Susannah Kvasnicka usually competes in only one marathon a year. But four weeks to the day after a disappointing performance in the Twin Cities Marathon, the 33-year-old Great Falls native returned home yesterday to claim the women's title in the Marine Corps Marathon with the second-fastest time in five years.
Competing in only her second Marine Corps Marathon, Kvasnicka encountered little resistance from the field as she finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours 47 minutes 7 seconds. She held off last-minute entrant Liz Wilson, who crossed the finish at 2:49:55.
"I've never done anything like this before," said Kvasnicka about competing in back-to-back marathons. "Everyone that I spoke to advised against it. I thought I'd come out and see what happens. To get a win like this at the Marine Corps is worth something even if I didn't hit a great time. It's in my home town. I had a lot of friends and family along the course. I know the course pretty well. "
Kvasnicka came into yesterday's race with few expectations. She finished 67th in the Twin Cities event, faltering over the last third of the course with dehydration and nausea. And she had done little training since then until a 15-mile test run on Thursday.
Yet Kvasnicka made amends for her Twin Cities results when she sprinted to the lead two miles into the race -- averaging a split of 6:22 per mile -- en route to her first marathon win in seven attempts. "This is a big accomplishment for me," said Kvasnicka, a stay-at-home mother with two sons ages 8 and 5.
"Twin Cities was my goal marathon. Since then, I have not done much of anything. I didn't know I was going to run this for sure until a week ago. I just didn't know what to expect."
Meanwhile Wilson, of Eugene, Ore., gained entry Saturday afternoon only after pleading for approval from marathon director Rick Nealis.
Wilson came to the event to support her sister and mother-in-law, who were walking the event in honor of her older brother Jon, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
"I got a little overzealous, and thought I was missing something," joked Wilson, 37, a member of four U.S. World Cross-Country teams and a seven-time all-American at the University of Oregon. She was also one of three women to place in the top 15 at both the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic trials.
"You only live once, so I wanted to see if I could get into the event."
Although she had not run competitively in a marathon since a seventh-place finish at Twin Cities in 2004, Wilson convinced Nealis she could compete.
"She told me she was a pretty fast runner," Nealis said. "In what we are doing here to honor fallen soldiers, I had a soft spot. I took her at face value."
Despite her success, Wilson described a struggle to take each mile one at a time. Still, she outdistanced a handful of local favorites that included Cathy Pugsley, proprietor of the Potomac River running stores, who finished fifth at 2:58:45.
"I was thinking all the time about the next mile, the next mile and the next mile," Wilson said. "I thought if I ran smart enough in the beginning that I could run well. Suddenly though in the Mile 23, I began to feel it."