For the first 23 miles of yesterday's Marine Corps Marathon, Peter Sherry waited. Past looming marble monuments and snapshot-worthy backdrops and cheering crowds, the 35-year-old Great Falls, Va., resident lurked in the background, often more than 60 seconds off the lead.
Then, in the most desolate stretch of the 26.2-mile course -- a one-mile industrial patch between the Potomac River and Route 1 in Arlington -- Sherry's moment came. In front of a lonely school bus, a dormant dump truck, several construction sites and not a single spectator, Sherry finally drew even with the badly cramping leader, 24-year-old Eric Post of Fairfax.
The early bird -- Calvin Steede, 44, from Bermuda -- faded to 182nd after early lead. Georgetown graduate, winner Peter Sherry took lead after 23rd mile.
(Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
The two ran side-by-side for several yards, and after giving Post a brief word of encouragement, Sherry sped off. Soon, the crowds returned, the finish line approached and Sherry raised his arms in triumph, earning his first marathon victory in 2 hours 25 minutes 7 seconds. Post was second in 2:27:49.
"You make a turn and it's like you're in a back alley; I didn't even know if I was still on the course," said Sherry, describing the scene of the race's denouement. "All of a sudden you come out of it and it's packed with people, and everyone's saying 'You're going to win, you're going to win.' "
The women's race held no such drama. Heather Hanscom, a 25-year-old Alexandria resident who trains in the same group as Sherry, pulled away early and was never challenged. Her winning time of 2:37:59 -- the second-fastest women's time in the race's 28-year history -- was nearly 21 minutes faster than that of the second woman, Englishwoman Lindsay Gannon.
"It hasn't quite hit me yet what I was able to do; I think it will take two or three days," said Hanscom, a researcher for the American Red Cross. "I just took it mile by mile near the end, but the last few miles I definitely started getting tired."
Hanscom easily qualified for next April's Olympic trials in her marathon debut.
Sherry had already qualified for the trials, as had Aaron Church, yesterday's early leader. Church, 28, of South Riding, opened a large lead over Post and Sherry during the first mile of an unseasonably warm and humid day.
Church ran by himself for 14 miles, but the balls of his feet developed blisters at Mile 9. Five miles later, in front of the National Gallery of Art's West Building, Church veered off the course. Aid workers untied his shoes, took off his socks and wrapped his feet. By the time Church returned to the road, with one of his socks inside-out, he had lost 2 1/2 minutes and dropped to third place.
"I was on such a roll and I felt great, absolutely great," said Church, who still finished third in 2:28:24, 18 minutes faster than his time at the 2001 Marine Corps. "My feet are just on fire, but the Marine Corps is about finishing and there's no way I was not going to finish."
Post and Sherry, meantime, ran together for the first 10 miles, but when Sherry got a stitch in his side midway through Rock Creek Park, Post moved on. The math teacher and assistant track coach at Chantilly High, his alma mater, was running his second marathon, aiming to break 2:22 and qualify for the Olympic trials.
After Church went down, Post inherited the lead. With college teammates and friends screaming his name, he maintained a 50-second lead over Sherry around the Tidal Basin and through Hains Point. But as he began the 23rd mile midway across the 14th Street Bridge, Post began gritting his teeth and glancing over his shoulder at a rapidly advancing Sherry.
"I feel like I can run as tough as anybody . . . but when you're done, you're done, and that's where it happened," Post said. "I knew if I faltered at all [Sherry] would get me; I knew that was how it'd work. He has so much experience, he's so talented, and I knew he'd be there."
Sherry, best known for his 5,000- and 10,000-meter success, was running his third marathon. He earned his trials qualifying time at the 2001 New York City Marathon, but said he may skip February's marathon trials to concentrate on the 5,000- and 10,000- meter trials. He considered pulling out of yesterday's race after the early cramps, and then struggled with hamstring cramps during the final two miles.
Sherry might have earned a performance-based cash award had he run the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago; Marine Corps offers no prize money. But the 1991 Georgetown graduate had long wanted to run the area's premier distance event, and he hoped a win would attract publicity for his new running store in Arlington, Gotta Run.
More than two hours after Sherry's victory, as he watched hundreds of the 15,973 finishers approach the line he crossed first, he had no regrets.
"Anytime you win, you go out and beat 16,000 people, that's a good day," said Sherry, the first local man to win since Weldon Johnson of Washington in 1998. "Some people would rather run faster or win a little money, but you can't beat this. This is probably the biggest win of my career."