- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2009

John Mentzer took early control of the 34th running of the Marine Corps Marathon and spent the rest of his Sunday morning on a solo but scenic tour of the District.

For the lieutenant commander at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Naval Shipyard, this was not his first tour of duty at the Marine Corps Marathon.

But it certainly was his most memorable as he pulled away from his last challenger and won with a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 47 seconds - more than three minutes ahead of second-place finisher Jacob Johnson.

“I’m hurting,” Mentzer said moments after crossing the finish into the arms of his wife, Amanda. “I’m excited to win. I did [Marine Corps] in 2005, got fourth. I’ve done a few more marathons since. It’s a fun race, but the last 10K was tough. This was the toughest last 10K I’ve ever had in a marathon. I probably pushed it too hard at the beginning.”

Behind him was a totally contrasting story in the women’s race. Favored Ethiopian Muliye Gurmu and Air Force Capt. Jaymee Marty were locked in a battle right down to the last 365 yards of the 26.2-mile course.

But it was the 25-year-old Gurmu, with fresher legs and more natural speed and youth, who prevailed over the 42-year-old Marty, still recovering from a stellar performance at the Twin Cities Marathon just three weeks before.

Gurmu took top honors in 2:49:48, with Marty just 27 seconds slower in 2:50:15.

“It was easy,” Gurmu said through an interpreter. “I felt good. Near the end, I was confident that I was going to win.”

That was Mentzer’s goal, too, and he made quick work of this race. Mentzer was in good position from the starting line near Rosslyn, passing the 5-kilometer mark after the uphills of Lee Highway in Arlington in third, just 19 seconds back.

By the time he crossed Key Bridge into Georgetown for a hilly loop, passed under the Kennedy Center and scampered along the Potomac River from West Potomac Park into East Potomac Park, Mentzer was sharing the lead with Sean Birren, a 36-year-old from St. Louis. He said he was not concerned at all with Birren.

“I caught up with the leader [Birren] between seven and eight miles,” said Mentzer, who lives in Kittery, Maine, and is originally from Bozeman, Mont. “He said he was only going 13 to 16 miles. I knocked out some 5:12 to 5:15 miles and got the lead.”

By Hains Point at the halfway mark, which he passed in 1:10:27, Mentzer was running alone and pushing the pace.

After virtually circling the entire National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back to the 14th Street Bridge, Mentzer had more than two minutes on Salvador Miranda, a sergeant first class in the Mexican military who participated in the steeplechase in the 2000 Olympics.

Mentzer didn’t see the 38-year-old Miranda, a five-time Marine Corps finisher, until he reached the out-and-back portion of the course at 23 miles in Crystal City.

“My coach and my wife were getting splits, so I had some indication of where he was,” the 1998 Naval Academy grad said. “I could feel my legs stiffen up. I know that a minute lead can disappear quickly.”

While Mentzer was rejoicing in the press tent, Miranda was watching Johnson, an Air Force captain, fly by him into second with just a half-mile remaining. Johnson’s time of 2:25:02 was a personal best by nearly two minutes.

Meanwhile, Marty was making her move just off the 14th Street Bridge with four miles to go.

“At Mile 22, I passed [Melinda Keesee] and [Gurmu], and at Mile 26, [Gurmu] outkicked me,” said Marty, who is stationed in Sacramento, Calif., and who placed seventh here last year in 2:57. “I ran a marathon three weeks ago.”

The top 10 women broke three hours, an unusual feat at Marine Corps.

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