An Oct. 3 Sports article incorrectly identified the second-place finisher in the Army Ten-Miler, Ryan Kirkpatrick, as a member of the Royal Norwegian Army Team. Kirkpatrick is a member of the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program. (Published 10/11/2005)
A report of a suspicious package under the 14th Street Bridge yesterday morning caused Army Ten-Miler organizers to reroute the 20,000 runners taking part in the largest 10-mile race in the country. The improvised course lengthened the race by between 1 and 11/2 miles and altered the finish line, making it unofficial. As a result, no times were provided and no awards were given.
Race organizers learned of the threat moments after the race started at 8 a.m. The reported package turned out to be a pile of construction material, including wood.
"Race officials made this course change so runners could complete the race and spectators could participate in a safe and secure manner," said Barbara Owens, media chief of the Military District of Washington, which runs the race.
The Harbor Patrol Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department was doing a routine sweep of the area when an officer spotted a suspicious pile of material between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. Only a portion of the material was visible from the boat.
"We take any kind of suspicious package seriously," said Cathy Lanier, commander of special operations for the Metropolitan Police Department. "We'd rather be safe than sorry."
Race officials decided that they would need to make a decision on whether to use the 14th Street Bridge by the time the lead runner crossed the seven-mile mark. The turnoff for the bridge was at 73/4 miles. When D.C. police failed to give the all-clear in time, officials scrambled to clear a new path for the runners.
The Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit "was still investigating on site so we made the decision to continue on with the race, but reroute it back to the starting line," said Col. Joseph Torres, operations officer for the Military District of Washington.
Chris Graff, 29 of Rosslyn, ultimately crossed the finish line first, but had to improvise. He wasn't aware the race had gone awry until he passed the turn for the bridge.
"I knew we weren't going the right way because the eight-mile mark is supposed to be a left turn toward the 14th Street Bridge," said Graff, who won the Army Ten-Miler in 1999. "So I sprinted up next to the media truck and asked them what was going on. They said the bridge was unavailable. I said, 'Well, where do we go?' They kind of looked at me like, 'I don't know. Where do you want to go?' "
Instead of turning onto the bridge, runners proceeded along Independence Avenue in the opposite direction they ran earlier in the race. But just past the steps of the Lincoln Memorial -- on Ohio Drive, underneath the overpass -- thousands of runners converged on the leaders.
"We got back to the point where we're going straight at four or five thousand people so the [lead] truck and car had to stop," Graff said. "I was thinking if I go face-to-face with four thousand people I'm going to get killed. . . . You don't want to go [running] into a swarm of people. I said, 'Well, I know how to get home,' so I made a left right up over the grass and ran home across the Memorial Bridge and it happened to be the finish line when I got back."
The second finisher, Ryan Kirkpatrick, 26, of the Royal Norwegian Army team, also ran up the grassy slope that bisects Ohio Drive and Rock Creek Parkway. Eventually, race officials began directing the runners to continue along Ohio Drive until it reaches Rock Creek Parkway, then up the ramp that leads to Memorial Bridge.
The top female finisher, 23-year-old Samia Akbar of Reston, was not upset by the extra distance, but wished she knew how fast she ran.
"I felt great, and I was unfazed by [the course change] because I was happy to be here," Akbar said. "But one thing that was frustrating for myself and I know for a lot of the other runners is we didn't get all of our times or our splits, and we really would have liked to know what our times were, at least through 10 miles. But they weren't in control of what happened so it was frustrating for all of us."
Staff writer Nancy Trejos contributed to this report.