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.