The history of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon is short but impressive.
Four years ago, in its debut year, the women’s race was won by Catherine Ndereba, better known as “Catherine the Great.” In its second year, a new course record was set (1:02:37) and four American men notched qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
The prize purse includes $1,200 for the male and female winners and $600 for top Americans. The race also hosts the Road Runners Club of America National Half Marathon Championships, the Potomac Valley Association USATF Championship and the National Industries for the Blind Visually Impaired National Half Marathon Championships. And with a fun yet challenging course that starts with eight miles on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, climbs over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and finishes with a big loop around National Harbor, the race draws more than 3,000 runners of all abilities.
Oh, but those eight opening miles on GW Parkway, a national park …
On day two of the federal government shutdown – four days before the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon – Race Director Steve Nearman was forced into making a tough decision.
Due to the shutdown, the race was postponed until November 10, more than a month after the original date. Deferrals to next year’s race were offered and about 600 were processed, Nearman said, while 1,739 runners came out to race on the new date.
Meanwhile, Nov. 10 was as good as Oct. 6 for Kellyn Johnson. The 27-year-old professional runner claimed her second straight win in 1:13:02 and earned prize money in both the overall and American-only divisions.
“It just gave me a little more time to train,” she said. “It was something that was on my schedule before and then it happened to fit perfectly into it after.”
Johnson trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., with Team USA Arizona and said she is still experimenting with distances between 5K and the half marathon. She ran the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, and was 4th in this year’s national 10-mile championship hosted by the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. She will return to the area Nov. 17 for the .US National Road Racing 12K Championships.
Johnson was followed by Desta Tadesse of Ethiopia (1:13:53). Waynishet Abebe, an Ethiopian runner who lives in D.C., was 3rd in a personal best time of 1:14:10, just a few weeks after winning the Atlantic City Marathon.
Lindsay O’Brien of Washington, D.C., in her second half marathon, finished 7th overall and was 2nd American. Her time, 1:18:54, was more than a minute faster than her last attempt at the distance.
O’Brien was a three-time cross country All-American at Yale who took a break from competitive running and now trains with Georgetown Running Club.
“I’m trying not to be daunted by the distance,” she said. “This was a good step in the right direction.”
The men’s race was led by a pack of three: Girma Gebre, Siraw Kebede, and Nahom Mesfin, all from Ethiopia.
They raced side by side, charging together up a tough hill in National Harbor. But at the 12-mile mark, Gebre made a strong move to win decisively in 1:04:40.
Gebre has been living in New York with his manager, Alem Kahsay, who said Gebre’s background is in the middle distances. Mesfin, though, is no slouch in the leg speed department, either: He has competed in two Olympics in the steeplechase, and said he spent most of the past nine months training at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz. Mesfin, however, admitted that Gebre’s move was simply too strong to match.
“Anyway, I’m happy,” he said, smiling after his third-place finish.
The men’s chase pack of four included Georgetown Running Club’s Kieran O’Connor.
O’Connor, 26, has only been running competitively for a few years. But he has already won a marathon and was the 8th American in Boston in 2012. After earning a master’s degree at a university in Cairo, Egypt, O’Connor recently moved to D.C., joined Georgetown Running Club, and – for the first time – started doing speed work under the eye of coach Jerry Alexander.
Going into today’s race, O’Connor’s half marathon best was in the 1:09s. He took it out easy, he said, on the opening downhill from the start in Mount Vernon; men and women were flying ahead of him. But then they started coming back – 5:05 miles clicking away.
At the top of the hill in National Harbor, O’Connor knew his goal of breaking 1:07 was within his reach. And rather than be intimidated by the professional runners surrounding him, O’Conner dropped them on the way to running 1:06:49 – good for 4th overall and top American.
In the visually impaired national championships, Aaron Scheidies, like Johnson, appreciated having extra time to train.
Scheidies won the men’s division last year in 1:18:05. This year, in the week’s before the original race date, Schiedies finished 2nd in the visually impaired division of the triathlon at the London Paralympics. Afterward he took a vacation.
Guided by Georgetown Running Club’s Dave Wertz, Schiedies won his second straight national championship and claimed a new personal best and event record of 1:16:24.
“I didn’t expect it, so I’m really happy with the time,” he said.
Adjusting to a New Race
The Wilson Bridge Half Marathon was supposed to be Briana Whelan‘s tune-up race for the Marine Corps Marathon, her first attempt at 26.2 miles.
When it was postponed, Whelan did not find a replacement race. She nonetheless had a great experience in her first marathon, which she ran with her cousin and uncle.
As for this morning, the Washington, D.C., resident and running newbie ended a two-week break to finish her third half marathon of 2013.
Chris Beeler, a U.S. Army colonel on a year-long assignment in the District, has been training with DC Road Runners and planned to use the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon as a confidence booster for the Army Ten Miler, held on October 20. Her goal race complete, it was hard to stay motivated to run another race, she said.
“But in the end,” she said, “it is what it is, and it was a beautiful day today.”
Miguel Gonzales of Manassas, Va., said the shutdown and the postponement it forced derailed his training. In the 1990s, he ran professionally, but with a busy job and four daughters between 2 and 9, Gonzales – until about a year ago – had more or less stopped running altogether.
“I got to 200 pounds and said I need to lose some weight,” he said. And while today was tough for him and he “felt horrible,” Gonzales said he thought of today’s race as a fresh start.
Mark Geiger of Waldorf, Md., finished his first half marathon, culminating several months of training. He said he could not remember the exact reasons he started running about a year ago – only that he started with walking and, week by week, added a little more running.
“I think it worked out better because the weather today was better,” said Geiger, referring to the rescheduled date.
The weather this morning was perfect for racing. October 6 in Washington, D.C., on the other hand, was a hot day. And let me tell you: This runner has woken up on many such race days and thought to himself: Man, if there’s any way this race could be postponed …
The federal government shutdown had been light on runners for two days, but Wednesday night saw a flurry of decisions that impacted weekend racing schedules, with the postponement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon and the Run! Geek! Run! 8k. The Ragnar Relay will see a few legs altered, but the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon late this month claim they will not be affected, according to race officials who have not provided any details.
Though runners have largely had their run of National Park Service land since Tuesday morning, with vehicle traffic closed on Rock Creek Park’s Beach Drive and most of East Potomac Park’s Hains Point. The problem, however, is the provision in the shutdown the rescinds special events permits, necessary for holding races.
Wilson Bridge Half Race Director Steve Nearman made the call to postpone the race until Nov. 10 Wednesday night. More than eight miles of the course follows the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a National Park.
“The race crew had been working all along as though we were having the race as planned, but I started looking at alternatives,” he said. “I looked at every Sunday and found one that wouldn’t have a Redskins game or a conflicting event. We pretty much had one opportunity between now and Christmas.”
Nearman knew before Labor Day that his race was in jeopardy of being affected by a potential government shutdown.
“It was a short month for Congress to get its resolution together and the Syria situation took attention from that,” he said. “Sunday, I knew this wasn’t going to end well, but you have to live in hope things can be worked out.
“I had to balance giving talks a chance, because I didn’t want to make a decision too early and wind up being able to hold the race. If there’s anything I’ve learned from friends in the business who dealt with the New York and Boston marathons this year, you don’t want to wait too long, so I decided tonight (Wednesday) that we’d give people a little time to change their weekend plans.
Postponing the race meant many runners will now be scrambling to find a pre-Marine Corps Marathon tuneup race. Marine Corps, and the Army Ten-Miler, are on track to be held.
Amanda Spoden of Virginia was undeterred by the postponement. “My plan is to keep training for the Nov. 10 race and make the most of the situation,” she said. “I’m viewing it as five more weeks to increase my PR.”
“The hardest part has been managing expectations,” Nearman said. “A lot of people don’t realize the race was on park service land, they thought it was Alexandria roads, so there was an education component to our communications, but we’ve tried to stay proactive on Facebook because our fans and runners are loyal but want information.”
Spoden appreciated that, and said the race committee’s openness about the situation has motivated her more.
Run!Geek!Run!, an 8k starting in West Potomac Park and heading into East Potomac Park Saturday morning, is tentatively scheduled to be run Nov. 16. Saturday’s Heel-to-Heel 5k, scheduled for the C&O Canal Towpath in Washington has been postponed to an undetermined date, and the Take a Sick Day and Run a 5k scheduled for Friday on the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown has been cancelled.
The Ragnar Relay, running 200 miles between Cumberland, Md. and the National Harbor, will still go off Friday morning as planned, but the three legs of the race that run along the C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland will be skipped, and part of one leg will be rerouted.
Race Director Milo Willaims said the runners assigned to the three legs that will be skipped will likely make up the distance by running other legs, concurrently with their teammates.
The federal budget morass had already impacted the Wilson Bridge Half, with sequestration-forced budget cuts reducing the grant from the National Industries for the Blind to bring runners to the race, which serves as the NIB half marathon championship.
The shutdown will also affect the DC Running Club’s Take a Sick Day and Run a 5k Friday on the Capital Crescent Trail.
Several area races are scheduled for the following weekend on NPS land. Boo! Run for Life 10k Race Director Brian O’Neill is hopeful that the situation does not impact the next weekend’s races, citing the possibility of a continuing resolution that funds the National Parks Service. One such resolution was tabled in the House.
“Even if such a resolution is not passed, an alternative determination could be made,” he wrote.
Other races next weekend on NPS land include:
- Oct 12: Stokes School 5k – West Potomac Park
- Oct 12: Mount Vernon Trail Race 5 – Fort Hunt Park
- Oct 13: Monster Mask 5k – C&O Canal Towpath
By Dickson Mercer
October 2, 2011
For the Washington Running Report
Ten kilometers into last year’s New York City Marathon, Kenyan Moses Kigen Kipkosgei made what proved to be a smart move. He let the lead pack go. “The pace was high, so I set my own,” Kipkosgei recalled today after winning the 2nd annual Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in 1 hour 2 two minutes 37 seconds.
In New York, the strategy worked, as a game Kipkosgei went on to seize third place. His best ever result, he said. But today, as Kipkosgei passed 10K along the rolling George Washington Memorial Parkway, the 28-year-old professional had the opposite feeling: the pace was too slow. He already had command of the race; still, he pushed.
Kipkosgei’s winning time was a couple minutes slower than his personal best, but it lowered the event record set by Ethiopian Derese Deniboba, who this year finished 2nd though in an even better time of 1:02:56. Kipkosgei said the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon had served as a fine tune-up for his return to New York on November 6. “This year I am in better shape,” said Kipkosgei, who flew in from Eldoret, Kenya on Friday and will return there Monday to put the final touches on his marathon training.
The women’s runaway winner, Bekelech Bedada, (right) arrived in New York from Ethiopia just weeks ago. A member of Ethiopia’s national team, Bedada plans to get a taste for the American road racing scene for a little while longer before returning to Ethiopia to focus on the track, specifically the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Unchallenged, she cruised to the win in 1 hour 12 minutes 44 seconds, besting Gladys Asiba by more than three minutes. “I’m happy,” she said.
Whether it was to prepare for an upcoming 26.2-mile romp through the Big Apple or the month-away Marine Corps Marathon, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon offered runners of all abilities an apt practice venue. Jennifer Yang, 29, of Alexandria, VA, for instance, took advantage of familiar terrain—she does most of her running on the bike paths surrounding the race’s finish—to sneak in her first half marathon before her first attempt at 26.2 at the MCM.
For big city marathons, just getting to the start can be a challenge. Gracefully dealing with all the logistical challenges to minimize stress can ultimately make a big difference.
The point-to-point Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon attuned a runner to such an experience. Before 6:00 a.m., runners were arriving in National Harbor, where the race finished and boarding buses bound for Mount Vernon, where the race started. Once the race got going, runners were met by a course that, much like those aforementioned marathons, allows for reasonably fast running … so long as you run smart.
The opening mile featured a big downhill. From there, runners met a mix of subtle climbs and drops. That was until between miles 8 and 9, when they hit a challenging hill on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which returned the runners to Maryland. This hill, however, was really only a prelude to the tough climb still to come as runners rounded National Harbor toward the finish.
“I find this hill … very challenging,” Marirose Jarvis, 37, of Springfield, VA, said while waiting in line for a free massage at the post-race festival. She was shivering a bit, but, like the thousands there—plenty of whom had a complimentary beer and took in a band—did not seemed to be bothered by it.
Three days ago, though, as humidity spiked, Race Director Steve Nearman almost put in an order for a couple tons of ice. Good thing he did not pull the trigger. Rather than heat, runners wound up taking on the first legitimately chilly day of the year. Conditions, all told, were favorably cold and blustery.
The elite field Nearman assembled for today’s race included a mix of top-notch international runners, members of McMillan Elite/Team USA Arizona and top locals such as Michael Wardian, who finished 8th in 1:09.16, and Michelle Miller, who finished 3rd in 1:19:43. She was also the top American female.
Miller’s (left) performance was tops for Georgetown Running Company’s racing team, which also offered guides for the race’s National Industries for the Blind National Half Marathon Championships. The winner of that event, Amy McDonaugh, 34, of Irmo, SD, was also fifth overall among women and second American in 1:24:01.
Rebounding from an injury, Miller ran 1:19:43, a 6:05 pace she said indicates her fitness level is on the right track as she prepares for November’s Philadelphia Marathon. Her plan was to run conservatively the opening 10 miles and then pick up the pace if she felt good, she said. “I’m in better shape than I thought, so that was a great confidence booster.”
Prize money ran five spots deep, with the overall winners pulling in $1,000. American-only prize money went five deep as well, with $800 going to winner. While Wardian picked up the top American-only check in the race’s inaugural running, this year he was fifth in a deeper field.
With the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials just months away, Nearman offered a special incentive of a $1,000 bonus to any runner who dipped under the trials-qualifying standard of 1:05:00. Afterward, Nearman could not have been more pleased: The top four American men in today’s race all qualified for the trials.
The group was led by Jordan Horn, 26, and Danny Mercado, 23. Both train with Team USA Arizona. Both were pleased with their results.
Horn, who was 3rd overall, joined Greg McMillan’s program about four years ago, not long after it was founded. Mercado, however, only joined two months ago, not long after he graduated from the University of Oregon.
Mercado, who was 4th overall and sports a Prefontaine-esque mustache, said he was not initially sure what direction he wanted to go with his running after Oregon. He thought about quitting, he said, but Horn was among McMillan’s athletes who encouraged him not to give up.
Horn, in turn, has been focusing on the mile the last couple of years. While this was Mercado’s first half marathon, it was only Horn’s second. Still, the older runner nonetheless served as a guide of sorts for Mercado, who admitted after the race that, on the starting line, he was nearly overcome with nerves.
“Right before the race I thought I was going to drop out,” he said. “As soon as we started taking off it felt so much better. I got in right behind him and it felt just like practice.”
The two ran together all the way until the bridge, where Horn, who clocked 1:03:53, gapped his buddy on the downhill. Mercado came through in 1:04:03. Though he now has a qualifier, he said he is not quite ready to tackle the marathon. Horn, on the other hand, is all set to debut at the trials.
“It’s a little scary,” he said, “but I’m excited.”
Third place Jordan Horn (10), fifth place Danny Mercado (11), sixth place Bobby Mack (12), and seventh place Ricky Flynn (647).
Top Male Finishers
1. Moses Kigen Kipkosgei, KENYA, 1:02:37 (breaks event record of 1:04:44 set by Derese Deniboba in 2010), $1,300
2. Derese Deniboba, ETHIOPIA, 1:02:56, $800
3. Jordan Horn, Flagstaff, AZ, 1:03:53, $2,350
4. Abiyot Endale, ETHIOPIA, 1:04:01, $500
5. Danny Mercado, Flagstaff, AZ, 1:04:03, $1,900
6. Bobby Mack, Raleigh, NC, 1:04:13, $1,600
7. Ricky Flynn, Lynchburg, VA, 1:04:15, $1,500
8. Michael Wardian, Arlington, VA, 1:09:16, $300
9. Seife Geletu, Washington, DC, 1:10:08
10. David Burnham, Arlington, VA, 1:10:51
1. Patrick Kuhlmann, Arlington, VA, 1:14:14, $200
2. Alex Hetherington, Vienna, VA, 1:17:11, $150
3. Paul Willis, Bronx, NY, 1:19:16, $100
1. Wardian, $300
2. Hetherington, $200
3. Lavar Curley, Washington, DC, $100
Top PVA Masters
1. Hetherington, $250
2. Robert Britain, Wayzata, MN, $150
3. Jack Beach, Nottingham, MD, $100
Top Female Finishers
1. Bekelech Bedada, ETHIOPIA, 1:12:44, $1,300 (breaks course record of 1:13:17 set by Catherine Ndereba in 2010)
2. Gladys Asiba, KENYA, 1:15:57, $500
3. Michelle Miller, Damascus, MD, 1:19:43, $1,050
4. Mekides Bekele, ETHIOPIA, 1:20:04, $200
5. Amy McDonaugh, Irmo, SC, 1:24:01, $600
6. Lisa Cron, Herndon, VA, 1:24:03, $300
7. Michelle Harburg, Washington, DC, 1:26:55, $200
8. Lauren Woodall, Washington, DC, 1:29:37, $100
9. Laura Greeson, Alexandria, VA, 1:30:33, $200
10. Sarah Brown, Arlington, VA, 1:30:45
Top Female Masters
1. Greeson, $200
2. Susan Graham Gray, Greencastle, PA, 1:33:47, $150
3. Gillian Walker, Springfield, VA, 1:35:17, $100
1. Kara Christenson, Alexandria, VA, 1:46:42, $300
2. Valerie Bambha, Alexandria, VA, 1:55:01, $200
3. Jessica Orozco, Arlington, VA, 1:55:29, $100
Top PVA Masters
1. Joann Johnson, Herndon, VA, 2:06:54, $250
NIB Visually-Impaired National Half Marathon Championships
1. Amy McDonaugh, Irmo, SC, 1:24:01
2. Matthew Rodjom, Alexandria, VA, 1:24:23
3. Susan Graham Gray, Greencastle, PA, 1:33:47 (in photo below)
4. David Kosub, Washington, DC, 1:34:37
5. John Morgan, Adelphi, MD, 1:43:16
6. Joseph Aukward, Bethesda, MD, 1:45:33
7. Thomas Panek, McLean, VA, 1:52:14
8. Rodan Hollins, Washington, DC, 2:10:07
9. Tim Paul, Chicago, IL, 2:21:34
10. Cassandra Dozier, Chicago, IL, 2:29:54
11. Doug Powell, Falls Church, VA, 2:33:01
By Steve Nearman
Alexandria, VA February 27, 2010
For the Washington Running Report
Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust Company announces that it will be the Title Sponsor of the inaugural Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, set for September 19, 2010.
Long a community leader in the Washington region, the venerable financial institution now partners with the Woodrow Wilson Half Marathon to promote fitness and well-being in the community it has called home since its inception some 158 years ago.
“Burke & Herbert Bank is Northern Virginia’s hometown bank and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate our role in the community than to be the lead sponsor of this terrific event,” said Scott McSween, President and Chief Operating Officer at Burke and Herbert Bank. “A half marathon tests determination, endurance, and strength – all key characteristics of our Bank which has served folks in our community since 1852. We are most proud to serve as the inaugural sponsor of what I know will be a wonderful event.”
The destination half marathon will begin at the historic Mount Vernon home of George Washington in Alexandria, Virginia and will end at the new luxurious National Harbor resort in Maryland. The 13.1-mile course will be certified by USA Track & Field.
The half marathon is the first professional race ever across the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and will include an Awakening Statue finish and a Rude Awakening climb up the majestic Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Completed in 2008, the wider new bridge removed an infamous Interstate 95 bottleneck that had been the bane of frustration for Beltway motorists for decades.
The race will benefit six charity partners: the American Heart Association, Autism Speaks, Alice Ferguson Foundation, Child & Family Network Centers of Alexandria, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, and Back on My Feet – DC.
“We are fortunate that years of careful planning and fiscal restraint have put Burke and Herbert Bank in a position to sponsor a new tradition in Northern Virginia. We are proud to be of assistance to the worthy charities serving the needs of our community,” said Hunt Burke, Chief Executive Officer. “I am delighted that people will associate Burke and Herbert Bank with this Half Marathon for years to come.”
Steve Nearman, event founder and director, echoed Mr. Burke’s comments, adding:
“We are overjoyed that the Burke & Herbert Bank name will grace our half marathon. Burke & Herbert Bank has set a very high standard of quality, service, and satisfaction in banking and we are committed to doing the same in the race management business.”
For information, visit wilsonbridgehalf.com or call Steve Nearman at 703-587-4321. And stay updated on FaceBook – wilsonbridgehalf