Waving, smiling and taking mental pictures of sections of the city he says he never had seen before, Will Albers of Fairfax pulled away from a pack of six runners at about the 12-mile mark and won the first D.C. Marathon yesterday.
Albers, 25, running his his first marathon since he had knee surgery for a torn cartilage in December, covered the hilly, winding 26.2-mile course in 2:27.58, approximately 1 1/4 miles ahead of second place Doug Wood of the Quantico Marine Base. Wood finished in 2:35.26. Jacob Wind of Arlington was third in 2:36.33, Herb Chisolm of Alexandria was fourth in 2:38.30 and Walter Sargent was fifth in 2:39.56.
Susan McDonald of Woodbridge, Va., a captain in the Air Force, was the first woman finisher. Her time of 3:25.16 was good for 143rd place overall. Edward Benham, 73, of Ocean City, the oldest runner in the race, finished in 174th place in 3:32.10.
Seven hundred and sixteen runners started the race and more than 500 finished it on a hot, hazy and humid morning hardly conducive to fast times or long distance running. The race began at 8 a.m. and crowds were sparse along most of the route.
One participant who did receive a major share of the warm ovations from scattered knots of spectators throughout all eight wards of the city was 21-year-old Sylvester Fiers of Washington, the only wheelchair participant. Fiers, a member of the Capital Wheelchair Athletic Club and the U.S.A. record holder in the 200, 400 and 800 meter races, was given a five-minute head start over the runners and finished 26th overall in 2:54.26.
Albers, who had the best marathon time coming into the race (2:17.50), ran with a group of six runners for the first 12 miles. That section was considered the toughest part of the race because of the twisting hills through Georgetown and Rock Creek Park. Then Albers and Wood left the group, running together the next two miles.
At 14 miles, Wood fell back and Albers was never threatened again. "I couldn't quite keep up after that," Wood said. "But it was enjoyable and I was happy with my time. This marathon definitely has potential."
"I did a lot of sightseeing along the way," said Albers, minutes after crossing the finish line on the Mall to the cheers of several hundred spectators. "The city is really beautiful. It was a very nice race. I haven't run many long ones since coming back in January and I thought about dropping a couple of times. But the hills and the knee didn't bother me. After the halfway mark, there was no one behind me so I just put it in cruise control."
McDonald, who ran along with her husband Bill and a friend Lt. Col. Al Richmond, was ecstatic over her time.
"I wanted to break four hours and I did much better," said McDonald. "I'm in pretty good shape. The hills were tough and it was a bit difficult. We ran part of the course earlier and drove some of it so we knew what to expect."
"I was very happy with the way it went," said Samuel LaBeach, race chairman and associate director of the sponsoring D.C. Recreation Department. "For the first time, I thought everyone involved did a very fine job. . . There were no major problems or complaints."
Except for a small problem now and then with traffic, most runners seemed pleased with the organization and the running of the race.
"This could be a very good marathon," said Albers, who was cheered by hundreds of early-risers along the way. "But to be successful, you have to put out some money. Better runners will participate if, maybe the winner got a color TV. I know I would."
Albers did have one anxious moment. He and Wood exchanged looks of bewilderment and smiles when they saw the orange cones and a green stripe going down one street but were directed to follow the lead truck around a different corner by race monitors from Coolidge High School.
"I saw that," Albers said. "I just followed the truck."
La Beach said that was the only mistake along the route but the monitors were alerted and made sure the runners went the correct way.
All along the way, onlookers, some unaware of the marathon, looked on in amazement, applauded, snapped pictures and offered encouragement to the runners as they passed. Some city residents had been opposed to the race being held on Palm Sunday and there were a few scattered complaints from people who were held up by traffic.
Fiers, who led for the first 10 miles, said the hills "almost killed him" before he got to some streets he could handle with ease. "Once I got to Benning Road -- my part of town -- I was all right," said Fiers. "This was my first 26-miler. I'm very satisfied with my time but more important that I was able to finish."
Many runners used this as a warmup for the Boston Marathon next week and dropped out after 10 or 15 miles. Most of the dropouts were picked up by buses.
"I went 16 miles, nine more than I've ever ran in my life," said 27-year-old musician Patrick Curtis. "I felt fine but my legs just wouldn't go anymore.So I walked until the bus came. There were a few others on there. Now, I know what it takes, I'll be ready next year. This might have been the first D.C. Marathon but it was very, very nice. It was a lot of fun."
Hairston was second in 2:18.20, well ahead of Russ Junes of Collingswood, N.J., who finished third in 2:24.47.
The first woman finisher was Lena Hollmann, a native of Sweden who lives in Philadelphia. Her time of 2:54.55 was well under the previous women's record of 3:06.15 set by Diane Miller last year. It was Hollmann's first Penn Relays marathon. She finished 75th.