David Spiller expected little of himself in yesterday's Marathon in the Parks. A recent ankle injury forced him to take a two-month layoff, and he was running only his second race at the distance.
But Spiller, a 24-year-old from Harrisonburg, Va., surprised himself with a solid run and a tactically sound race, outlasting a pair of African runners to win the race through Montgomery County in 2 hours 33 minutes 11 seconds.
Denise Knickman of Baltimore won the women's race going away, finishing in 2:59:18.
Spiller locked on to the lead pair -- Silas Kiplagat of Kenya and Retta Feyissa of Ethiopia -- at about the 20th mile, and passed Kiplagat in the 25th mile.
"I just went out easy, just me and one of my friends were going to run together at a six-minute pace, and we were going to see if we could catch some people at the end," Spiller said. "I guess I did a pretty good job."
Spiller sprained his right ankle in August while training in California with Fila Discovery USA, an elite marathon training program. That injury kept him from training until just a month ago, and he has been building up to the marathon distance since.
"I was really just jumping into this as a training run," he said. "I've never won anything this big."
Spiller may have gotten some local knowledge of the race from his running partner, college friend and current roommate Lake Stockdreher, the runner-up in last year's race. A 2001 graduate of James Madison University, Spiller set school records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
Spiller was the first of 860 runners to cross the finish line in the event, a point-to-point race from the Shady Grove Metro station to downtown Bethesda, winding through 20 miles of parklands on the way. Kiplagat, 23 and a resident of Poland, finished in 2:33:38, and Feyissa, 28 and a resident of Washington, posted a time of 2:34:02.
Knickman, 34, didn't have as much competition to deal with, as she took the lead after the first mile and never looked back.
"I guess I wasn't sure how many people would be under three hours, but I figured if I could be under three, I had a pretty good chance to win," she said.
The marathon win was a first for Knickman, who has run in six marathons and was a 2000 U.S. Olympic trials qualifier. She came back to run the Marathon in the Parks after finishing fourth in the Baltimore Marathon a month ago.
"I felt like I recovered from that pretty quickly, and I've been feeling good in my training, so I thought I might as well try it," she said. "On Wednesday I thought 'Maybe I'll do it,' Thursday I said 'Okay, I'll do it,' and I signed up on Friday."
As a late entry, Knickman ended up blowing away the field, as Patty Fulton, 36, of Silver Spring, finished in second place at 3:05:32, more than six minutes behind.
Though Knickman prefers shorter distances to grueling marathons, she said the distance is probably her best. Knickman, who has a personal best of 2:47:26 in a marathon, said she hopes to qualify for the Olympic trials in 2004.
While running more than 26 miles isn't Knickman's favorite thing to do, she said completing yesterday's marathon might be one of the easier parts of her day.
"The hard part is going to be getting home," said Knickman, who came by herself, without running partners or crowd support. "It's difficult to get my foot from the gas to the brake after all that running."