- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

For at least one more year, the Marine Corps Marathon will remain the only major marathon without a Kenyan champion.

Although it appeared for much of yesterday’s 26.2-mile race that Jared Nyamboki, an elite runner from Kisii, Kenya, would win the 31st running, a poor decision prevented it. He tried a new runner gel that turned his stomach after 20 miles and opened the door for Ruben Garcia of Mexico to defend his title successfully.

Garcia, a corporal in the Mexican Navy, became only the second man to win back-to-back Marine Corps Marathon titles after Jim Hage in 1988 and 1989.

“I was feeling a bit of pressure [with Nyamboki far out in front],” Garcia, whose time of 2:21:21 was just three seconds slower than last year’s effort, said through an interpreter. “But I felt my rhythm was good, and I kept pressing.”

The win was Garcia’s second this year. He won the Miami Marathon in January in 2:18:15, earning $5,000. Yesterday he received a trophy and a handshake.

Garcia’s repeat victory seemed less certain this year with the addition of Nyamboki, who focused on breaking the 19-year-old course record of 2:14:01, and two Ethiopians who took off quickly.

Meanwhile, the result of the women’s race was close to improbable.

When Laura Thompson began the race, the last thing she had on her mind was winning. She flew all the way from Boise, Idaho, with one thing in mind: finish the race.

A staff attorney for a federal judge, Thompson, 31, began running in 1997 to keep fit. She did her first marathon in Portland, Ore., in 2000, finishing in 4:33:41. At New York in 2002, her 3:18:18 gave her 141st place. The next year in Boston, she ran 3:03:17 for 51st place. At Chicago in 2004, she finally broke three hours , finishing 36th in 2:58:24.

“This race was the last on my list of big ones to do,” Thompson said after crossing the line first in 3:00:23, the second slowest winning time in race history to Jane Killon’s 3:01:34 during the Carter presidency in 1978. “I just ran. I didn’t have a plan. This is a complete surprise. I’m speechless.”

There were other speechless runners as well. Nyamboki, who was on record pace for the first 11 miles, ended the day doubled over on a curb in Crystal City after about 22 miles. That was a mile after Garcia reeled him in at the end of the 14th Street Bridge, just as the runners descended the ramp into Crystal City.

“I was feeling good until 20 miles, and then my stomach was messed up,” said Nyamboki, who won both the Army Ten Miler and the Des Moines (Iowa) Marathon in the past three weeks. “I took a gel that I’d never taken before. By 23 miles, I was out.”

Nobody can blame Carl Rundell for being speechless — and disappointed. Two years ago, Rundell was in the lead with three miles to go, but the heat zapped him, and four runners passed him before the finish. Last year he matched Garcia stride for stride until they climbed up the ramp onto the 14th Street Bridge at mile 20. Then Garcia stepped it up and slowly left Rundell behind to fend for second, some nine seconds back.

Yesterday Garcia and Rundell again ran nearly stride for stride, trailing Nyamboki by 2 minutes at the halfway mark.

“Ruben started picking it up at the ramp, the same place as last year,” the 38-year-old from Birmingham, Mich., said. “I’m not going to quit until I win this race. I have the Olympic trials next year, but I’m coming back in 2008.”

Rundell, who said he spends 80 to 85 hours a week working for a software company he started last year, was second in 2:24:23. Garcia’s teammate, Jose Miranda, was third in 2:26:25.

Thompson trailed leader Kristen Ward by as much as 1 minutes at the midpoint on the Mall and almost a minute with six miles to go. She vaulted into the lead nearly 22 miles into the race, going into Crystal City, and trailed behind for “about a mile.”

“I was thinking, ‘I’m sure she has a lot left, and I don’t,’ ” said Thompson, who ran with a split sheet on her arm for three-hour pace but didn’t check it. “She was slowing. In the last mile, I really just wanted to stop running. It was windy, and it was a tough last hill [up to the finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial].”

Brenda Schrank of Winchester moved up from fifth in the last six miles to capture second in 3:02:35 for the Air Force team. Suzanne Hines of Virginia Beach was third in 3:02:57.

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