Running marathons may be on the downswing nationwide, but not in Virginia.
Sunday's 10th Marine Corps Marathon had 2,869 Virginians registered, compared with last year's 2,576, even though the overall total of registered runners dropped from 12,000 last year to 10,936 this year, according to Marine Corps figures.
Both the top male and top female winners were from Virginia -- Tom Bernard from Hayes, east of Williamsburg, and Natalie Updegrove from Richmond -- as well as nine of the top 40 male winners.
Most Virginians interviewed said location was one of the chief reasons they run the Marine Corps Marathon. "I knew it was close and I knew I could get there okay," said Updegrove, who runs with the Richmond Road Runners and averages 60 to 65 miles a week.
"You watch Chicago and New York on TV but this is right here," said Mark Kelly, 23, of Charlottesville, who placed 14th. "If I had been in New York, I wouldn't have seen anybody I knew." Several members of the Charlottesville Track Club ran Sunday.
"I have noticed that Virginia does have well-organized clubs," said Michael Cobb, 25, of Alexandria, who placed seventh and moved to Virginia just 10 months ago. Diane C. Ridgeway, who placed sixth among Virginia women in the race, said her Virginia Beach running club puts on one and sometimes two events each weekend. Ridgeway ran Sunday's marathon because of the location and "because I wanted to qualify for Boston and I had heard it was one of the best in the country."
Ridgeway and Cobb, a USDA employe who runs the 12 miles from his home to work in the District, reiterated what other runners said over and over throughout the day Sunday: The Marines run a good marathon. "The organization is superb," said Cobb. "They don't have to rely on volunteers. At the start of the race they tried to shoo us back behind the line and no one dared argue."
"I had been told it was a good one to go to for your first marathon," said Updegrove.
Marine Corps officials gear the race toward first-time runners and those for whom the race is a personal challenge. "If they aren't going for a record, the only reason they are doing this is for a personal challenge," said Warrant Officer Randy Gaddo. "The one who finishes 8,000 has got to have another motivation."
One of those was Danny Malm of Burke, a physical education teacher and coach in Fairfax County public schools. Four years ago, while he was a student at the Air Force Academy, he was struck by a car while crossing the street in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He was in a coma for three months and was diagnosed as having a brain stem injury.
"I've come back a long ways," said Malm, 25, who had been a star athlete on high school football and soccer teams and an Air Force athlete. He ran the marathon to raise contributions for the National Head Injury Foundation. "My goal was just to finish the entire distance running, not walking . . . and I did." His time was 5 hours, 22 minutes.