- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Neither Peter Sherry nor Aaron Church is under the gun to register a qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials in February because each already has. But both fiercely competitive athletes would like to walk away from Sunday’s 28th running of the Marine Corps Marathon with the champion’s prize, the Middendorf Trophy.

Other runners in the field — such as Eric Post — still are searching for that ticket to the trials in Birmingham, Ala., as the Jan.8 deadline approaches.

“I’m planning on winning [the Marine Corps] if I make it to 26 miles,” said Sherry, 35, a longtime area stalwart from Great Falls. “I dropped out of my last one [2002 Twin Cities Marathon] after 15 miles, so I am looking for a confidence builder. Hopefully, I will go out and run 2:20 and win.”

Sherry may need to run faster if he plans on being the first man up the Iwo Jima hill.

“I hear that Pete Sherry’s running,” said Church, a 28-year-old from South Riding in Chantilly, Va. “Hopefully, Pete and I will [pace] each other. I am thinking 2:18 going into Marine Corps. That’s what I feel I have in me. That’s how I look at Marine Corps, as an intermediate goal on the way to 2:15.”

Church insisted his No.1 priority is not to win the race but to run steady splits through at least 24 miles. But then he added, “Everybody in this area knows the Marine Corps Marathon, and in the 2000 race, I thought it would be really cool to win it.”

That year he wasn’t even close, finishing in 2:56:05 in a personal best by 10 minutes over his previous marathon some seven months before.

What spectators may see on the course Sunday is a duel between an experienced marathoner (Church) and a rookie (Sherry).

Church has run so many marathons — 14, he thinks — that he could barely count them. The guy in the trademark black knee-high Oxy Socks ran four 26ers in 2000 and has done three every year since. His quantum leap occurred in June at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., where he slashed 81/2 minutes off his best from exactly six months earlier with a 2:21:47, an Olympic trials qualifier by 13 seconds.

“I pinned up a press release from Birmingham [host of the 2004 trials] on the refrigerator after running the 2002 Washington D.C. Marathon,” said Church, a Nextel engineer. “It’s still there. I hit that lofty goal.”

But Sherry has run even faster, qualifying in his debut at the 2001 USA Championships at the New York City Marathon with a 2:20:48. Sherry said if he doesn’t run well at Marine Corps, he may scrap the marathon trials in February to concentrate on the track, where he has a 5,000-meter qualifier for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in July.

A veteran of 15 years in the sport, Sherry has kept busy. He is a second-year assistant cross country coach at Herndon High School, which he said has the No.1-ranked girls team in the state. He and his wife also are part owners with running partner Andre Williams of Gotta Run, a specialty shop that coincidentally sits on the course at Pentagon Row near Mile 3.

Post is a 24-year-old Fairfax runner who was quite successful in cross country and track as a prep runner in Fairfax and as a collegian at James Madison University. In 1996, he placed 14th in the Kinney National high school cross country championships and made the finals of the Junior Nationals in the 5,000 meters.

The high school math teacher has one marathon — a 2:29:59 on the hilly Richmond course last year — and is working toward an Olympic qualifier here Sunday.

The man with the fastest time in the field of 18,000 entrants is 47-year-old Antoni Niemczak. But he laid down that 2:09:41 effort 13 years ago at the Chicago Marathon, a performance that earned him a No.8 ranking by Track & Field News in 1990. That time stood as the Polish national record until two weeks ago.

Niemczak, running for the Lung Cancer team in memory of a friend who died of the disease, predicted a finish time of 2:25. Since 1984, he has run in more than 40 marathons, hitting 2:25s during the past several years.

Mark Croasdale of the Royal British Marines, the 1999 Marine Corps champion, returns at age 38.

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