Gebre, Johnson Win 4th Annual
Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

BY DAVID BLOCK

WASHINGTON, DC--The government shutdown forced Steve Nearman, Event Director/Founder of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon to reschedule the race. Originally slated for October 6, Nearman had to push the race back to November 10.

Nearman explained why the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon fell prey to the shutdown: “The first eight miles of the race are on the GW (George Washington) Memorial Parkway. The National Park Service controls it. We needed the park police to shut down the GW Parkway to car traffic so that runners could run on this road (for the first eight miles).” The government shutdown closed the park to the public and laid off all the park rangers.

A number of runners offered to just line up and run the race anyway, but Nearman and the race committee discarded that suggestion. “It’s a bad idea to run on a road that is so well traveled on,” said Nearman.

As early as Labor Day, Nearman knew that the shutdown was imminent; there were too many news reports about Congress discussing budget cuts. Before October, the alternative date of November 10 was already in place. Because the race ran through six jurisdictions, he had to look up six different scheduling calendars to find a date when the police from those jurisdictions would be able to patrol the roads the race used. The only date that suited ALL the police departments was November 10. He paid particular attention to the availability of the Prince George (PG) police because the Washington Redskins’ home games create heavy road traffic (and accident problems) in that jurisdiction. “There’s no way they’d work our race and then a 1 p.m. home game.”

Because the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon is the first Sunday in October, Nearman has to check the Redskins’ schedule at least six months in advance. If a Redskins’ home game falls on the same day as the race, he has to work with the PG Police that far back to make sure they have enough officers on hand to police both the race and the ingoing and outgoing traffic to the football game.

As a result of the shutdown, about 700 entrants deferred to run the race next October. By the fall, most runners’ racing schedules are set. November 10 was a bad date for many of them. “Some were running the New York Marathon the week before (November 3) and others were running the Philadelphia Marathon the following week (November 17), so running a half-marathon shortly before or after a FULL marathon is a bad idea,” said Nearman. This year the field was significantly smaller; 1,738 started the race, and everyone finished.

The Elite Field

The Ethiopians swept the men’s field, 1-2-3; Girma Gebre clocked 1:04:41 to collect $1,200, Siraw Kebede Gelaw finished second, 1:05:12, for $600; and Nahom Mesfin finished third, 1:05:16, for $450.

“I did not know what to expect,” said Gebre through his coach Feven Alem. “I didn’t know anyone (his competitors) or the course.” Gebre trains in Central Park, and he never raced in Washington, DC, or Virginia before.

By the five-mile mark, that Ethiopian trio broke from the pack. None of them vied for the lead; instead they stayed together. They hit five miles in 24:33. Their six-mile split was 29:26. (No splits were provided at the 10K mark.) When they reached eight miles in 39:10, there were still no signs of anyone attempting to push the pace.

After 11 miles, Gebre surged ahead without anyone challenging him.

“I was hoping to win, but he [Gebre] was stronger than me at the end,” said Gelaw through Alem. Gelaw trains in Maryland, and he never before raced against Gebre.

The first American man was fourth place finisher Kieran O’Connor of Washington, DC, in 1:06:51 to collect a total of $900.00; $300.00 for fourth place and $600.00 for being the first American.

“I started out in about 20th or 30th place,” said O’Connor. “I went out and ran the pace that I wanted to run. I just let people go and (as the race progressed) I just reeled them back in.” While his competitors faded, he gradually felt stronger and more confident. His finishing time was a new personal best. “My previous best half-marathon time was 1:09:20.” He credited his improvement to joining the Georgetown Running Club. “They have a lot of great runners who really push me.”

In the women’s field, Kellyn Johnson of Flagstaff, AZ, won for a second straight year. This year she clocked 1:13:02, and last year she posted 1:13:24. She collected the lion’s purse of $1,800.00; $1,200 for finishing first and $600.00 for being the first American woman.

Finishing second was Desta Tadesse of Ethiopia, 1:13:54 for $600; and third was fellow Ethiopian Waynishet Abebe, 1:14:11 for $450.00.

Like last year, Johnson grabbed the lead early without anyone challenging her. “I was pretty much running by myself the whole way,” said Johnson. The government shutdown allowed her to get more training under her belt. “I don’t know if I was that much stronger this year,” Johnson continued, “because last year I didn’t feel sick at the last mile. This time I felt I had to throw up at the last mile, so I forced myself to hold it down.”

Aaron Scheidies of Seattle, WA, was the first sight-impaired runner to finish in a time of 1:16:26 for a new personal best. He was the top sight-impaired runner to finish last year, in 1:18:07. He credited the government shut down for helping him bring his time down. Scheidies is a triathlete, and in October, he is usually finishing his triathlon season. The government shutdown allowed him to focus just on running the half-marathon. Scheidies also credited his guide runner David Wertz. “We never ran together before,” said Scheidies. “This was a good race, but the last mile was tough.” Scheides and Wertz used a tether. “The last mile had a lot of sharp turns, so the tether kept getting yanked,” said Scheidies.