- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2008

Local runners Kristen Henehan and Lisa Thomas both qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials last week, but they took different roads to get there.

Two and a half months ago, Henehan and Thomas raced against each other for the first time, competing down the stretch at the Marine Corps Marathon.

Henehan, a former standout at Georgetown from Silver Spring running in her first marathon with the goal of merely finishing after a six-year layoff after college, surged past Thomas with a half-mile left to win one of the nation’s largest marathons.

Thomas, an Alexandria native who was disappointed with the result, still ran a personal best by more than three minutes in her eighth marathon.

Both their times — 2:51:14 and 2:51:40 respectively — put them in striking distance of one of the sport’s top honors: competing in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

A week ago, Henehan, 28, and Thomas, 32, lined up again for a marathon — this time as teammates competing for a spot in the marathon trials in Boston on April 20.

“After the Marine Corps Marathon, [Pacers/Brooks Racing Team coach] George [Buckheit] asked us if we wanted to go for the trials standard, and we both laughed,” said Henehan, a high school cross country national champion when she was Kristen Gordon. “Then when they heard about this race for qualifiers and it was in nice warm Phoenix during the winter, we decided to give it a try.”

That race was the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, where race organizers staged a rally for America’s women to come for Olympic trials qualifiers.

Thirty-nine women were invited to Phoenix to compete in the “Running Down a Dream” program, where a time of 2:47 or better would earn a place in the trials.

That would require Henehan and Thomas to chop another four-plus minutes off their personal bests set at Marine Corps.

Both athletes had to pay for their flights, but race organizers paid for the hotel room.

“From the moment we got there, we realized this was something really special,” said Thomas, who didn’t compete from 2006 to summer 2007, when she had a baby girl, Lucy. “They made us feel like rock stars. I wouldn’t have come, if they didn’t do this for us.”

Running together, Henehan and Thomas decided to let the organizer’s pacesetters go early, relying instead on their male teammates — Erik Kean, Matt Thuesen and Thomas‘ husband, Derik — who set the pace for them.

“I think we knew as early as mile 16 that this was in our reach, and that we could do it,” Henehan said.

Thomas added: “We didn’t panic. We didn’t care [about time]. We just ran until we couldn’t run anymore.”

Their instincts were perfect. Both ran the second half of the race faster than the first, with Henehan finishing in 2:45:12 (winning $1,700 for eighth place and a $500 qualifying bonus) and Thomas squeezing just under the qualifying time in 2:46:11 (also earning the $500 qualifying bonus).

Big screen — “Spirit of the Marathon,” a documentary, will be shown on 462 screens in North America on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

The movie follows an array of runners, including American Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor and Kenyan Daniel Njenga as they prepare for the 2005 Chicago Marathon.

Local theaters screening the film include Gallery Place in the District, AMC Hoffman in Alexandria and in Germantown. Theaters are limited because the film is being broadcast via satellite.

“We are trying to spread the word,” said Jon Dunham, the film’s producer and cinematographer. “We are trying to get the running world to rally around this film. There’s never been a film like this before. If people come out to see this film, and it’s a film you probably won’t see for a while, but it’s a way to see a marathon like you’ve never seen before.”

Dunham ran in the Los Angeles Marathon and has competed in numerous others. Eventually, he would like to run the Boston Marathon.

“In the larger scheme of things, it’s not a film about running,” Dunham said. “It’s about personal accomplishment, achieving a goal, what drives the people in the sport. That’s very inspiring.

“It really makes the marathon a great deal more accessible than it’s ever been seen before. Of course, there’s running in the film, but there’s a lot of footage of people not running.”

Dunham said a second viewing on Feb. 21 has just been added.

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