- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Two months ago, the Marine Corps Marathon was not on the radar screen for Alexandria runner Heather Hanscom. The word marathon wasn’t part of her daily vocabulary.

“I was never going to run a marathon, until August of this year when Coach Matt [Centrowitz] said I should try one,” the talented 25-year-old distance runner said.

Based on her recent training and racing, Hanscom is a favorite to win Sunday’s 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon and possibly earn a trip to the Olympic Trials Marathon on April3 in St. Louis.

Asked why she is projecting a finishing time of 2:46 in her debut marathon, Hanscom replied, “It is 6:20 [a mile] pace.”

Hanscom is not being unreasonable in her expectations, according to training partner Michael Wardian.

“She is totally focused,” said Wardian, who qualified for the men’s Olympic Trials three weeks ago in Detroit. “And she can keep up a 6:20 pace for 18, 20 miles. I think she’s going to run 2:38 or so. She’s awesome.”

Hanscom has benefited from training with Wardian and Chris Farley, owner of Pacers and the head of the Pacers Racing team that has gotten a huge boast from the successes of Hanscom and Wardian. Because she is frequently seen running with a tall man on each side, people kid that Wardian and Farley are her bodyguards.

“Girls don’t usually like to run with me,” said Hanscom, who runs much faster than nearly all area women. “I started running with Mike about a year ago, once or a couple of times a week. It’s really helping my running.”

She also hooked up in March with Centrowitz, who has taken her to the next level with as many as three sessions a week.

Since age 12, Hanscom has excelled at running. Although a brain tumor and subsequent surgery forced her to sit out most of her freshman year at Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va., she quickly got on track a year later. By senior year, she competed in the Kinney national high school cross country championships and parlayed her success into a career at JMU.

She had a highly decorated college career, but her dream of the NCAA championships was dashed when she had an allergic reaction to a medicine before the regional qualifying meet.

“I missed it by a spot,” said Hanscom, who works as a research assistant with the American Red Cross in Rockville. “What hurt most was that I was beaten by people I had been beating all year.”

Since graduating in 1999 and moving to Alexandria, Hanscom has become a fixture at the front of local 5Ks and 10Ks. Now Centrowitz is stepping up the distance to help her build strength.

Hanscom ran her longest race Sept.21, a half-marathon in Philadelphia, where she was the seventh woman overall and second American in 1:14:11, a 5:40 pace. Then she finished third behind two men in a 20-mile race [she called a workout] in Spotsylvania, Va., with a 6:11 pace.

Hanscom’s main competition for the Marine Corps title could come from Karen Oudekerk, whose five marathons include a 2:48:45 in the 1999 Chicago Marathon that qualified her for the 2000 Olympic trials in Columbia, S.C. Sunday, she will seek her second trip to the trials, which now has lowered the qualifying time from 2:50 to 2:48. Her goal, like Hanscom’s, is to run 2:46.

If Oudekerk’s name seems familiar, it is because she lived here in the late ‘90s, was a member of the Washington Running Club and ran local races. She also has spent time in San Diego but is back in Virginia and ran a 10-miler in Lynchburg last month in 1:08.

Liz Schmidt, who was second here in 2000 as Liz Speegle, recently pulled out of this year’s race because of a nagging hip injury, according to husband/coach Brett Schmidt. Liz, a 36-year-old Woodbridge resident, may attempt an Olympic qualifier next month at the Philadelphia Marathon.

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