- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

Retta Feyissa was dressed in his blue warmup suit near the finish line of last Sunday’s Army Ten-Miler.

On this day, he was not a runner but rather a supporter of his fellow Ethiopians living in New York.

Feyissa, who lived in the District and raced all over town from 2000 to 2003, casually mentioned that he had won the Marine Corps Marathon in 2004. He then expressed his interest in again winning one of the nation’s largest marathons, which is just two weeks away.

By coincidence, the race director of the sold-out event, Rick Nealis, was at the finish line. Sue Bozgoz, coach of many of the top-shelf Ethiopian runners, encouraged Feyissa to ask Nealis for an invite.

For Nealis, it was a no-brainer. Feyissa, 34, is hard at work in the hills of Van Cortlandt Park near his apartment in the Bronx.

“I am going to come back and run the Marine Corps Marathon because I’d like to win the Marine Corps Marathon,” Feyissa said. “I like the race. There is no prize money, but it’s big; it’s very nice. … I tried to run in 2006, but it was too close - two weeks or three weeks before race time - and I called them and they said the race was full.”

Feyissa said he didn’t speak with Nealis then, but he was eager to run Marine Corps again. He also said Nealis was giving him bib No. 1 on Oct. 25.

“Actually, it was very nice, nice course,” Feyissa said. “When I was young in my country, my father liked to watch every country’s army, and he was telling me the American Army was very good. So when I get the chance to come to the USA, I was going to run this marathon.”

He got just that chance, leaving a rough political scene in Ethiopia in 1998. He ran a slew of marathons, including the New York City Marathon, but it was not until 2002 that he took his first shot at Marine Corps.

That shot unceremoniously ended around the 14th Street Bridge, when pain in his right hamstring was too much to overcome. But the hamstring behaved in 2004.

“When I was running, I was seventh or eighth place around 18 miles, then I caught the leader with a mile left,” said Feyissa, managing to finish on a hot day in 2:25:35, one of the slowest winning times at Marine Corps. “It was my dream. It was very nice.”

He went on to finish the New York City Marathon in 29th in 2:27:29 just seven days later. But the left hamstring has continued to dog him. Feyissa said he has not raced since posting a 2:25 at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2006, choosing instead to rest the hamstring. But he insists he is ready to run 2:20 to 2:22 at Marine Corps.

“Now my time in training is exactly where I want,” he said. “I know I am training well. I’m good now. Everything is good right now. Hamstring is good.”

Feyissa said he can train full time now since he was laid off from his job as a housekeeper at a Manhattan nursing home in June. His latest wish: to get his 26-year-old sister, Diribe Hunde, a sub-2:40 marathoner, into Marine Corps.

“I’m hoping Rick says yes,” Feyissa said.

Baltimore results - In Saturday’s Baltimore Marathon, Russian Iuliia Arkhipova posted an event record of 2:32:09, crushing the women’s mark of 2:35:45, set by Rima Dubovik in 2006.

Alfonsi Kibor Yatich won the men’s race in 2:14:04.

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