- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

Four years ago, Michael Wardian slumbered across the finish line of the Washington DC Marathon and hugged his father in teary disappointment. He had hoped to win the inaugural race in his hometown but instead he faded terribly to 17th place.

He never got another chance as the Washington DC Marathon never had another showing.

Yesterday, however, he was all smiles after 26.2 miles, waving to the crowd in the parking lot of RFK Stadium as he ran away with the inaugural National Marathon in a respectable 2 hours, 30 minutes, 55 seconds.

“I thought about that,” said Wardian, a 31-year-old Arlington resident. “I think I am a different runner now. I’m smarter now. I knew I was the favorite today. But you are only as good as your last race. I didn’t want to take anything for granted.”

If he were as good as his last race, that would have been six days before at the Shamrock Sportsfest Marathon in Virginia Beach, which Wardian also won in 2:28:30 after being the runner-up last year.

He was dominant at Shamrock, outrunning his competition by nearly four minutes, a feat he repeated yesterday.

Yet the winner of the women’s race was even more dominant. Susan Graham-Gray of Greencastle, Pa., topped her closest competitor by nearly 12 minutes, maneuvering around the District and Prince George’s County in 2:58:05.

Both Wardian and Graham-Gray earned $1,000 for their morning’s worth of work.

Like Wardian, Graham-Gray had no competition from within the field, but she carries her own challenges as a visually impaired athlete. Born with Stargardt’s Disease, which has left her with 20/400 vision at age 37, Graham-Gray was guided around the course by her coach Mike Spinnler, who bicycles near her and warns her of turns and course obstacles.

Graham-Gray, a mother of three, has run as fast as 2:52:56 at the 2004 Baltimore Marathon, and is striving for an Olympic trials qualifying time of 2:47. She didn’t feel ready for a big performance at Shamrock last week so she canceled and came to Washington instead.

“It was tough,” she said, relieved that the roads for the most part were smoothly paved but challenged a bit by the darkness of the 9th Street Tunnel and a few underpasses. “It wasn’t really cardio. My legs were tired.”

Wardian also found the course somewhat challenging. The first 11 miles through the District were flat, then the hills appeared at scenic Fort Dupont Park and continued through Prince George’s County back to the finish at RFK Stadium.

“I knew it was going to be hard on the second half of the course,” Wardian said “My dad and I ran the course over several cold days in January.”

In fact, Wardian even pointed out that he and his father used to walk the steep section of the course on Massachusetts Avenue Southeast.

Later on the course, the terrain did slow the 2004 Olympic Trials qualifier (2:21:48) to a couple of 5:59 miles at 21 and 24 but he was not losing any ground to eventual runner-up Mike Smith (2:34:32) or third-place finisher Victor Flemming (2:36:51). He actually ran the second half of the course nearly two minutes faster than the first.

Some 2,209 runners — marathoners and half-marathoners — registered for the event, according to race officials. A total of 731 runners finished the marathon while 954 finished the half-marathon.

In the accompanying half-marathon, Gurmsa Kumsa and Eric Lavigne took the early lead and finished 1-2 in 1:08:30 and 1:12:16, respectively. Kumsa, a 27-year-old Ethiopian training in Prince George’s County, said he took the wrong turn at 11 miles and followed the marathoners for a bit when the marathon and half marathon courses split, losing about two minutes. He ran 1:04:27 last weekend at Shamrock.

Kumsa also won the St. Patrick’s Day 8K in Washington on March12.

Ray Pugsley was third in 1:14:54, equaling his wife Cathy’s third-place effort in 1:28:13 in the women’s race. Milligan Grinstead of Charlottesville was the fastest woman in 1:26:09, leading the entire way.

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