- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

At today’s Marine Corps Marathon, runners will stay the course as they are treated to the same long and winding route they maneuvered last year, making this perhaps the first time in the 31-year history of the event that the course has not changed because of construction, security or other issues.

“No course change,” race director Rick Nealis proudly announced at the Marines’ press conference Friday. “We worked on the finish line instead.”

That finish line area nearly hamstrung Nealis and his staff, he said, and nearly forced him before registration opened in the spring to scale back from a record field of 34,000 to a field of 10,000.

“We have no more use of the lands [at Iwo Jima Memorial],” Nealis said of the acres of grass surrounding the Marines’ monument, which usually serves as the race’s staging area. “Four million dollars of restorations at Iwo Jima last year. We just couldn’t have thousands of people walking all over the new grass.”

Enter Arlington County, which has been enjoying a multimillion dollar economic boom from the race for years. Chris Zimmerman, Arlington County Board chairman, was amenable to opening up the streets of Rosslyn to Nealis’ tired, thirsty and hungry finishers, and a partnership between the race and the county was formed.

“People say to me all the time that they’d like to have all these people at their venue,” Zimmerman said. “We already have it here.”

Dubbed Finish Line Festival, runners will pass through the finish line at the circle around Iwo Jima, then head up to Meade and Lynn streets, where they will be met by family and friends and a host of tents featuring massage therapists, baggage pickup, phone and photo booths, food from many of the local restaurants along Restaurant Row and, of course, beer.

The party will drift all the way to Wilson Boulevard.

Nealis is expecting 23,000 starters, and if he gets at least 20,169 finishers, Nealis will see his race move past Los Angeles as the fourth-largest marathon in the United States and seventh in the world.

All of these athletes have goals but not all the same ones. Three African runners will be gunning for victory, although the Marines do not award prize money to the winners. One man is attempting his 43rd marathon in 43 days. Several athletes are vying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials next fall in New York.

Several titlists from the past will be back again this year. Only five people have run all 30 Marine Corps marathons, and they are back again as well.

All eyes may be on Jared Nyamboki, who made it known after convincingly winning the Army Ten-Miler three weeks ago that he wanted to break the 19-year-old course record of 2:14:01 set by Jeff Scuffins.

Asked how he felt being the race favorite, the Kisii, Kenya, resident said: “I got to prove it. I’d like to talk after the race.”

Nyamboki said he ran 2:14 at the Lena Marathon in Kenya in 2004, but even more impressive was his effort at the Montreal Marathon, when on 2:08 pace with 500 meters to go, he fell apart from dehydration.

“It was my first marathon,” he said. “I didn’t drink at all during the race. I saw the banner, the finish, the next thing I saw stars, and the next thing I remember I was in the hospital.”

A week after the Army Ten-Miler, he was supposed to rabbit half of the chilly, windy Des Moines (Iowa) Marathon but instead went the whole distance and won in an “easy” 2:23:26, his third marathon triumph.

Nyamboki has hired a rabbit from Ethiopia, who will be wearing bib No. 50, to take him through a fast first 13 miles today, but Nyamboki’s teammate on the Foot Solutions Elite Team — Tamrat Ayalew of Ethiopia — could hang with his Kenyan friend to the finish. He did run 2:12 at the Wofu Marathon in Japan but that was four years ago. Teammate Belay Teka Kassa of Ethiopia also is entered.

Returning champions include Ruben Garcia (2005) and Mark Croasdale (1999). Carl Rundell (fifth in 2004, close second in 2005) is back. Dean Karnazes races through town in his 43rd of 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days.

Locals Aaron Church and Max Lockwood will be looking for Olympic Trials qualifiers. Janeth Caizalitin Alder, a 1992 Olympian representing Ecuador and a Brigham Young distance star, predicted a top women’s time of 2:40. Meanwhile, Will Brown, Roger Burkhart, Matthew Jaffe, Al Richmond and Mel Williams all will be aiming for their 31st completion at Marine Corps.

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