- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Two-time Olympic 800-meter runner Meredith Rainey Valmon of Rockville returns to her hometown to mark her marathon debut at tomorrow’s ING New York City Marathon.

“I’m ready to run,” said Valmon, who was born in Brooklyn in 1968 and represented the United States in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. “I’m really excited. I’m ready to run and finish it. That was my goal. I’m not concerned about my time with the heat that’s expected.”

Valmon said running New York has been a lifelong dream that is about to come true. She fully expects the race to jog her memory.

“Growing up in New York and watching the marathon, I always thought I’d run the New York Marathon one day,” said Valmon, who put in a 24-mile workout recently. “I needed a goal to shoot for — to get back in shape — after my daughter was born in July last year.

“This is the marathon that’s in my heart. It’s the one I’ve always wanted to run. I still feel like a Brooklyn girl at heart. A lot of memories will be coming back. We will be running right past the YMCA where I took swim lessons, right past the place where I practiced track for the first time at the Pratt Institute when I was 8, where my orthodontist’s office is, the apartment building on Lafayette Avenue where I came home to when I was born. It will be like a run down memory lane for me.”

She said her family plans to gather at her great-aunt’s house on Lafayette and cheer her on between the eighth and ninth mile.

Valmon’s family and thousands of other spectators will be treated to some of the best viewing weather in the 34-year history of the 26.2-mile race.

The runners, on the other hand, won’t enjoy the weather as much. Temperatures are expected to reach 70 degrees with sunny skies. It hasn’t been that warm since the 1993 and 1994 races.

“It’s a double-edge sword,” race spokesman Richard Finn said. “It’s ideal for spectators, but obviously it makes it more difficult for the elites and people in the back of the pack.”

Finn said the organizers of the race through all five New York boroughs are prepared. There will be plenty of water and ice on the course.

Some 73,000 running enthusiasts applied for a spot — the world’s second-largest marathon last year as ranked by its finishers — but only approximately 33,000 were accepted. Among the lucky entrants are the elites, celebrities and thousands of people running for all sorts of reasons.

The elites will be racing for a record $532,500, including a record $100,000 going to the male and female winners and double prize money to the Americans.

Defending champions Rodgers Rop and Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya are back, as well as the last four women’s champions: Chepchumba in 2002, Kenya’s Margaret Okayo in 2001, Russia’s Ludmila Petrova in 2000 and Mexico’s Adriana Fernandez in 1999.

Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, second here in 1999, is favored to become just the second woman — Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway is the other — to win the marathon tri-fecta of Chicago, Boston and New York.

America’s top hope is Marla Runyan of Eugene, Ore., who made her debut here last year with a stunning fourth-place effort of 2:27:10.

“My goal on Sunday is to run the best race that I can,” said Runyan, a 2000 Olympic 1,500-meter finalist who runs with limited vision. “[To run] 2:26 or better would be a great accomplishment, which means I am improving.”

Runyan took a step backward in April with a 2:30:28 finish at Boston on a deceptively warm day. However, the 34-year-old learned lessons that could help tomorrow.

“I learned so much from Boston,” said Runyan, who will focus on the 1,500 and 5,000 for the Athens’ Olympics next year before turning her full attention to marathoning. “I think it’s a good thing [Boston] didn’t go well. I think I did too much training. I peaked too early, and I was going backwards at that point when the marathon finally came around. I also realized the importance of hydration.”

And she has taken steps not to repeat a mistake that could have cost her a place at New York last year.

“Right around the 20-mile mark, I re-caught up with the leaders,” Runyan said. “There were seven of us there. I didn’t mark my water bottle well enough, and I had to come to a complete stop to get my water bottle. That’s where [Chepchumba] did a 5:18 mile with a surge, and I got separated from the leaders. It was about five meters, but it did make a difference. I’ll be thinking about that this year.”

To avoid a similar mistake this time, Runyan tied large flags to each of her water bottles.

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