Retta Feyissa's first Marine Corps Marathon ended around the 14th Street Bridge, when the Ethiopia native halted his bid to win the 2002 race because of pain in his right hamstring.
The 29-year-old Feyissa returned for yesterday's race on a reconfigured course, and this time, as he charged onto the bridge with six miles to go, Feyissa's morning was just getting started.
It was a great day for spectators, but runners found the high temperature oppressive. Approximately 45 marathoners were taken to area hospitals.
(Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Over the final six miles of the 26.2-mile race, he and two running mates gradually reeled in Mexico's Salvador Miranda and then caught Carl Rundell, a Michigan-based runner who led for nearly 24 miles. With one last push in the race's final mile, Feyissa separated himself from Rundell's teammate, Terry Shea, opened his only significant lead of the day and crossed the finish line in 2 hours 25 minutes 35 seconds to become the Marine Corps' first African-born winner.
Feyissa's winning time was the third slowest in the race's 29-year history, due in no small part to a blazing sun and temperatures that climbed into the high 70s. According to Capt. Bruce Adams, the marathon medical director, approximately 45 people were taken to area hospitals with heat-related illnesses and dehydration, which is about four times as many as last year.
But after making amends for his disappointment in 2002, Feyissa was worried about neither the heat nor his winning time.
"That's why I'm coming back, to try to win," he said. "My dream is to win the Marine Corps Marathon. My dream is coming true today."
Mary Kate Bailey, a 29-year-old Marine captain from Arlington, won the women's race in 2:48:31, almost three minutes ahead of Kim Fagen of San Diego.
Nearly 17,000 runners started the race, heading north on Route 110 in Arlington for the first time due to changes in the course. Rundell, one of three starters from the prestigious Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, grabbed the lead immediately with an aggressive pace, stretching his advantage to well over 90 seconds as the field ran over the Key Bridge, in and out of Rock Creek Park and along the Mall.
The 36-year-old was aiming to run a 2:20 marathon, and despite the heat he clung to that pace through the halfway point.
But Miranda, a 33-year-old Mexican marine, had broken with the trailing pack at around Mile 10, and began to slice into Rundell's lead as they skirted the Tidal Basin and ran into East Potomac Park. Miranda twice drew within steps of the leader on the 14th Street Bridge, both times falling back as his hamstrings cramped.
Despite being reduced to an awkward shuffle, Miranda fought through the pain, later explaining through a translator that it would take more to chase him off the course.
"I don't know," he said when asked why he didn't quit. "I'm from Mexico."
Meantime, the drama was building behind the two leaders. Several contenders -- including defending champion Peter Sherry of Great Falls and Hansons-Brooks runner Bob Busquaert -- fell off the pace around the halfway point, and soon Feyissa, Shea and 2002 champion Christopher Juarez clung together as the final stalkers.
While Rundell and Miranda gritted their way across the bridge, the threesome steadily advanced, breezing through a Crystal City street fair while drawing ever closer to the leaders.