Photo: Charlie Ban
Zak Miller, right, during the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon. Photo: Charlie Ban

The high point in Zak Miller’s running career came a month ago at the Marine Corps Marathon.

The 28-year old ran his best marathon to date, finishing in 2:36:02 to place 14th overall in a field of 19,791 runners.

It had been a decade earlier when he had last experienced that kind of visceral thrill, winning his Group II race at the indoor 3,200-meter championships while competing with Haddonfield Memorial High School in New Jersey under legendary coach Nick Baker.

And it felt good.

But in truth, that day on the roads, running just his second marathon, had been far beyond what he ever thought he could do individually. Emotionally, it had been a long road to just get back to this point, to have this kind of success in running again.

Just four years earlier, at the low point in his life, he had found himself in jail.

“I was wondering how I went from being recruited by some schools and having decent test scores,” Miller said, “to now, ‘Why am I sitting in jail in Camden, N.J.? How did that happen?’”

# #  #

After graduating from Haddonfield, he arrived at Kutztown University as a talented freshman runner for the Golden Bears.

But that had been long ago. Within a few years, he left school, quitting the track team, and moved to Philadelphia – a stone’s throw away from  his home in Haddonfield,  but just close enough to hold on to old habits.

He had picked up a job at a meat processing plant in North Philadelphia, managing ex-cons in the wean hours of the night. He filed paperwork, watched over employees, and came home at night exhausted.

He didn’t really have any direction. He didn’t have a plan. He had been coasting.

But then that fateful night, one small traffic stop led to his demise.

And now he was in jail, having been arrested after being stopped by police driving on a suspended license, the result of which, he said, of having not paid parking tickets.

Small things added up.  While it didn’t mark a life spun out of control from drugs or alcohol, it had been a sobering moment. His life was certainly spinning in some way.

He had ballooned from 135 pounds at the start of his freshman year to 205 pounds at the age of 24. He had stopped running entirely and had formed unhealthy eating habits.

“I don’t think I had any focus,” Miller said. “I didn’t like the job. I wasn’t running and I didn’t have that outlet. I wasn’t doing anything athletically. I don’t know if I knew what I wanted.”

So he sat in that jail cell long and hard that night thinking about the future, thinking about his life, about where it was heading and what he wanted to do with it.

# # #

Miller’s father, Bryan, had encouraged him to start running at an early age.

“He told me my high school coach [Nick Baker] was kind of a legend in New Jersey,” Miller said.

And so he did, at the time becoming part of a program which had won eight New Jersey state championships – currently, the team has 13 overall, winning five straight from 2006-10.

Miller saw his most individual success in indoors, where he was a standout two-miler.

In his state championship group race, he fell behind early, going back to as far as 24th place through two laps. By the finish, though, he had gapped the rest of the field by 50 meters, finishing in 10:11.

“I was very good at knowing where I needed to be and controlling my pace and running under control,” Miller said.

Beyond the track, though, there was another benefit. Miller started to believe in what running brought to his life. He began to soak in that energy and earned a job at the Haddonfield Running Company selling shoes and talking to customers.

When his high school career finally ended, he was headed in the right direction. His career had promise.

# # #

Ultimately, things didn’t work out at Kutztown. Miller credits his time at Kutztown to being naïve and young, like countless other college-aged kids.

“It’s definitely a disappointment,” he said. “It was me being immature, me being 19, 20 years old. I mean, it would have been fun to see what I would have done if I had my head on right, trained right, and ate right, if my coach and I got along. But that’s my own fault.”

Following his exit from college, the immaturity lasted for a few years.

“The shenanigans I pulled and the job I had in Philly, all that factored in,” he said. “I just wasn’t a happy person for years.”

# # #

Following his arrest, it didn’t take long for Miller to zap out of his funk. He decided on a new plan, one that would see himself moving away from the place that he called home, away from the people who had acted, in small parts, as enablers.

Miller applied to a job at Pacers in Silver Spring and moved in with a cousin who lived in Calvert County, Md.

A cousin encouraged him to sign up for a 5K, the Haddonfield Adrenaline 5K, which he did. Still overweight and above 200 pounds, Miller won the race in 16:50.

Weeks later, Miller decided to double down. He signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon, a notion, he said, that was supported by his mother, who had cheered at nearly every one of his races.

Needing to lose weight, Miller started to eat right, incorporating vegetables and protein into his diet. His first true training week saw him run 40 miles. He was training by himself.

“It’s hard to get motivated and get out the door,” he said. “Any runner will say, the hardest step is stepping out the door. So, if you have a shi*** run, having to work through it on your own and not having a distraction of being out there with somebody or anybody else to pace with, it’s kind of maddening. But it’s a strength on the other side. You’re the only one out there working through it yourself.”

At his peak, he had hit 88 miles, and by then, he had lost 30 pounds. Miller went into the race at 175 pounds. More importantly, he had set a goal for himself: 2:42 or bust.

The 27-year-old ran a 2:41:50 in his debut.

He was back.

# # #

Just weeks after the Marine Corps Marathon, Miller is chowing down on barbecue at Kangaroo Boxing Club in Columbia Heights, looking back on his last few years.

After his marathon finish, a local running team had approached him about potentially joining their club.

He’s now working at the Georgetown Running Company.

And more importantly, he’s just a few credits shy of picking up his bachelor’s degree in psychology. He’s taken classes at the University of Maryland and others at a local community college, looking to finalize his degree.

He might even apply for dual-citizenship – his grandmother was Scottish – so he can travel and study some more.

Running will continue to be in his life, regardless of where he goes.

He even has thought about coaching. He’s thought about guiding others who struggle to help release it through running.

“I’m much better person when I’m running then when I’m not,” he said. “I sleep better. I feel better. If you have a shi*** day and go out for a run, you usually feel a lot better afterwards. And that’s how I view it. It’s fun. And it wasn’t fun for a long time. It was a job. In college, it was a job. And now I’m enjoying it again.”


I’m no expert on the Marine Corps Marathon, but after running it (almost) twice and spectating five times, I have a few insights to offer on getting around, seeing people you want to see and getting them the encouragement they need.

First off, it’s a good idea to sign up for runner tracking. Though it may not always offer instant updates, it’s a good way to keep an eye on where people are at 10k, 20k, 30k, 40k and the finish.

The Metro can help you get around, if you time it right. The system opens at 5 a.m. and there have some additional trains running on the Blue Line between Franconia-Springfield and Stadium-Armory between 5 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

That said, it’s a good idea to think about when you’ll be trying to get from, say, the Smithsonian or L’Enfant Plaza stations to Crystal City, because as fast as the Metro may move, hitting it at the wrong time could mean a runner can move two miles faster. Check out WMATA’s trip planner tool. Make sure you have enough money loaded on your SmartTrip card so you can breeze through the toll gates. And don’t overshoot your stop.

For marathon viewing novices, it can be really hard to pick people out early in the race, so give the runners a few miles to get out of the crowd and spread out.

The less crowded the sidelines, the more runners will appreciate cheers. People write their names on their shirts because they’re inviting you to cheer those names, and it helps to hear your name called in a tough race.

Here are a few nuggets I’ve picked up from my Marine Corps spectating, and racing, experience:


Making Excellent Time

Erica Ferrell leads her 4:40 pace group at the 2014 Rock 'n' Roll USA Marathon. Photo: MarathonFoto
Erica Ferrell leads her 4:40 pace group at the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon. Photo: MarathonFoto

The number — 4:40 — looked like it belonged with a Bible verse. It bounced above Erica Ferrell, attached to a long stick, as she toted that sign through Columbia Heights, NoMa, Capitol Hill and Anacostia, her disciples followed.

In the end, her message was indeed the truth. She crossed the line at the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon in 4:40:06, right on schedule.

“I lost the last few people around mile 23,” she said. “They stopped to get water. I slowed down, but they started walking.”

Least she seem uncompassionate, it wasn’t Farrell’s job to hold her runners’ hands for 26.2 miles. She worked in some flexibility in her pacing for hydration, but she was to be the metronome that runners would be able to look to for consistency.

“When I was on my own, there were times that I thought about running ahead to finish it up,” she said. “But that wasn’t why I was here. I stuck to the plan.”

Pacing groups are marathon mainstays, and crucial for many novice marathoners to complete the race. Among the string of solitary runners, they pack up and their dozens of footsteps announce their presence. Spectators use them as reference points when trying to locate friends and family members in the middle of the race.

“People really look for them, either to hang on as long as they can or to gauge their pace,” she said. “I’ve run with plenty of pacing groups in my own racing and they’re good at helping you chill out and not rush. When you’re in the early miles of a marathon, you get eager and you want to see what you can do, but signing up for that group means a reminder that you need to run a pace you can maintain the whole way.”

Ferrell, a Thurmont, Md. resident came to the job at the behest of Nate Nudelman, coach of the Navy Academy Marathon Team. He has a core group of pacers that have worked the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon and Half Marathon and its previous incantation as the National Marathon, a crew he supplements with Midshipmen who cut their spring breaks short to come and pace. For Ferrell, a 3:40 marathoner who has run more than a dozen and qualified for Boston at the California International Marathon (with the help of a pacing group), it was a chance to give back.

“I’ve run a lot of my PRs thanks pacing groups,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to help someone else out.”

A four-hour marathon is pretty comfortable for her, so Nudelman’s initial assignment, for her to lead the 4:25 group, seemed like no sweat. When he moved her back to 4:40, she was a little concerned.

“They were looking for someone who can run four hours pretty comfortably, without any trouble,” she said. “But 4:40 was a little harder to maintain. I’m not used to that pace.”

Sure enough, she started out a little fast, just a few seconds per mile, but a few of her runners let her hear about it.

“They definitely know what the pace feels like, or is supposed to feel like,” she said. “They’ve been training at that pace for a while. I just told them to trust me. I made the adjustments after a few miles, shortened my stride, and [got back] on track.”

That banked time came in handy when the group hit mile seven’s uphill on Shorham Drive, climbing out of Rock Creek Park into Woodley Park. Running the hill can throw runners’ confidence askew, but Ferrell’s instructions aimed at defraying the curveball the incline threw at any attempts at an even pace.

“We tried to maintain that 10:40 pace, but I was more willing to slow down to keep the group together,” she said. “We had a long way to make up that time, and there wasn’t going to be anything to gain from dropping anyone that early in pursuit of the goal time. I just told them: Head up! Shoulders back! Relax! Keep your arms moving! I reminded people of their mechanics, because when you’re focusing on that, you’re not thinking about the dreaded hill.”

It turns out the time the group had sped up early on was closely offset by the climb. When they hit the top, they had broken even. Not bad for someone who had never run the course before.

“I can usually tell where I am with a pace,” she said. “If I’m going a little faster or slower, I can feel it.”

She ran with a Garmin watch to aid her pacing, but rarely consulted it.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon sets the pacing group target times based on the historical demand for pacers throughout the entire Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series. This year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll USA paces included 3:10, 3:30, 3:40, 3:55, 4:00, 4:10, 4:25, 4:40 and 5:00. The accompanying half marathon has 1:45, 2:00, 2:15, 2:30, 2:45 and 3:00 pace groups.

When the course flattened out in the second half, Ferrell saw her runners lock into a consistent pace, but she lost her pacing partner to injury. At the same time, some of her runners were also starting to tire and she saw herself as much a cheerleader as a pacer.

“Later on in that race, you just have to keep people going,” she said. “It get a little lonely in Anacostia and you have long stretches where you can see how far you have to go.”

Her secret weapon at that point was distraction.

“When they start to get negative, you just have to tell them, ‘you just have a little bit to go,’” she said. “Take it one mile at a time. I tell them the same things I tell myself when it gets rough, that I’m getting closer every step.”

She is considering running other races as a special needs guide, such as with the visually impaired runners at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon.

Ferrell made her own marathon debut in Portland, Ore. while her now-husband was deployed and she, then a military police officer in the U.S. Army, was looking for something to do.

“I didn’t know anything about marathons,” she said with a laugh. “I definitely didn’t know about pace groups. I sure would have learned a lot faster if I had one.”

With that in mind, along with her pacing, she hoped to leave her runners with some lessons she could impart about running technique and motivation during the marathon. And, the basics of how to run the time they want, especially if it means running her pace. That means speeding up a little before the water stops or toilets and getting back in the pack

“Just tell them to try to get ahead, because we’re going to keep going,” she said. “That’s the best you can do in those situations.”

Because the train doesn’t wait.


In it to Tie it

Alana Miller (left) and Ashley Vaughan near the finish line of the 2013 Napa Marathon. Photo: MarathonFoto
Alana Miller (left) and Ashley Vaughan near the finish line of the 2013 Napa Marathon. Photo: MarathonFoto

Late into the Napa Valley Marathon, Alana Miller was hurting. She typically starts out strong, but fades after 15 miles. Beside her, Ashley Vaughan delivered a steady stream of consciousness that kept her friend focused on the miles ahead.

“She came up with these ridiculous stories to tell me,” Miller said, “as if I don’t know everything about every moment of her life already.”

Those coworkers, friends and now marathon partners got to that finish line.

“I heard someone say that distance running is a truth serum, I think that’s right,” Vaughan, of Falls Church, said. “Over the course of dozens of miles together, you share things you didn’t think you’d share with anyone.”

Putting themselves through a marathon together has worked for more than a handful of runners and added a layer to their friendships and relationships.

It has for Carl and Edie Belso. The Centreville residents have paired up to run 26 marathons together, side by side. Usually Edie learns more about Carl, more than she probably wants to know.

“I just babble a lot,” he said. “I have a little more lung capacity, so I go until she tells me to stop.”

“He doesn’t know when to shut up!” Edie said with a chuckle.

“I just usually talk about work — I’m an IT geek — so the conversation is less than entertaining,” he added.

That hasn’t stopped them, as they work their way through all 50 states. They’ll run at least one in each state together, though sometimes, usually at Marine Corps, Carl lets loose and runs ahead. It’s a commitment, one that may involve holding back for a partner having a bad race or throwing every conversation topic in the book out there to maintain contact with reality as the race takes its toll.

“They’re much more enjoyable when we run them together, at least for me,” Carl said. Edie agreed, though she admitted it wasn’t always fun and smiles.

“We barely talked during Rhode Island,” Edie said about the couple’s October 2013 race at the Newport Marathon. That distinction is important, because Newport was their fourth marathon in nine days, following the New Hampshire, Maine and Hartford. “It was a long nine days, and we were so happy to be done. You know that feeling you get when you just want to cry at the end of your first marathon? That’s how we felt finishing number four.”

“It was absolute sheer misery and pain,” Carl said.

It’s safe to assume they’re Marathon Maniacs, a fraternity of runners who hit multiple marathons in short stretches of time.

Years ago they were out of shape, and Edie started running more seriously until Carl realized, while cheering at one of her races, that he could run, too. It took some work for him to get up to speed.

“I used to end every marathon puking and needing an IV,” he said.

Edie would comfort him. “I’d sit there and hold his hand,” she said, “while drinking a beer.”

But it’s not all about the race, just like how a race doesn’t overshadow the work it took to get there.

“It’s just great,” Edie Belso said. “We travel together, spend time with each other. It’s going on an adventure with somebody. Sometimes we discuss problems and stuff, but when you’re running, it’s hard to stay mad and those issues don’t seem so bad.”

Carl summed it up, “the running sucks more than the problems do.”

Milestones all Around

Last fall, Dan and Mike McDonnell ran the Jackson Hole Marathon with their mother, Pat.

Dan, of Oak Hill, had run his first marathon at his mom’s suggestion — Steamtown — back in 1997. In 2013, Reston-resident Pat was closing in on her 50th state in Wyoming and Dan decided to run it with her. Younger brother Mike, who lives in D.C., came along to do his first marathon.

“We had a blast,” Dan said. “Mom and I knew it wasn’t going to be like any marathon we had done before.”

Mom loved it.

“They were doing cartwheels along the course, and just having a great time,” she said. “It was at elevation and we didn’t have time to acclimate, so we just ran together and enjoyed it. They were pricing farms and discussing what they’d trade to get cattle. They just kept encouraging me; they kept me entertained. We didn’t have any bears or moose chasing us, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them.”

Dan: “Spectators were handing out beer, so we were drinking beer along the way. We were taking it all in for mom.”

The running bug is hereditary. The trio packed up with Dan’s 12-year-old son, Gavin, to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon in March 2014. Now, Pat is eyeing the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.

“Running has been such a big part of my life,” Pat said. “It was special to have them with me when I finished number 50, just like it was special to be there for Gavin’s first big race.”

Last Chance to Bail Out

Marathons have also been testing grounds for developing relationships.

Matt McCoy started dating a runner, Maura, and slowly her pastime drew him in as their relationship developed. He found himself running halves and aspiring to the marathon.

A month before their wedding, they ran the Triple Lakes Trail Marathon in North Carolina, a bold move, considering their lack of trail running experience. Though the humid conditions made them focus more on finishing than running fast, they managed to endure and come out the other side ready to tackle marriage, though his finish was not a prerequisite.

“I never doubted that we’d be able to get through it,” Maura said. “I just didn’t know how long it would take. It was muggier than we expected in October.”

The couple is in grad school and, with limited time off, they aimed to find a race within driving distance from their home in D.C.

“There were different parts when one of us was doing better than the other, so we just had to lend that support and now our turn would come when we needed help,” Matt said.

They weren’t as chatty as the Belsos. Matt’s ipod died in the middle of the race in the middle of a Car Talk podcast, but he found himself enjoying the sounds of his fiancee’s footsteps.

She stuck to her own ipod.

A Little Help?

Lark Dunham, formerly of Bethesda and now of Boulder, ran the St. George Marathon in Utah in hopes of pacing her friend, Anny Rosenthal, then and now a Bethesdan, to a sub-4.

Their strategy was non-negotiable — avoid going out too hard at the beginning of a drastically downhill race and keep pushing when the course’s punishment caught up to Anny.

“She’s gone out too fast in the beginning, so my main goal was to keep her in check,” Dunham said.

Dunham kept a steady stream of encouraging words flowing throughout the race, peppered with reminders of how they would attack the course.

“After a while, we talked to cut through the delirium,” Dunham said. “As we got to the end, I started to make a fool of myself, jumping around and yelling ‘you can do this.’”

Though Rosenthal fell short of her goal, she set a seven-minute PR.

“I’m proud of her,” Dunham said. “Toward the latter parts of the race, the course flattens out and your quads are beaten up from going downhill, but she never gave up. She pushed the whole way.”

Chatty Pals

Since early on in their tenures at the Government Accountability Office, Vaughan and Miller were lunchtime running partners.

When Vaughan was in a boot, recovering from a stress fracture in her ankle, she felt the itch to run a marathon. She found her mark, or, rather, partner, in Miller.

“She was limping around in a boot, I couldn’t say no,” Miller said. “A marathon was the last thing I wanted to do — I like my knees.”

But they found that though running was tough on the body, it was good for the soul, Miller added.

They first traveled to the Memphis Marathon in 2011, but Vaughan moved ahead in the second half of the race when Miller’s friends showed up. They tried another trip to Napa in 2013 and planned to stay together the whole time.

“We spent the first seven miles talking about what we’re grateful for,” Miller said. “That got us started on a good note.”

Vaughan said that discussion was representative of the insight the pair gets from each other on their runs.

“We come from very different religious backgrounds, but over the course of our runs we found a lot of common ground in our spirituality,” she said.

Finding the Last Bit of Normalcy on the Back End of a Marathon

Amy Dunning was listening to her FM radio while she and her partner Caroline Krewson ran the Chicago Marathon. It was Oct. 7, 2001, three weeks after 9/11. Amy learned of the United States launch of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan over the radio, and Caroline heard the news when several people running ahead of them began talking about it.

“There were people waving American flags the entire 26.2 mile course and I felt like I was running in a parade,” Caroline said. “It was overwhelming patriotism.”

As they closed in on the last miles, they knew their lives would be changing. Both were reservists, Caroline Krewson with the Air Force, Amy Dunning with the Marine Corps, and they would be deployed soon. Before they crossed an ocean, they had to finish their trip through Chicago. It was Caroline’s first marathon, and Amy had been her running guru, thanks to her six marathons of experience.

Caroline Krewson started off biking along while Amy Dunning ran and then started running, working her way up the distances until Chicago.

Amy held back in the race for Caroline, but with less than a quarter-mile to go, Caroline took off sprinting.

“Even though I had never run more than 17 miles before Chicago, I felt like the crowd kept propelling me forward. I never stopped running the entire marathon except for one brief restroom visit,” Caroline said. “We ran the whole marathon together except for the final tenth of a mile… It is the only marathon we have run where I finished first.   Amy helped me the whole way. She taught me so much for my first marathon that when it came time for the race, it went very smoothly.”

The couple now lives in Alexandria, and trains together.

“It’s quality time,” Amy Dunning said. “We both have busy professional lives, so being able to spend time together outdoors, which we love, is important.”

They do take some time apart for themselves.

“We start off running races together, and then I go ahead,” Amy said. “It works well that way.”

Like at last year’s Munich, Germany Marathon, Amy ran ahead after 10 miles, but when Caroline Krewson crossed the finish line, her partner was there waiting with a cold bottle of chocolate milk.

After all, you don’t have to run the whole race together.




Phoebe Markle, relegated to the couch. Photo: Sara Alepin

Some Boston Marathon hopefuls had to deal with heartbreak long before they reached the eponymous hill in Newton.

While Boston always carries a special significance, runners this year were even more determined to prove the running community’s resilience after two bombs went off at the finish line in 2013. Some, however, were sidelined by injury after months of training and anticipation for what they expected to be one of the most emotional and memorable marathons of their lifetime.

“It wasn’t until I signed up and was registered that I started to really feel the impact of how special an opportunity it would be to run this year with everything that has happened and just how emotional and special it’d be this year,” said Phoebe Markle, an Alexandrian who was set for her first Boston. “To be a part of that, I don’t take that for granted.”

She made it through 13 weeks of training when she ran a 22-mile long run a little too fast and felt some pain in her calf. She tried to push through, not wanting to miss out on training so close to the race. But eventually, she had to confront the reality that she may not be able to run. She went to the doctor and the problem was diagnosed as a strained calf.

Whether she would run was up in the air until just a few days before the race, when her physical therapist told her not to run, worried it could be a stress fracture. Discouraged, she felt like all the hours and miles logged were for nothing.

“That was my priority, training through the winter. I got in every workout through the polar vortex, in the ice, wind, snow,” she said.

She has already qualified for the 2015 Boston Marathon and said she will try again then and “train smarter.”

With plans to drive to Massachusetts with her boyfriend and stay with friends, Markle was, financially, just out her entry fee. Others weren’t so lucky and had far less flexible travel plans. When Emory Ford of Kensington got hurt about a month before the marathon, he forfeited his entry fee and the cost of his travel plans and hotel for the weekend.

“It was an expensive choice to not run and to cancel my plans,” he said.

Ford was skiing with his son in West Virginia when he landed wrong and injured his back.

“Something I probably shouldn’t have done — a ski jump,” he said. “I landed on my back. I’ve been having issues with my sciatic nerve, it’s hard to stand up and sit down and it causes my calf muscles to tense on the left side.”

He wasn’t able to run at all with the injury and realized he would not be able to do the marathon, though he said he’ll likely try to run it next year.

“It’s too bad I couldn’t go this year, though, because I’m sure it’s going to be extra special,” he said.

For Mike Gorfinkle, running Boston this year was about finishing what he started in 2013. He ran for a charity in honor of his cousin who died of cancer and was about half a mile from the finish line when the the bombs went off. Now an Ellicott City resident, he grew up in Boston watching the race, and was one of 5,000 runners who couldn’t finish last year and was invited back in 2014, but ran into trouble when he strained his Achilles tendon playing with his daughter after a long run.

“Any other race, I would just wait for the next one and get better,” he said. “But for this race, I’m not by any means a professional athlete, but it’s like playing in a big game.”

His doctor told him that under any other circumstances, he would advise Gorfinkle not to run, but that he understood this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” race. Determined to run the race, Gorfinkle abandoned his sub-four hour goal and planned on taking walking breaks every two miles.

“I figured I’ll run as far as I can until I can’t anymore, and then I’ll drop off at a medical tent,” he said before the marathon. “Normally when I run races, there’s some competition to it, but for this race, it’s more about being there for the day and celebrating and remembering what happened last year.”

Gorfinkle finished the marathon in 5:46. He said it was very difficult to run through his injury and even had to stop at a medical tent along the course to ice his Achilles tendon for about 20 minutes.

“But I made it,” he said.

Arlington’s Daryle Lademan also managed to cross the finish line in Boston, despite battling injuries for almost three months. In February, she was out of training for about three weeks with shingles, then just a few weeks later, starting having pain in her IT band. Though her coach didn’t approve, she made a last-minute decision to run, “because it was Boston.”

While she initially just flew in to pick up her number and maybe run the B.A.A. 5k two days before, she ended up on the bus to the starting line in Hopkinton the morning of the marathon.

“I had a $20 bill in my sports bra. I figured, worst case, I pop out at the halfway point and take the T back to Boston,” she said. “I got to the halfway point and (her IT band) was doing alright; it probably was adrenaline. I just sucked it up and went all the way to Boston.”

In addition to wanting to participate in this year’s marathon to take back the finish line, Lademan had the added motivation of having to pull out of last year’s marathon two weeks before the race with another injury.

“I thought ‘No, damnit, I’m not sitting this one out,’” she said. “I was bound and determined to pull out all the stops to make it happen it year.”

She went out without a time goal and ended up finishing in 3:42 – not a personal best time by any means, though it was definitely a personal best race experience.

“It was absolutely the hardest race, but also the most life-affirming race I’ve ever run,” she said. “The thought that I might have not run it, or might not have given it a try because I wasn’t well trained, or I wasn’t going to PR, my heart just breaks thinking about that because I would’ve missed out on the best running experience of my life.”

Mike Gorfinkle, horsing around with his daughter after the Boston Marathon. Photo: Becca Schwartz
Mike Gorfinkle, horsing around with his daughter after the Boston Marathon. Photo: Becca Schwartz

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2014 RunWashington.


Ted Last

Ted Hobart at the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon. Photo: MarthonFoto
Ted Hobart at the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon. Photo: MarthonFoto

The bananas and bagels are almost gone and the band, if there is one, is wrapping things up. The finish line is about to come down, but here comes Ted Hobart.

The native Arlingtonian’s size would throw off most people if they guessed his sport — he was a football player at Washington-Lee High School —  but with more finishes than most in the running-crazed D.C. area, Hobart is undoubtedly a marathoner. He hit number 66 in early June at the Deadwood Michelson Trail Marathon in South Dakota and 67 at the Run4Troops marathon in Iowa four weeks later. He typically runs under the name George.

Often, he’s the race’s encore, finishing last in 12 of his marathons. At the Clarence DeMarr Marathon in New Hampshire, he was awarded with a turtle trophy, painted on a rock by seven-time Boston Marathon champion DeMarr’s daughter. It was the first time he had won an award for a DFL. “D” stands for “dead,” “L” stands for “last.” Use your imagination on “F.”

“They played the Olympic theme as I crossed the finish, with all the volunteers cheering me on,” he said. “Usually everyone is gone when I get to the finish, but this race was something pretty special.”

But he embraces it. His modesty won’t allow him to admit it, but it’s hard to believe that he doesn’t take some delight in knowing that he proves people wrong.

“It’s never been easy for me,” Hobart said with a laugh. “When I go to marathons, people will look me up and down and ask if I’m running the 5k. Then when I tell them that I’m here to run a marathon, they assume it’s my first one.”

He looks like a bearded Andy Richter, with hair that, at 47, has migrated from the top of his head down into a long ponytail.

“You might wonder how I can continue to run in the back of the pack and still have a smile on my face,” he said. “It’s because I have so many things to be thankful about, like having the ability to go the distance and my determination is never an issue it’s my passion to keep going and I hope to continue running for many more years.”

Sometimes he turns some noteworthy performances with those DFLs. The 2011 Mad marathon in Vermont gave him bib number one, the opposite of his finish position. Six days later, and at the Grant-Pierce Indoor Marathon in Arlington, he managed last place and a top-10 finish.

In 2013 alone, he finished 16, in 16 states, on his way to finishing a 50-state marathon quest he’s been running in memory of his friends Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, who were murdered while hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1996. The brutal crime remains unsolved.

Hobart and Winans met as students at Vermont’s Sterling College in the ‘90s, and a strong friendship quickly ensued. When Winans and Williams began to date, Hobart wasted no time befriending Williams. He even asked the two to come visit him in North Carolina at some point during their hike, but they didn’t make it that far.

Their lasting memories give Hobart the steam that keeps him going. He dedicates a marathon each year in their honor, which, for him, is far more meaningful than any finish time or medal he wins.

“I think of Lollie and Julie every day,” Hobart somberly said. “Their strength and love for life motivates me every time I run a marathon.”

He started running after seeing an advertisement for an AIDS marathon training course plastered on the wall of a Metro car in 2004. He’s the event and corporate fundraising coordinator for Whitman-Walker Health, a community health center that focuses on serving the LGBT community. Hobart never considered long distance running, and hadn’t been athletic since junior varsity football, but something about the advertisement piqued his interest. So he embarked on a new adventure: training for his first marathon in New Orleans.  After eight months of rigorous training, the vision morphed into reality as he ran his first marathon. And while he claims that he and his family don’t share the same passion for long-distance running, he says they have come to a mutual understanding.

He plans to complete his 50-state journey in Maine, where Winans and Williams met, at the 2016 Mountain Desert Island Marathon.  The race will fall on the 20-year anniversary of their deaths. Hobart will also celebrate his 50th birthday that year, and though he is on pace to finish his 50 marathons ahead of time, he is holding up to coincide with that anniversary.

“It’s going to be an amazing and emotional time,” Hobart said. “I wish I picked an easier way to honor my friends’ lives, but then again, running 26.2 miles across America is a pretty awesome way to show (them) how dedicated I am to finding strength and peace.”

He’s coming up on 10 years of these races. His Marathon Maniacs page, on which he nicknames himself “Dead Last Monkey,” chronicles each race. His remarks for races demonstrate why his times don’t faze him — he clearly loves a challenge and relishes overcoming tough conditions.

“Running marathons gives me a sense of peace, that Zen moment to myself,” Hobart said. “I am not a fast runner, but it’s the courage and determination that I bring to all my marathons that allows me to finish strong and with a smile on my face.”

In Deadwood, he found himself in the running for another DFL when he came across a first-time marathoner, Cynthia. She was having a rough time, and he drew on his 65 marathons of experience and counseled her through it.

“I told her that even if I moved ahead, she should just keep me in sight,” he said. “In the last few miles, I got away from her, but she finished.”

Elton Hayes contributed to this story.

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2014 RunWashington.


Of the Washington, D.C. area’s tens of thousands of runners, 865 have registered for the 2014 Boston Marathon. The list has been updated to reflect a more comprehensive search of local runners

[button-blue url=”” target=”_self” position=”left”] See this year’s local entrants [/button-blue]

Injuries and other curves balls that life can throw will keep some of the runners from starting on Monday, April 21. Of the registered runners, 228 are from Washington, D.C., 209 are from Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and 428 are from northern Virginia, including 112 from Arlington County, alone.

Of note, Silver Spring’s Alan Pemberton won the 60-64 age group at last year’s Boston Marathon.

Here is a look at the top 10 local men and women who finished the 2013 race, 11 of whom are heading back.

2013 top local finishers

Men and their overall place  (Bold means they are registered for 2014)
57. Patrick Kuhlmann,Washington, D.C. 2:28:01
64. Andrew Dumm, Falls Church, Va. 2:28:33
109. Stefan Kolata, Washington, D.C.2:34:01
128. Gregory Mariano, Alexandria, Va. 2:34:57
149. Joe Kelly, Washington, D.C. 2:36:16
180. Dickson Mercer, Washington, D.C. 2:37:24
190. Tripp Southerland, Washington, D.C. 2:37:44
221. Matthew Thomas, Alexandria, Va. 2:38:33
278. Christopher Bain, Takoma Park, Md. 2:40:29
288. Jason Dwyer, Sterling,Va. 2:40:53

Women and their overall place
59. Teal Connor, Washington, D.C. 2:52:35
60. Julie Tarallo, Washington, D.C. 2:52:50
112. Kaitlin Sheedy, Washington, D.C. 2:58:44
113. Kara Waters, Great Falls, Va. 2:58:50
114. Perry Shoemaker, Vienna, Va. 2:58:53
154. Kelsey Budd, Oakton, Va. 3:01:21
216. Anna Bernal Cabin John, Md. 3:05:14
224. Melani Hom, Washington, D.C., 3:05:31
230. Nicole Terry, Arlington, Va. 3:05:46
268. Lauren Shaub, Arlington, Va. 3:07:27

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marine corps marathon course

Changes to the Marine Corps Marathon course are exciting local runners and likely going to mean faster times this October.

Runners will not have to endure a big hill around the Georgetown Reservoir between miles seven and eight. Instead, from miles six through nine, runners will run up Rock Creek Parkway to the bottom of Calvert Street and back, a stretch used in the Navy and Nike Women’s half marathons, as the MCM course returns to a pre-2007 design.

Race director Rick Nealis said in a press release that the new course offers “more spacious and flatter roadways.”

“Georgetown,” he added, “especially M Street, remains important to our runners and, annually, the hot spot for spectators and supporters.”

Previously, runners turned left onto Canal Road off of the Key Bridge to Georgetown on the way to the big climb up Reservoir Road into the Palisades, past the Georgetown Reservoir and down McArthur Boulevard and Foxhall Road.  On the new course, runners will hit Georgetown’s M Street earlier in the race, in mile five, before they head down to Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and then around Hains Point.

Another change, though minor, occurs late in the race as runners loop around the National Mall. The marathon will now cover 3rd Street to Constitution Avenue. It previously routed through a parking lot on Pennsylvania Avenue alongside the Capitol reflecting pool.

Public Relations Coordinator Tami Faram said  MCM organizers “made an operational decision to make the course both safer and more scenic.” Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway had been a part of the race course from 2001 to 2006.

In 2007, MCM had 20,622 finishers, about three thousand less than in 2012. The growth in participants, Faram said, made the hairpin turn at Canal Road both more difficult and congested.

In one of George Banker‘s binders packed with Marine Corps Marathon results, notes, clippings, and other assorted memorabilia, the race historian has a page of splits from the 1987 race.  While the MCM historian can’t recall who gave him these splits, he knows they correspond to Jeff Scuffins‘ course record-setting victory in 2:14:01. (Scuffins went through halfway, according to Bankers’ notes, in 1:06:49. Conditions were actually less than ideal, with a rising race time temperature of 60 degrees.)

Banker, who has run MCM 28 times, was nice enough to dig through this binder recently when we asked him what he thought about flatter course.  As Banker recalls, the course when Scuffins set his record, had runners starting on Route 110 in Virginia and heading south in Crystal City up 15th Street. You would end up looping back across the starting line at about 7 miles and take Route 66 over the Key Bridge to Georgetown’s M Street, he explained.

Back then, you hit Mile 20 out on Hains Point; the one real hill was behind the U.S. Capitol on C Street.

“That was definitely a faster course,” he said. “I would say, after that” – as construction and other factors began to require route changes – “they all become a little more difficult.”

Does MCM returning to its pre-2007 design – sending runners out-and-back on Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway – make it a significantly faster course?

Two-time winner and RunWashington contributor Jim Hage told the Washington Post, “Anytime you can knock out some hills it’s a good thing.”

Two local runners aiming to set new personal bests in the marathon agree.

Michael Rohlf, who ran MCM from 2010 (his first marathon) through 2012, said he paid the toll of those early hills later in the race. The hills, he added, also made it tough to settle into a good early rhythm.

In his first attempt to break three hours last fall, Rohlf tired late in the race, he said, and ran 3:12. This fall, in an attempt to achieve his goal, he signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon, which he figured would give him a better shot.

“But now that the MCM course has been changed, and in my opinion improved, I really look forward to running it again – maybe next year,” he said.

Colleen Lerro is entered in her third MCM this year and hopes the course change will give her a better shot at qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She ran her first MCM in 2006, before the course change.

If Lerro does not achieve her goal this year, she will be “much pickier next year” and choose a flatter course.

Regardless of the layout, though, MCM is Lerro’s favorite marathon, and “the course I would love to get my BQ on,” she said.



Centreville's Eric Setash runs his bell lap of the Grant Pierce Indoor 50k flanked by his children. Photo: Charlie Ban
Centreville’s Eric Setash runs his bell lap of the Grant Pierce Indoor 50k flanked by his children. Photo: Charlie Ban

Cathy Ahn has been on the lookout for strange and unique races this year. She found one, a few miles from her Arlington home.

Though she had already signed up for the Grant-Pierce Indoor Marathon, she decided the morning of the race to go for the gusto and run the 50k instead. She ended up finishing second in 4:54:25.

[button-red url=”″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Unofficial Results [/button-red]

“I thought about running one more lap than the marathon so it would technically be an ultra, but I decided to just go for it,” she said.

She was accompanied by a handful of Arlington Road Runners, several of whom raced with the rest cheering. Those spectators got to see their athletes a lot. With 210 laps of the 200 meter track for the marathon and 250 for the 50k, the race had almost a dozen lap counters, who tracked several racers to back up the electronic Racepacket timing system.

Eddie Valentine kept his eye on his friend Dave Lin, who was visiting from Manhattan. He was conscripted into the counting corps and limited himself to tracking four runners so he would be able to handle the workload.

“You second guess yourself when the electronic system doesn’t match your count,” he said.

The race started four years ago to give Michael Wardian an opportunity to shoot for the indoor marathon world record and added the 50k to give him an opportunity there, too. The race is named after his two sons. He came through again, running 3:12:13 to Russian Igor Tyazhkorob’s 3:14:49 from 2002.

Wardian tried to run consistent 6:00 pace, hitting 45 seconds for each lap, despite winding through nearly 60 other runners.

“It’s amazing to think it started with 10 people four years ago,” he said. This year’s race had 54 starters.

With wins in several races recently, including the Vermont City Marathon and North Face Endurance Challenge in consecutive weeks, he’s recovered from the stress fractures that plagued his latter part of 2012.

“Just a little pain in my hip today, from the left turns,” he said. “They just started the lap after I split the marathon; It was a little odd.”

Women’s marathon winner Alison Slade, of Odenton, Md. made a pair of comebacks, returning to the marathon after a decade away and racing once again in the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, where she ran many races as a student at the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology. She initially signed up to take a shot at the world record for the women’s indoor marathon, 3:05, but suffered a hamstring injury shortly after than left the goal harder to reach, but she persevered with breaks to massage it and finish in 3:33:21.

The Setash family from Centreville, Va. came to surprise Eric Setash and he went for his age group win to establish a 45-49 indoor 50k national record, which he did in 5:07:35.

“He thought we were home packing for our trip to Cancun,” said his wife, Mary. “We probably should be, but we don’t get to see his ultras.”

His son Charlie and daughters Layne and Abby accompanied him for the last lap. He was ready for his massage, scheduled for Tuesday at their all-inclusive resort, and to demolish every meal that day.

“I’m usually ravenous two days after these races,” he said.

He was disheartened to run over four hours for the marathon en route to the 50k, but he recovered well.

Runners weathered the eight-lap miles in a variety of ways. Lin played head games with the clock, trying to run consistent splits so every few laps, he would cross the starting line at the top of the minute. He didn’t mind the weaving through the lapped runners, because it broke up the monotony of the race.

Steven Waldon on Brooklyn, N.Y. “just zoned out” for about 80 laps. He initially didn’t think he’d have the luxury of doing so, because somehow, at the end of the first lap, he fell down.

“I’ve fallen in trail races, everyone falls in trail races,” he said. “I still don’t know how I fell on a track, on the first lap.”

Making matters worse, he fell again during lap five.

“By my estimation, I was going to probably fall 50 or 60 times,” he said. “I still don’t know how I managed to fall.”

He went on to finish third in 3:54:58.



Trying to schedule a friendly get together in the past four months with Monique Young has been no easy task. In order to meet her weekly mileage goal in preparation for the 50 Mile North Face Endurance Challenge, her days started at 5 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. But waking up and going to sleep that early to get enough miles under her legs has been worth the trade off for her.

While she described the course through the woods of Algonkian Regional Park, her face lit up. “Amazing” was a common word for Young to describe the mostly dirt and gravel course that she said smelled like honeysuckle.

[button-red url=”″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]While Young left road running for trail running to be closer to nature two years ago, the North Face Endurance Challenge marked one of several 50 mile trail races that she has completed.

Laura Coogan, first place finisher in the women’s marathon with a time of 3:57:31, conveyed a similar nightlife situation—which she said has been on the decline since college. While balancing a time-demanding training schedule and nursing school life, Coogan took great delight in indulging in the North Face Endurance Challenge post-race festival, which consisted of ice baths, food, beer and many other activities.

“It’s like a big party,” Coogan said. “Except that you have to run a marathon. But at least you earned that party.”

The North Face Endurance Challenge consisted of an entire weekend of trail racing. And with a eight different events, including a 50 mile, 50k, marathon and marathon relay race, there was something for everybody.

All that George Johnson could remember from last year’s North Face Endurance Challenge marathon relay were trees, shade and cool temperatures. But all that Johnson could remember from this year’s race was the sun beating down on him.

While Johnson appreciated the lack of rain that muddied up the course in last year’s course, he said the start and finish that took place in an open field with no shade was quite the challenge this year.

Above the Potomac River, the well-marked courses included three miles of tip-toeing and hopping along bluffs on the River Trail with climbs up to 300 feet. In return for their brave climbing skills, the shaded areas of the park blocked them from temperatures that steadily rose to the mid-90’s.

Potatoes, salt, chicken broth and chips were served throughout the race to keep runners fueled. Gallons of water and sport drinks were guzzled down all in an effort to conquer the heat and finish the race.

Among the several local note worthy athletes that competed in the Endurance Challenge included Elite Ultra Runner Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia, who took first in the 50 mile race with a time of 6:45:36. In the women’s 50k, Rachel Clattenburg of Washington, DC won first place with a time 5:05:05.



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