- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 25, 2009

Two Ethiopians who grew up dreaming of winning one of America’s largest marathons lead a field of 20,000-plus runners for Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon.

One of them - Retta Feyissa - has a Marine title under his belt. The 34-year-old ran away with the 2004 race.

“Training is going well,” he said Friday. “Everything is good. I’m going to win this marathon.”

Muliye Gurmu, who started fast at the Army Ten-Miler three weeks ago before fading to third, said she came to the District to notch her first Marine victory in her seventh marathon. Her expected time of 2 hours, 40 minutes puts her, like Feyissa, at the head of the class.

“Yes, I can run 2:40,” she said as Feyissa interpreted. “I am not looking only for the money. This is a big marathon. I knew about the Marine Corps Marathon when I was growing up in my country. I would like to win this one.”

Feyissa is hoping this year’s race is much smoother than the 2004 edition, when he fell far off the leaders between miles 14 and 17.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Feyissa, who clocked 2:25:35 that year. “I should have run 2:23 that time. I just felt tired.”

He is expecting a time between 2:20 and 2:22 on Sunday, but he has not nailed a time that fast in more than five years, when he ran 2:21:22 at the 2004 Austin (Texas) Marathon. That was 28 days after a 2:23:53 at the Houston Marathon.

He was sidelined with injuries the past year, and his last marathon finish was at the Cleveland Marathon last year, which he completed a pedestrian but victorious 2:33:34. Nine years ago, he said, he ran a personal best 2:16 in Argentina.

With defending champion Andrew Dumm working the broadcast for Comcast SportsNet, Feyissa will not have much company if he cruises the course as planned. Certain to be in the mix is the Air Force team, led by Capt. Benjamin Payne (Columbus, Miss.), Jacob Johnson (Sherwood, Ark.), Levi Severson (Boulder, Colo.), Jason Schlarb (Boulder) and Dumm’s older brother Brian (Cambridge, England).

“We definitely got a good crew,” said Payne, whose team could win the Armed Forces and Challenge Cup competitions. “Most of us have been racing the last three to four years.”

As for the military competitions against the Army, Navy and Marines, he said: “It’s a neat thing. Obviously, we’re all on the same team. But on race morning, those are the guys we are trying to gun down. It’s always a good competition. Nobody ever runs away with the title.”

Payne is aiming for 2:25, which would be a personal best by three minutes.

“That would be a good day for me,” he said. “I’d be happy about that.”

After Gurmu, who sports a personal best of 2:39 at the 2007 Dubai Marathon, the women’s field is wide open. Melinda Keesee of Northern Virginia is predicting a 10-minute improvement over her 2:55 at Houston 21 months ago. Shannon Saunders of Charlottesville is looking to chop seven minutes off her Shamrock time of 2:53 in March 2008.

Neither the men’s event record of 2:14.01 by Jeff Scuffins in 1987 nor the women’s record of 2:37:00 by Olga Markova in 1990 appears to be in danger.

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