- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

A suspicious package on the 14th Street Bridge turned yesterday’s 21st Army Ten-Miler into an 11-mile “Fun Run.”

A couple of minutes after a field estimated at 16,000 began the race at 8a.m. near the Pentagon, a District police harbor unit spotted the package under the bridge’s HOV lanes, which comprises most of the last two miles of the course.

The bridge quickly was closed, and by the time the package was found to be harmless the course already had been re-routed back across the Memorial Bridge to the starting line, nearly a quarter mile from the official finish line.

Participants wound up running at least an extra mile and no finishing results with times and places were kept.

Nevertheless, there were few if any complaints from the participants who burned off an extra hundred or so calories on a beautiful morning for running.

“I am very happy I got to run,” said 34-year-old John Vickery of Bristow, Va. “So they extended it another mile or so. With some of us wearing [Global Positioning] watches we could tell where the 10-mile mark was. My watch measured 11.29 miles.”

Race director Jim Vandak: “We started a 10-mile race and it became a recreational run.”

Barbara Owens, chief of media operations for the Military District of Washington: “This is not an official race. We are calling this the Army Ten-Miler Fun Run.”

The original race course included a stretch down Constitution Avenue toward 14th Street and the bridge.

“When we didn’t make the left [onto 14th Street and the bridge], I knew something was wrong,” said Chris Graff, an elite distance runner from Rosslyn who won here in 1999 and was far out in the lead most of the way. “But when you are running hard like that, you’re a little foggy. After awhile, I wondered if we were going the wrong way so I caught up to the press truck to make sure I was going the right way and they didn’t really know what to do.

“Then as we were going under the Memorial Bridge, we had the crowds coming toward us all across the road and the press truck had to stop. I had to pass the press truck and I ended up in front of the press truck.”

Graff, prepping for next month’s New York City Marathon, was on his own going back over the Memorial Bridge and heading to the start-turned-finish line.

“It’s about setting goals and overcoming obstacles. And this was a different obstacle,” he said.

The woman who led from the start, Samia Akbar, also was undeterred.

“I’m happy,” said Akbar, an assistant coach at American University. “I felt really good throughout the race.”

She said she was unaware the course had to be re-routed when she reached 14th Street.

“I was wondering what was going on,” said Akbar, preparing for the USA 10K Championships at the Tufts 10K in Boston in eight days. “A guy I was running with said I had three miles to go and I thought I had only two miles to go.”

The experience made an impact on Rick Nealis, race director of the Marine Corps Marathon, which is Oct.30.

Moments before the race began, Nealis said he felt security was unusually tight and that this year’s Marine Corps would have less of a security presence than last year.

His thinking changed dramatically by the time he finished yesterday’s run.

“I believe [Monday] morning at Quantico, a new plan will be worked out,” Nealis said. “We already scheduled a meeting with all law enforcement personnel. Our think-tank guy develops a scenario — bomb threat, chemical spill, hurricane, etc. I think it was four years ago that we had a bomb scare at the [runners] expo. We will be going through the drill this week.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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