feats, from ultramarathons to bike rides.
Though she put away her jumping spikes a few years ago, Lake Braddock alumna Maddie Manhertz Swegle is still flying through the air, this time in a navy fighter jet. On Friday, she will become the first African American tactical air pilot.
Though she was primarily a long and triple jumper at Lake Braddock and later at the U.S. Naval Academy, Swegle was willing to pitch in on the track too, including running a leg of the 2012 AAA state champion outdoor 3200 meter relay team that finished with a six-second lead over West Springfield in 9:20.9.
“My guess is that she enjoyed jumping more than she enjoyed the 400 and 800, but if we needed her on a relay, she was always in,” said Bruins Coach Mike Mangan. “That tells you a lot about her, doing that for the state championship. She was super team oriented and her teammate adored her. People felt good just being around her.”
The race tried to go on, to fight to the end. But with a little more than three months to go, the Marine Corps Marathon reached a point where the reality of the coronavirus pandemic was too much to face on Oct. 25. It followed other large marathons in canceling, including Chicago and New York. Marine Corps will offer a virtual racing option. A day later (July 21), the Army Ten-Miler announced that it too would not hold an in-person race. It had been scheduled for Oct. 11 but had delayed registration.
“We explored various approaches to safely execute a live event and held numerous meetings with Marine Corps leadership, local government and public health officials,” said Race Director Rick Nealis. “We understand this is disappointing news for many, but we could no longer envision a way to gather together in compliance with safety guidelines. While we are unable to celebrate in-person this October, we are excited about the opportunity to bring the 45th anniversary event to the homes of runners around the world through a rewarding and engaging virtual experience.”
The bottleneck for the race came in the start and finish areas near the Pentagon and United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington County. Virginia limits gatherings to 250 participants and the starting line can see crowds of more than 20,000 runners in close quarters. In an attempt to reduce the roughly 28,000 runners who show up ever year on the last weekend of October, the race tried to shed runners, canceling the in-person 10k (good for 5,000 – 8,000 finishers annually). An attempt to stagger starts would run up against the deadline to reopen the 14th Street Bridge, forcing the race to tighten pace restrictions to 12:00 per mile, which would have cut nearly 8,000 of 18,000 who didn’t maintain that pace in 2019 and nearly 7,300 of more than 20,000 finishers in 2018.
The drew criticism from runners who questioned the race’s self-appointed moniker as “the people’s marathon.”
“Health and safety are our top priorities during this challenging time,” said Libby Garvey, Arlington County Board Chair. “The Marine Corps Marathon is a treasured event and tradition in our community that Arlingtonians look forward to each year. As we celebrate the race’s 45th anniversary this year, we will be enthusiastically and virtually cheering on each runner. We can’t wait to welcome these dedicated athletes and fans back to Arlington in person in 2021.”
A little farther away, the Baltimore Marathon (Oct. 17) and Richmond Marathon (Nov. 14) remain on schedule as of their most recent updates.
Just seven years ago, Marine Corps came within a day of canceling supply orders, and the race, in the face of the federal government shutdown that would have prevented runners from using most of the course.
As her World Class Athlete Program team stood victorious in winning the 2015 Army Ten-Miler, Kelly Calway lowered her five-month-old daughter, Hattie, into the trophy. She fit perfectly.
Four months later, when Calway came home from Los Angeles with a stress fracture, it was her eight-year-old, Hazel who told her, “Mom, I love you,” and helped ease Calway’s fears that she had let the family down when she dropped out of the 2016 Olympic Trials.
As Calway, of McLean, nears the 2020 Trials, she’s counting on pushes from her family to help her get closer to the 25th place finish she notched at the 2012 Trials or her 2013 Marine Corps Marathon title than to her injury-shortened 2016 race.
“My dream is to get my whole family running together,” she said.
She’s close to it. Her husband, Chris, is training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon. Hazel, now 12, has been running 5ks since she was a four-year-old in Girls on the Run, and Hattie, now 4, has run a mile. The three set up water stops and cheering stations on her long runs as she puts the finishing touches on her training.