- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

Mary Kate Bailey won the 18th St. Patrick’s Day race yesterday at Freedom Square in downtown Washington — just days after race organizers received permits for the course.

Organizers were forced to cut the traditional 10-kilometer race to an 8K and start the race 30 minutes earlier to comply with the D.C. government and local neighbors.

The end result was a confirmation that this is one of Washington’s most popular running events: Almost 6,000 people registered for the event, and 4,775 crossed the starting line on a day made for running.

Even better, Bailey, a 31-year-old Arlington resident, pulled off one of the closest victories in race history, finishing in 27 minutes, 50 seconds — ahead of three other area runners all within 13 seconds of each other.

Bailey, who earned the course record because of the new distance, joined Ethiopian Gurmessa Kumssa on the victory stand. Kumssa ran away with the men’s race before the end of the second mile in 23:36.

“I’ve gotten better at running,” said Bailey, who raced the 8K distance (4.975 miles) for the first time. “I’ve discovered that going out too fast is not so good. And I know Christina [Wells] is an accomplished runner.”

Wells, who moved to Woodbridge in 2003 after leaving her home state of Kentucky, was a 2004 U.S. Olympic marathon trials qualifier. She has been working herself back into shape after giving birth to daughter Anna Catherine about one year ago.

“I was so happy there were people there to run with and to hang on to,” said Wells, who worked off Casey Smith of Arlington with Bailey and Vanessa Hunter in tow during the first half of the race. “It was great. Everyone put in their part of the work.”

By the three-mile mark, Smith was dropping and ended up fourth. Hunter fell back by a turnaround near the National Air & Space Museum. The rest of the race was Bailey against Wells — Bailey with the high, short arm swing and Wells with the long sweeping arm movement.

In the last 400 meters, which was into a slight headwind, Bailey surged for the last time and pulled away for the victory. Wells ended three seconds back, with Hunter another three behind her.

“I’m not somebody who ever gives up,” Bailey said.

Said Wells: “Mary Kate ran a great race. I still need to get back that killer mentality.”

Bailey already has a “B” qualifier for the 2008 U.S. Olympic marathon trials — a 2:46:03 she earned at Twin Cities in October — but she is training to run a sub-2:39 in Chicago in October for the “A” standard. Wells indicated she at least would like to qualify for the 2008 trials.

Kumssa, meanwhile, brought his training partners with him yesterday. But while they chatted together during the first mile, they could not keep up when he turned it on coming off Capitol Hill.

“Because I didn’t have somebody competing beside me, I could have done better,” he said through a translator. “I could have run at least half a minute faster.”

The 27-year-old Kumssa is sharing a home in Oxon Hill with countrymen Dema Weyessa and Birukgelan Regassa. They have come to America to run in the U.S. roads in the next five months.

They said they come from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, the Oromiya region where running greats like Olympic champions Derartu Tulu and Haile Gebrselassie train. They said they are members of the Ethiopian national team, and they came with credentials.

Kumssa placed fifth in the competitive Great Ethiopian Run, a 10K in which he ran 28:48 in November in Addis Ababa. Weyessa, 19, who was third yesterday in 25:01, was a world-ranked youth runner in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters in 2003.

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