2008 GW Birthday Marathon

By George Banker

A marathon is a marathon as one might think and the commonality is they are all 26.2 miles and they come in different packages. Tucked away in Greenbelt, Maryland is the Washington’s Birthday Marathon (WBM) and on Sunday, February 17, 2008 the DC Road Runners Club held the 47th annual running, and the 19th Three-Person Relay. The race is neither Boston nor New York with the large crowds and the bands but it has the hospitality and the small crowd flavor where the runners are taken care of. This is the race your mother warned you about. There was the excitement of 18 hills and three loops with the last hills at miles 24 and 25...whew!

Special thanks are extended to US Department of Agriculture Greenbelt, Holiday Inn, and town and police department of Greenbelt. It’s through their support the event is possible along with the many faithful volunteers.

The weather in the DC area is always a factor. On February 18, 1968, 40 runners started and only 20 finished due to the bitterly cold and windy conditions. In 2003 the race was cancelled due to weather. On race day this year it was near perfect with a partial over cast sky and a mild wind with the temperature in the mid-40s. There were 177 finishers (142 males, 35 females) and 42 three-person relay team runners.

“I have been running uncountable number of marathons including ultra marathon distances. For example, I ran 11 marathons and above distances last year alone. In fact, I have just finished 113 mile race in Tokyo (3 days event) as well as 30 mile mountain challenge run, both in this January. And, I also ran a half marathon in NYC last week. So, I have already run 26 miles and above distance 5 times past six weeks, including yesterday’s WBM”, stated Yoshiko Jo of Swarthmore, Pa.

She adds, “I did select this race because I started to aim to complete marathons in 50 states plus DC. I wanted to race somewhere in February and I also wanted to run the race in Maryland. My good friend, Yukiko Nishide, who is also Japanese, ran the race in 2005 (she was the second woman with a time of 3:21:15) and she gave me uncountable positive comments about the race.”

To break the event records will require heart, determination, and someone who loves the sport because there is no car or prize money. The records:

1978 Bobby Doyle, 28 2:22:14 Central Falls, RI
1988 Rose Malloy, 39 2:53:29 Annapolis, MD
1969 John McDonogh, 45 2:31:58 New York NY
1993 Claudia Ciavarella, 43 3:13:17 Arlington, VA

In the history of the race only three masters have won over all, Ric Banning (1993-2:46:56), Paul Peterson (1997-2:43:23), and Guy Gordon (1998-2:37:44)

There has been four female masters who have won overall, Hiroko Smith (1991-3:17:46), Judith Bugyi (1992-3:14:35), Claudia Ciavarella (1993-3:13:17), and Patricia Zerfas (2007-3:30:22).

The WBM demands respect because of the hills and there was not the usual cat-and-mouse play with the lead. The runners found their place and pace and tried to hold on. The catching of another runner is attributed to that runner slowing down because they did not respect the course. The strategy comes first followed by speed. The best race recap is from some the top finishers.

Shortly into the race the top three leading the charge was Christopher Hamley of Hyattsville, Md., Sean Quinn of Morristown, NJ, and Frank Leiter of Harrisburg, Pa.

“This was my first time running this course. My decision to do it was a combination of the fact that in the last year or so I have switched my focus to running marathons and I live in Hyattsville, which is almost next door, so I think of it as home turf. It's really an interesting setting for a marathon, with Greenbelt's unique history and vibe, the Agriculture research complex, and the momentarily disconcerting firing ranges that are audible from the course. It's intriguing to be a part of this smaller marathon that's been around for so long. I hope it continues”, states the winner Hamley.

He adds some comments on the course, “For me, the three loops is very psychologically helpful, it divides the race into distinct manageable sizes, helps with pacing and being cautious about the hills. I had driven and run the course once before, but still didn't have a sense of how hard it would be in a race. I had run a strong 1/2 marathon two weeks before and then made sure to be really well rested, fed and hydrated... so the hills just didn't seem too bad and I was surprised (and quite happy!) to still feel strong going up them in the terrible 20's. I didn't take that for granted. I was hoping to finish somewhere between 2:40 and 2:45, and that's what happened. For a bit of wind, the weather was almost perfect. I like the course and its hills too. I saw a coyote pup when I was running out there a couple of weeks ago.”  

“What stands out to me is the friendliness of the participants and the volunteers. Everyone was very supportive and friendly on the course, and, for me, that really makes the race a great experience. I admire everyone who gets out there to run 26.2 in February, and I hope I was able to communicate that to at least a few people. I'm going to try and get a few of my friends to do this with me next year, don't know why more people don't run it (it does have a couple of minor eccentricities, but those are fun). It might be difficult to increase its size given where it is. Pat Brown was very friendly and helpful. Good chili!” adds Hamley.

“This was my first time running the race and I really enjoyed the course. I selected this marathon because I enjoy running in smaller, low key events.  I found the race online a couple of weeks ago when looking for a marathon to run. I'm training for the HAT run (50K) on March 29th, and I thought this race would be at the perfect time to prepare me for the 50K.  I love to run challenging courses like this one. The most challenging part for me was the last big hill near the end.  I pushed harder the second half of the race, so it was like running in slow motion until I got to the top. My goal at this race was to place in the top 3 overall. If I had to run this race again, I would run everything the same” stated runner-up Leiter.

Leiter continues, “This was the first time, in a marathon, that I have run a negative split. At the halfway point, my time was 1:27: 09 and I finished in 2:52: 34. I will tell people that this is a great race if you like a small low key event. I loved the course because of it's mostly country setting and rolling hills. I thought the volunteers at the road crossings and aid stations did a great job. I really admire these people for taking time out of their busy schedules to help out. In the first couple of miles, I held back from the pack out front. It didn't take long before the runners thinned out. I passed a group of runners in the early stages and mostly ran myself with an occasional runner to run with briefly. At mile 20, I passed a runner and moved into second place. I hope to run this race again in the future.”                                                                                        

“Sunday's marathon was great; awesome weather, and a few more hills than I might been ready for (especially at mile 25!), but overall it was a very good experience. My 3:00:46 was a little bitter-sweet being that it was a PB, but I was 47 seconds away from breaking 3 hours. My brother (Liam Quinn, Glenwood, NJ) and I found the race on marathonguide.com. We were looking for a race to fill in the gap between a fall marathon and a spring one (my brother ran Scranton in 3:15 and I ran Philly in 3:10) and it seemed perfect for us. It had a nice location, not too far from Jersey and only about 30 minutes away from family that live in Ellicott City. It had a nice small, no frills marathon feel to it, which is kind of refreshing once in a while. The price was right as well. Meanwhile it still had some real competitors..(2:42 might not win other bigger marathons, but that's still really fast if you ask me)”, stated third place finisher Sean Quinn of Morristown, NJ.

He adds, “I saw last years times when I registered and saw that if I ran a personal best, I might have a real chance to compete with the leaders. As a result, I started off with the leaders and stayed with them. It seemed a little fast, but I didn't see the first mile marker and realized at mile 2 that I was running at a 6:00 minute mile pace. It was then that I realized that winning this marathon probably wasn't in the cards. I then decided to drop back and maintain my own pace. For the first loop, I spent most of it alone, between packs and ended up staying that way for the remainder of the race. Aside from runners I passed along the way, I spent the race alone. The hills were a definite challenge, but the down slopes, for the most part, were very forgiving and gave me time to recover at a decent pace. They were nice because they weren't too steep. I had mixed emotions about the three- loop idea. It of course makes perfect sense from a director's point of view, allowing aid stations and water stops to repeat themselves. It also was helpful in maintaining pace because I had become familiar with the terrain. However, if I had to repeat that loop a 4th time, it would have been miserable.”

It’s not over until it’s over as Quinn adds, “The last stretch was very challenging. I thought I had a legitimate shot at breaking 3:00 hours until I got to the last hill. I somehow forgot about it on the way out, but after the return trip, I won't be forgetting about it anytime soon. I finished the race in third and definitely congratulate the two dudes who finished before me, they were awesome. My brother finished in fifth with a 3:07, his best time so far as well, and his first Boston qualifying time, so I was pretty proud of him as well. If I was to run this one differently, I would just make sure to include more hills in my training. I don't think my body was quite ready for so many and as a result, I faded towards the end of the race. Nonetheless, my feelings about this race are positive and would recommend it to any runners who aren't concerned with the "fanfare" typically associated with these races.”

The women’s race was dominated by Lydia Becker of Camp Hill, Pa., with a winning time of 3:17:42, the 22nd fastest winning female time in the history of the race. Runner up and first master Yoshiko Jo of Swarthmore, Pa., with a time of 3:37:30. Jo clocked the 13th fastest master’s time in the history of the race. Third place and second master was Togni Mamazza of Arlington, Va., with a time of 3:50:47.

“What a surprise! I am so honored to be in the first master woman. It was my first time to running Washington’s Birthday Marathon (WBM) I did not know that it had 18 hills! Yes, it was a lot. But, I do run in the mountains when I go back to Japan, where we have many serious hills, so I am used to running hills. However, since I did not realize that it had 18 hills so I was there to finish the race within 3 hours 29 minutes. I ran Philadelphia marathon last November with a time of 3:21:23”, stated Jo.

Jo adds, “If I have to give some comment to someone who considers this race to run, I would say about the weather. It was lucky this year. It was very pleasant but I think a race in February in the area is unpredictable. So, I would suggest them to prepare for all kinds of weather!”

“One thing I realized at this race is about my costume. I wore a “frog hat". I love running in general and I would love to enjoy more of this 26 mile journey. So, I go for silly things. I was on the cover of Philadelphia marathon official catalogue as well as I was on a billboard in Philly. So, when I ran Philly last November, many people recognized me with that hat from the race catalogue and a billboard. Several people at WBM recognized me from Philly race, and it was nice to run with them again. Since some of them ran with me, as a frog lady, during Philly, which I did not realize, they told me how they saw or followed me at Philly, when they saw me at WBM. Those guys finished a way better than I did yesterday!!” comments Jo.

In closing, “It is not because I was awarded, but I would strongly recommend this race to anyone if they don't mind the unpredictable weather. It was really challenging course and super well organized. I truly enjoyed the course and people at the race were truly nice and very kind. If I will run the race again, I will train for hills more, so that I feel more comfortable dealing with it. Otherwise, it was very well organized race and everything was truly good experience for me. .I also really enjoyed chili soup after the race. I wish I could get a second serving....”

Jennifer Sheriff of Ijamsville, Md., was leading out in second place going into the second loop. We have all been in a position when it’s not your day. “This is my first DNF. So, I have run other races but never a marathon. I selected this race because I needed a training run and thought this would be good. I didn’t know the difficulty of the course. The hills were definitely a challenge as was the traffic on the roads. I thought the race was well supported but to be honest the traffic on the course and all didn’t leave me with the best feeling for attempting this race again”, stated Sheriff.

“Also, that hill at the end is just not even funny! What’s up with that? Oh, it was brutal to even walk up it and I train on hills in Frederick so I am used to hills. I did learn a lot from the race as I need to pace myself better. I also learned that the last .2 miles of any marathon, whether I run the whole thing or not, is going to be the longest .2 of my life LOL. I learned that I need to do more hill work in my training”, added Sheriff.

“My first two WBMs were as a high school student (we had no real organized indoor track then in Washington County). As a 16-year old junior, I ran 3:22 in 1975, and then I got my first sub-3:00 marathon there as a senior (2:53:07 at age 17) in 1976. In the last two miles I passed the 1972 50-Mile Champion and ultramarathon legend – Park Barner. I was pretty pumped up about beating Park until I read an article in the Washington Post pointing-out that he ran non-stop from his home outside of Harrisburg, Pa., to the race (through the night) as a “warm-up””, stated Mike Spinnler of Hagerstown, Md., race director, JFK 50 Miler.

The following teams dominated the 19th Washington’s Birthday Marathon Relay (distances 9.7 miles, 7.3 miles and the last leg is 9.2 miles):

Open Men
Washington Running Club 2:37:38
Steve Moore, Daniel, Daniel Yi, Harash Thirumurthy
Record 2:26:50 (1998)

Open Women
Stelbillskins 3:56:50
Stephanie Kramer, Lacy Shipley, Annmarie Jezioro
Record 2:48:38 (1989)

Master Men
The DVD’s 3:19:58
Duane Rosenburg, Dave Heintzman, Victor Oliphant
Record 2:27:29 (1997)

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