Janet Cherobon is women's Marine Corps Marathon winner in fifth-fastest time ever

Runners participate in the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon.
By Carl Little
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2010; 1:02 AM

Trick or treat?

Janet Cherobon didn't have to choose. She got both during the Halloween edition of the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. The 32-year-old registered nurse was the top female, winning the 35th annual race by a wide margin.

Cherobon treated herself and an announced crowd of 100,000 to one of the fastest finishes in recent history, covering the 26.2-mile course in a chip-timed 2 hours 42 minutes 38 seconds.

The trick came when race officials failed to stretch a tape across the finish line. Cherobon said she was expecting to see one as she neared the end of the race. She was greeted by wild applause and the public address announcer welcoming her in, but no ribbon, a tradition at most major marathons, including this one.

The problem was that Cherobon was too fast. Officials were tracking every runner's progress by the chips they wore on their bodies, but incorrectly predicted Cherobon's time of arrival.

No female had broken 2:47 since 2003. Cherobon's time was fifth fastest among women in race history. Only 32 males finished in front of her.

Gina Slaby, a 29-year old Navy lieutenant from Tucson, took second place in 2:46:57. She moved from fourth place into third just beyond the halfway point near the Washington monument and captured second around Mile 16 near the Lincoln Memorial.

It was Slaby's third Marine Corps Marathon and she finished with a personal-best time, a far cry from her 2008 experience in which she faded during the final three miles and needed an intravenous drip to recover.

"This is the best marathon," said Slaby, who led the Navy women over Army in the Armed Forces challenge. "Getting to run through the Mall and see the Capitol is so awesome."

Tezata Desalgn was third in 2:50:37 after a nine-year absence from marathoning. The 30-year-old Burtonsville resident last ran a marathon in 2001, before giving birth to her two daughters. She wasn't going to run this year, but filled in when teammate Muliye Gurmu, last year's champion, decided to withdraw a few weeks ago because of a lower-leg injury.

Desalgn has grown more accustomed to running shorter races - she competed for Turkey in the 5K at the 2004 Olympics in Athens - and her speed was a major asset on Sunday.

But the day belonged to Cherobon. Paced by teammate Michael Wardian of Arlington, she separated from the rest of the women in the race fairly early, increasing her advantage with every stride. She winced when it was over, doused herself with water and gingerly sat in a metal folding chair.

Cherobon said that she was in so much pain that, had it not been for Wardian and the "great crowd," she would have considered quitting the race. "It was more than I expected," she said.

It was a stunning admission considering that Cherobon has been battle-tested. She was a three-time distance national champion while competing for Division II Harding University in Arkansas, has won her last five marathons and has a personal-best half-marathon time of 1:10:59.

Perhaps the same grit that led Cherobon to finish the process of becoming a U.S. citizen- the Kenya native will be sworn in on Nov. 10 - led her to finish the race. Cherobon had hardly any time to study, so she said she listened to the review sessions on her mp3 player while she was out on long runs.

She is already planning another assault on the Marine Corps Marathon record.

"Next year," said Cherobon, "I think I'll come and really try."

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