'Complete Surprise' Paces Women

Laura Thompson of Boise, Idaho, crosses the finish line in 3 hours, 22 seconds to win the female division of the Marine Corps Marathon in her first attempt.
Laura Thompson of Boise, Idaho, crosses the finish line in 3 hours, 22 seconds to win the female division of the Marine Corps Marathon in her first attempt. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Rachel Zavala
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 30, 2006

When Laura Thompson gently stepped up to the starting line, she expected to take in the monuments and run a relatively calm marathon with no racing tactics in mind. Later she was stunned to break the female finisher's banner, claiming first place.

Thompson, 31, of Boise, Idaho, won her first Marine Corps Marathon in three hours and 22 seconds, edging out second-place winner Brenda Schrank, 34, of Winchester, who finished in 3:02:34.

"I just stopped checking my watch after the first mile," Thompson said. "This is a complete surprise. I just wanted to run for fun, and then it turned out to be a great race."

Thompson said she did not keep track of the other female runners, instead listening to the cues of the boisterous crowd that kept her well informed of her status in the pack throughout the race. Thompson stayed in third place for much of the course, alongside eventual third-place finisher Suzanne Himes, 37, of Virginia Beach, who finished in 3:02:56. Thompson said Himes "was very motivational and helped me through the entire race."

Thompson hit the 15-mile mark in 1:40:27, and unexpectedly took the lead in Crystal City at mile 23.

"I think the other women started slowing down instead of me speeding up to catch them, because I was hurting the whole race, this was a hard race for me," said Thompson, who averaged a 6:52-minute-mile pace.

Thompson said fatigue and pain began to affect her the last few miles when she was in first place, then anxiety set in as she "began to worry about everyone" closing in on her.

"Everyone had warned me about that last hill up [to] the Iwo Jima memorial, and I was really hurting by then and just wanted to stop running, but you just can't do that with the crowds here screaming," Thompson said.

Thompson said she began running seriously in 1997 to get in shape, and has completed five marathons, including the New York City Marathon. She said the Marine Corps Marathon has always been on her marathon to-do list because of "the focus on all the people and American pride."

Second-place finisher Schrank, who runs with the Air Force Armed Forces team and placed 11th last year, said she was suddenly asked three weeks ago to compete in the race, and didn't have time to complete any training.

"If I had trained, I would have done worse today. I thought it was better to come in rested and healthy instead of tired and injured," Schrank said.

At first she declined to run the marathon, then agreed after she learned that a fellow Air Force team member had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer; she ran with his picture on her back.

Schrank was determined to run even splits throughout the race, but was slightly deterred by the strong winds along the course. She maintained a steady pace among the top 10 female racers the first half of the race, then began to gain at mile 17 as others began dropping back.

"Even though I found out three weeks ago, I have experience, and that is the key. I have run 10 marathons, and you gain experience with each one, and think back and learn from it," Schrank said.

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