Mark Croasdale rounded a bend as he approached the 14th Street Bridge, the gusting wind pressing his shirt and shorts against his body and turning his eyes into narrow slits. The difficult conditions and Croasdale's somewhat choppy gait suggested that the 34-year-old corporal in the British Royal Navy was tiring. But the move he was making at the 20th mile of the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday told an entirely different story.
At the point when it seemed everyone else began to fade, with both male and female runners falling back as they faced the wind's strongest lashes, Croasdale took over the road. Glancing frequently over his shoulder to check his competition, Croasdale took a commanding lead 1 hour 50 minutes into the race and held on to win his first Marine Corps Marathon title in 2:23:27.
"I must admit I felt really strong," said Croasdale, who is based in Devon, England. "It's always easy when you're winning."
It wasn't easy for Bea Marie Altieri of Columbia. Altieri opened up a four-minute margin in the women's race at about the 14th mile, but lost her energy at Mile 20 and her commanding lead three miles later. Altieri's fade opened the way for Donna Moore, 39, an Internal Revenue Service tax law specialist.
Moore took over from the tiring Altieri, 32, and pulled away, winning her second Marine Corps Marathon title in 2:51:53 after a victory in 1997. Altieri, meanwhile, staggered in at 2:56:48.
"At Mile 21, I just went completely empty," Altieri said. "All of a sudden, it was all downhill. Not literally--physically."
Finishing second in the men's race was 1996 Olympian Mark Coogan, a University of Maryland graduate and professional runner who crossed the finish line in 2:24:18. In town to promote a snack food energy bar, Coogan requested an entry into the race on Saturday night.
Coogan, who had moved up from fifth to second during the middle miles, said he treated the race merely as a hard training run and wasn't really trying to catch Croasdale.
"I could have won if I had wanted to," said Coogan, 33, who finished 41st in 2:20:36 at the Atlanta Olympics marathon. "[Croasdale] was having a good race. I was happy for him. I could see he was wearing the Royal Navy singlet."
Croasdale said he approached this race determined to win and was prepared to go as fast as his personal best, which he said was 2:17. Croasdale figured the goal was reasonable; after all, he brought his own bit of Olympic experience to yesterday's race. He competed in the 10 kilometers at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France--in cross-country skiing, the sport he loves most. Croasdale, who did not win a medal, hopes to make England's 2000 Olympic marathon team.
"I've been to the winter [Olympics] and they were superb," Croasdale said. "I'd like to go for the summer ones."
Though Croasdale said he was bothered by the strong winds, he nonetheless looked fresh in the finishing area to have weathered an aggressive push from Coogan--had it come. Croasdale, who finished second in last year's race and third in 1996, also helped the Royal Navy win yesterday's Challenge Cup team competition with the Marines as well as the overall race among all branches of the armed forces.
Croasdale said yesterday's race was his ninth marathon. Croasdale and his wife, Julie, have four children.
With a training schedule that sometimes includes 120 miles per week, Croasdale said, "I needed help from my wife" to be in a position to win. Croasdale also got help from the enthusiastic, encouraging fans who lined the course--although, perhaps because of the temperatures in the mid-forties, the crowd appeared sparser than at last year's race.
The temperatures suited the runners better than the fans. Of the roughly 14,500 runners who began the race, 14,364 finished.
After staying with a tight pack of runners for nearly 20 miles, Croasdale saw his competitors drop off one by one. A small handful of runners fell back at Mile 5. At Mile 8 another leader fell off. Then, for 11 miles, Croasdale ran in a three-person group that included Coogan and Jeb Myers, 24, of Camden, N.J.
The threesome ran shoulder-to-shoulder along the mall, up Capitol Hill, past Union Station and the Supreme Court building. They ran together along the other side of the mall, past the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. They ran next to one another around the Tidal Basin and to the tip of Hains Point at Mile 18.
For the next two miles, it was a two-man race between Myers and Croasdale. Coogan had dropped a couple hundred yards behind the leaders. When Myers--who finished in sixth place--began to fall back around the 20th mile, leaving the field to Croasdale, Coogan closed within about 30 yards.
"When I realized I had a chance to win," said Coogan, who has already qualified for next year's U.S. Olympic trials, "I had some mental battle as to whether I should race or not."
Coogan decided not to go after the victory.
Croasdale had something else in mind.
"I came here to win," Croasdale said. "That's what I wanted to do."