Low Expectations, Big Finish

Kristen Henehan is all smiles after winning the marathon in 2:51:14.
Kristen Henehan is all smiles after winning the marathon in 2:51:14. "I was going out with the mind-set of . . . 'I want it to be a positive experience.' " (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007

Kristen Henehan had modest goals entering yesterday's Marine Corps Marathon. Like many first-time marathoners, she hoped to finish. She also didn't want the experience to scar her so badly that she'd lose her desire to run marathons.

Henehan met those goals and then some. With a strong kick over the last half-mile, the 28-year-old Silver Spring resident and former Georgetown all-American passed second-place finisher Lisa Thomas to win the women's division, crossing the finish line in 2 hours 51 minutes 14 seconds. Thomas, a 31-year-old Alexandria resident, followed 26 seconds later.

"I ran very competitively in college, so when I signed up for this I just wanted to do it for fun because it was something I always wanted to do," Henehan said. "I didn't have very high expectations. . . . I truly was not going out with the mind-set 'I want to win.' I was going out with the mind-set of 'I'm running my first marathon and I want it to be a positive experience.' "

Henehan, an English major who graduated in 2001, is no stranger to competitive running. Kristen Gordon, as she was then known, won the 1996 Foot Locker national cross-country championship in high school before going on to become a three-time all-American distance runner for the Hoyas. She finished fourth in the 1998 NCAA cross-country championships and third in the 1998 NCAA indoor championships at 3,000 meters.

Now a lobbyist for Evans Capitol Group, Henehan began training for the marathon in July. Before yesterday, her longest run was 22 miles -- and that was a training run leading up to this race. Her longest competitive race was September's Virginia Beach Rock 'n' Roll half marathon, which she completed in 1:23:14 to finish 17th.

Running with fellow members of the Pacers training group for the first 18 miles, Henehan said the effort felt more like a fun run than a race.

"Me and two other women [Thomas and Alicia Pease] were in the front from four miles," Henehan said. "It never felt like we were racing. We just kept encouraging each other. I think that's what helped me to stay so relaxed the whole time."

Thomas, who works in pharmaceutical sales, has run several marathons but none since giving birth to her daughter Lucy a year ago. She surged ahead by 30 to 35 yards around the 23-mile mark. The William & Mary graduate and Ironman triathlete held the lead for the next couple of miles, but couldn't hold off the hard-charging Henehan. Even though she set a personal best by nearly three minutes, Thomas was disappointed to be passed near the finish.

"She caught me right at the turnaround on [Route] 110 and I just couldn't keep going," Thomas said. "Ah, so close."

Henehan had been ready to concede the race to Thomas, but then her competitive juices kicked in.

"I knew as long as I kept the pace I was in this thing," Henehan said. "Then when Lisa started to break away from me, I kind of thought, 'Hey, you know, I'm running a good time. I'll be happy with it.' Then with about a half-mile to go, I said to myself, 'I have something left, I'm going to go for it.' "

After the race, Henehan looked as if she could have run another 26.2 miles. She stood laughing and smiling, her ponytail bobbing as she enthusiastically posed for pictures and received congratulations. Her sunny personality matched the bright fall day.

Henehan was asked, given how well things turned out, if she plans to run any more marathons.

"I may just have to," she said with a big grin.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company