- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Two weeks ago, Michael Wardian selflessly paced teammate Heather Hanscom to victory and an Olympic marathon trials “A” standard at the Marine Corps Marathon.

Yesterday, he ran for himself.

In his fourth marathon in six weeks, the 29-year-old Arlington runner dominated the fourth annual Marathon in the Parks in Montgomery County. He covered the 26.2-mile course — much of it through the Maryland parks system — in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 21 seconds.

“I wanted to run under 2:30,” said Wardian, who on Oct. 5 secured a trip to the Olympic marathon trials with a 2:21:48 qualifying time in Detroit.

Defending women’s champion Denise Knickman of Baltimore was projecting a sub-3 hour finish. The 35-year-old physical therapist was successful, winning again while completing the trip from the Shady Grove metro station to downtown Bethesda in 2:56:07.

“I usually wax and wane throughout the race,” said Knickman, who ran 2:59:20 last year. “This time it just got worse and worse.”

Wardian and Knickman, teammates on the Pacer’s racing team, each earned $1,000 for their efforts.

The field this year lacked the depth of the previous two years.

Knickman was never challenged, firmly in the lead by the first mile and 2:35 ahead of runner-up Heather Davis of Raleigh, N.C., when she passed the halfway mark in 1:25:10. Even though Knickman slowed during the second half, Davis continued to lose ground. Her time was 3:03:41, way off her 2:57:27 effort at Shamrock in Virginia Beach in March.

Knickman competed at the 2000 Olympic marathon trials but was not looking for a sub-2:48 qualifying time yesterday. “I was mostly interested in winning again,” she said, hinting she might attempt a qualifying in January.

Kit McCaffrey, a Madison, Wis., marathon veteran, also competed at the 2000 trials and predicted a 2:45 Olympic qualifying time for yesterday’s race. It never materialized, and she ran 3:10:13 for third, well off her best of 2:49:55 in 1998.

The Marathon in the Parks course is not fast, with many twists and turns and short steep uphills and quick downhills. But Wardian was not complaining at the finish. Nor did he mind the spectacular conditions — sunny, dry and calm with temperatures in the mid-30s to mid-40s.

Coming off another dominating performance — albeit slow for him — in a neighborhood five-kilometer race in Arlington the day before, Wardian comfortably paced the lead pack, which whittled down to just three by the 10-mile mark along the Rock Creek Trail.

Joining him were two familiar faces in the local running scene, Ethiopian Retta Feyissa and Washingtonian Glen Mays. Feyissa placed third here in 2001 and in 2002, just ahead of Wardian’s fourth-place effort last year.

“The plan was at mile 10 to put them in pain and see what happened,” Wardian explained.

He passed the midpoint in 1:14:29, sporting a seven-second lead and saying aloud: “Trying a little breakaway, let’s see what happens.”

Eventually, Feyissa and Mays covered his move when Wardian slowed down to tuck his runner’s fuel GU into his back pocket. But Wardian knew Mays was preparing for the Philadelphia Marathon in two weeks and was not going to run hard, so he increased the pace from 5:40 a mile to 5:25 and dropped Feyissa and Mays around the 17-mile mark.

“I was doing the race for a long run, my last long run before Philadelphia,” said Mays, who is attempting to join Wardian as an Olympic trials qualifier. “I didn’t want to work too hard, so I let Mike go.”

Feyissa, running with a tight left thigh, let Wardian go, too. Feyissa and Mays traded positions several times before the former finished second in 2:31:23 for $500 and latter third in 2:31:45 for $250.

It was not Wardian’s first marathon victory, but he said it was his biggest, just 28 seconds off the event record. In 2001, he trained intensely for the U.S. 100-kilometer championships by winning both the Last Train to Boston Marathon and B&A; Trial Marathon — just eight days apart — by huge margins.


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