Mark your Calendars. 2012 Date Announced! October 7, 2020

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

October 2, 2020 Alexandria, VA to National Harbor, MD

2011 Race Recap

We hope everyone had as much fun during the 2nd Annual Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon as we did! It was a very great event, and an even better day. Take a look at our recap video and story from this year's great event.

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By George Banker

On a rainy morning at Mount Vernon, Virginia, it was possible to stage the second year of the growing Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon which was held on Sunday, October 2, 2011. The unique event was a journey from historic Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens along the George Washington Memorial Parkway up to Old Town Alexandria and then across the pedestrian path of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to a finish at the National Harbor along the Maryland shoreline.

The race is a prime tune up for the fall marathons.

The race attracts local and international talent all testing the beauty of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and hills at National Harbor. The inaugural year saw the establishment of what was believed to be some stiff times given the nature of the course with Derese Deniboba of Ethiopia setting an open record of 1:04:44 and legendary Catherine Ndereba of Kenya setting a 1:13:17 mark. The masters were lead by John Piggott of Williamsburg, Va., with a 1:15:20 and Kristi Markowicz of Arlington, Va., with a 1:20:42.

The event held multiple layers of prize money in excess of $10,000 including the Potomac Valley Association (USATF) Championship, plus American-only money to help promote U.S. distance runners and bonus money for every U.S. citizen who qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston in January.

The race also served as national visually-impaired championship race for the National Industries for the Blind.

Doreen Gentzler, NBC4 news anchor returned for a second year as the Honorary Chair. The race was a benefit for six charity partners: Autism Speaks, Alice Ferguson Foundation, Child & Family Network Centers of Alexandria, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Back on My Feet-DC, and RunningBrooke Fund.

The runners had a modest downhill leading out of Mount Vernon. Going into the fifth mile (23:25) Moses Kigen Kipkosgei of Kenya, in his last prep race for the New York City Marathon five weeks later, enjoyed a slight lead over defending champion Deniboba (23:33). Trailing in third was Abiyot Endale of Ethiopia (23:58). Americans followed, with Danny Mercado of Flagstaff, Arizona, in fourth position (24:28), and Bobby Mack of Raleigh, N.C., and Ricky Flynn of Lynchburg,Va., hot on his heels (24:29).

Leading the way for the women was 19-year-old Bekelech Bedada of Ethiopia through mile five (26:32) followed by Gladys Asiba of Kenya (28:16). Holding in third was Mekides Bekele of Ethiopian (29:42). In fourth place was Michelle Miller of Damascus, Md. (30:33) followed by Amy McDonaugh of Irmo, S.C., and Lisa Cron of Herndon, Va. (31:13).

The runners had the freedom to dominate closed roads of the Parkway. Going into the 8th mile, the runners were cranking out the miles in preparation for crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. At 10 miles, Kipkosgei maintained the lead with 47:19 and Deniboba was trying to close down the gap with 47:40. Jordan Horn of Flagstaff had moved up from fifth place into third with 48:39 as Endale was close with 48:40. Mercado had slipped back into fifth place with 48:42. Mack and Flynn both clocked 48:59.

Bedada was keeping the pressure up going through mile 10 (54:40) and showed no signs of slowing. Asiba continued the pursuit in second place followed by Miller in 1:00:47 as she moved up from fourth place. Bekele held down the fourth place with 1:00:48.

Once stepping off the Wilson Bridge, the runners faced the challenge of a moderate long hill up the backside of National Harbor. Kipkosgei was on a record pace going into the closing mile and established a new mark of 1:02:37.

"The first 3K was a little bit slow," said Kipkosgei, who was third in the New York City Marathon last year. "But from 5K I decided to just go for time. The course was good - I like the ups and downs."

On the heels for second place was Deniboba with 1:02:56 and third was Horn with a time of 1:03:53 and the first American. In fourth place was Endale with 1:04:01 and fifth was Mercado with a 1:0:03. The top seven runners were all under the old event record.

"The level of competition was really good," stated Mercado, a member of the McMillan Elite team whose mustache gives him that Steve Prefontaine look. "I honestly didn't really think it would spread out as much as it did early on, but I was grateful not to have found myself in no-man's land, and instead running with my teammate, Jordan Horn, as well as a couple other Americans trying to chase the Olympic Trials qualifier. It was perfectly put together for that purpose. My strategy going into the meet was just to work with my teammate getting settled into the pace needed to break 65 minutes, at least for the first half of the race. I was pretty nervous about the strategy, focusing more on pace rather than letting go and just racing, but the plan definitely fit for this type of race".

Mercado said he was challenged by the hills near the end.

"The last three miles, part of the difficulty was knowing I didn't have much left, and at 10 miles I knew I was going to go under 65 minutes," he said. "Once I knew that, I started getting a bit complacent. I think I put myself mentally out of the race. Those hills really catch up to you with 10 minutes to go in the race. The other part of the difficulty was the course itself. We ran along the harbor and the wind really picked up, and the ground became really soft, so there was no return from the ground. I felt like I was running in quicksand the last three miles.

"In this race, time was the most important thing. I wanted to qualify for the Olympic Trials, and the $1,300 bonus for doing that was pretty good incentive, to say the least. I didn't really care what place I got, as long as I was under 65 minutes. Once the race got going, I started to pay more attention to places, at least in the American sense. Jordan and I had a good opportunity to go 1-2 in the race for top Americans, and that became important to me halfway in the race. The course was really awesome! It had some great rolling hills and was pretty fast. I also really liked the first half, with the trees lining the whole course."

Part of the future of American distance running, Mercado has the following PRs :1,500 meters - 3:51; mile - 4:11; 3,000 meters - 8:11; 5,000 meters - 14:03; 10,000 meters - 28:53; and NOW half-marathon - 64:01.

Another up-and-coming American, Mack got swept up in the excitement and scored a personal-best and ticket to Houston and the trials.

"I anticipated a couple other open or non-American runners being in the field and going sub 64 minutes, but I did not expect the American field to be as strong as it was," stated sixth-place finisher Mack with a 1:04:13. "I thought some other American from Virginia or the surrounding states would show up, but the runners from Flagstaff ran strong and it worked out for all of us to get the Olympic Trials qualifier. I wanted to run even splits per mile to get under 65 minutes. The way the course rolls with long gradual ups and downs it was not as even paced as I thought it would be.

"Overall the course was great and faster than I thought it would be after previewing it on Saturday. The challenging part of the course was coming off the bridge and making a lot of turns. That was difficult because the first 8 miles there were no turns and it was easy to get a rhythm going. From the start, time was important, but after hitting 10 miles and knowing I would be under 65 minutes, place became more important near the finish."

Following suit and maintaining the lead, Bedada was on pace to establish a new record with 1:12:44. Asiba captured second place with 1:15:58. The first American and third place was Michelle Miller with 1:19:43 (PR), followed by Bekele with 1:20:04. McDonaugh captured fifth place in 1:24:01, notching the NIB Visually-Impaired National title as well.

"I selected this race because of its timing, proximity, distance, and prize incentives," said Miller, top American at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile in April in Washington. "I needed a race in the 10-mile to half-marathon range about a month or so out to test my fitness as I prepare for the Philadelphia Marathon in November. The bridge was not as difficult as I prepared myself for it to feel. The true challenge was the second hill at mile 11. At that point in the race you are starting to get tired anyway so having to contend with a hill is a true test of commitment to your race plan. The Wilson Bridge Half was a great assessment of where my fitness is at this moment. I am actually in better shape than I thought despite the injury setback so I am really excited to see how the rest of the fall goes.

"My main motivation is my undying love to compete and test myself. It is very satisfying to set goals and then create and execute a plan to achieve those goals. There are times when you question yourself or motivation wanes and that's when it helps to surround yourself with the right people. The Georgetown Running Company Race Team has been an invaluable addition to my training. Not only do I have a supportive and talented group of athletes to train with, I also have a coach who is there to pick me up when I am down and to raise the bar when training is going well.

"I started out the race in 5th place for the first three to four miles. I moved into 4th at that point but did not manage to solidify 3rd place until the other side of the bridge. Just before the bridge a fellow teammate pointed out that the woman in third at the time was not far ahead so I used the last 5k, and my reserved strength, to make a move on the last long hill at mile 11 to separate myself from her."

Miller addressed her preparation for the race.

"I suffered a bit of a setback via plantar inflammation in July and early August during my training," she said. "As a result, I have been coming back into full training cautiously. My coach, Jerry Alexander, suggested the best approach would be to run the first 10 miles of the race a bit conservatively to ensure that I could finish the race strong. I knew the last 5k to 4 miles had some hills so I hoped with an increased effort I could manage to maintain the pace I had set on the parkway. At that point my goal also turned from hitting pace to racing the competition around me."

Miller ran for Mount St. Mary's University, graduating in 2003. The focus then was on the 800 meters and 1500 meters on the track. She bumped up a lot in distance since then! All of her PRs have come this year. She ran 17:31 at the Swarthmore Last Chance meet, 35:39 at Pikes Peak 10k, 59:20 at Cherry Blossom 10 miler. "I enjoy the health benefits, camaraderie, and psychological challenge that running provides. I've been running since I was 12 so I don't really know what life would be like without it. It pretty much is a part of who I am," Miller stated.

Miller comments on balancing the sport and the rest of her life.

"I absolutely love the sport of running and thankfully I have surrounded myself with people who share the same perspective," she explained. "So, I have a little less pressure to put it on the back burner. That being said, I do try to make time for other interests. It usually isn't a problem but I have found it a bit challenging creating a balance during marathon training. Sometimes I feel like all I do is train, work, eat and sleep! I have been making a conscious effort to set aside time on the weekends to visit family and catch up on the other areas of my life."

If it were not for the specially-designed t-shirt it would have been difficult to detect that fifth-place finisher McDonaugh is legally blind. She also is a mother of three. At the age of 12, she was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which is an abnormal tangling of blood vessels. She has no vision in her right eye and vision in the left eye is 23/100.

On May 1, 2021 she clocked her first marathon win with a PR of 2:58:11 at the Flying Pig in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"For me personally, I thought the competition level was outstanding," McDonaugh offered. "It was amazing to run with such accomplished runners. My strategy was mainly to not go out too fast. I tend to do that since I can’t see a watch. A very cool thing that I learned about myself is that some see me as an elite runner. The challenge in this race for me was when we ran on the sandy gravel path. I was unsure of footing and how much space there was on either side of me. I was wearing my ‘I am a visually impaired runner’ t-shirt. A man came up next to me while we were on that path. I heard him getting ready to pass me and was a little nervous. He said ‘Don’t worry, you have plenty of room. Doing great’!" states McDonaugh.

The third event standard that fell was the master’s record as Patrick Kuhlmann of Arlington, Va., passed through 10 miles in 56:12 and closed in with a 1:14:14. Retired Marine Lt Col Alex Hetherington of Vienna, Va., was runner up in 1:17:11 (10 mile time 58:45). Former record holder Piggott of Williamsburg, Va., was third with 1:20:05 (10 mile time was 59:36).

"The level of competition was outstanding as reflected in the finishing times," Hetherington explained. "I thought it was particularly exciting to have run in a race where four Americans broke the 65 minute barrier and qualified to compete in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. As far as the Master's competition goes, anytime I spot John Piggott on the starting line of a race I know I'm going to have someone to chase, albeit with a relatively low probability of catching up, but I occasionally pull it off. John always runs hard and brings focus to my race plan. He's also always gracious, optimistic and enthusiastic regardless of the outcome, in the true spirit of friendly competition."

Hetherington commented on strategy and time.

"Based on experience gained in the inaugural Wilson Bridge Half, my plan was to stay relaxed and consistent on the George Washington Parkway and go for broke upon reaching the Wilson Bridge," Hetherington pointed out. "Unfortunately, the last hill behind National Harbor was a challenge, even though I knew it was coming and remembered it well. Next year I think I'll take a more measured approach to the last three miles. As a Masters runner I'm starting to focus more and more on time. As it gets harder to match past racing results, I find that my first priority is to try to beat my times from the previous year. I managed to achieve that at Wilson Bridge, although my time was only a few seconds faster and accomplished under almost ideal conditions. That being said, I'll take it, just as I'll always be looking to get my name as near to the top of the results sheet as I can muster."

Hetherington stated in closing, "I love this course! (Event Director) Steve Nearman has put together what I'm certain will become an iconic must-do race for the National Capitol Region. Not only does it connect the classic landmark of Mount Vernon with the glitzy new destination of National Harbor, but the journey traverses one of the nation's most beautiful parkways and bridges, providing a unique bird's eye view of the Capitol Building and Washington Monument. Whether you're in it for the competition, the scenery, or both, the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon will give you all you can handle."

Last year, Laura Greeson of Alexandria, Va., was third master with 1:31:15 and this year she improved to first master with a 1:30:33. The second master was Susan Graham-Gray of Greencastle, Pa., with a 1:33:47. Gillian Walker of Springfield, Va., was third with 1:35:17.

"I really enjoyed the race even though I was fighting a bad head cold," Greeson said. "I thought the race was competitive and had a wide variety of runners. It was amazing to see how many men made the qualifying time for the Olympic trials. I also enjoyed the amazing talents of the blind runners. My boyfriend guided John Morgan, one of the blind runners.

My strategy going in to the race was to make it a speed workout since I am training for the New York Marathon in November. I really did not have a goal time in mind but wanted to come in around 1:30. I never think of a place, it is more of accomplishing a goal time. I ran the race last year and loved the course, so decided to sign up for this year. It is really fun to run down the parkway and over the bridge. The hill coming around National Harbor is challenging and the gravel part is not fun. I would love it if you got rid of the gravel."

No stranger to top performances was Graham-Gray, a mother of three who was diagnosed with Stargardts disease at an early age, a degenerative eye disorder. In 2007 at the Poconos Run Marathon she clocked a 2:45:32 which won her a place in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Boston where she placed 22nd in 2:58:08. In November 2008 she placed second and first in the age group 40-44 at the JFK 50 Miler with a time of 7:32:56. She also has won the National Marathon and Frederick Marathon outright.

Cron, finishing in sixth place and third American with 1:24:03, had this to say about the race.

"I thought the level of competition was great," she said. "There were the Kenyans and Ethiopians who are always up front and some out of reach. The American competition was in my range and competitive level. I loved how the race directors distinguished between the two and offered separate prize money to support American distance running. This fact is largely overlooked in other races and I am very grateful for the support."

Added Cron, who sports the following PR’s: 5K- 17:11; 10K- 35:24; 10 mile- 58:14; Half-Marathon- 1:17:30; Marathon- 2:55: "My strategy coming into the race was to be smart and keep an even pace. I wanted to run a time closer to my PR of 1:17:30, which I unfortunately fell way short of. I was not prepared for the hills and suffered sore quads in the final miles. I learned that I needed to practice more hill work in my training. I need to run some longer tempo runs as well. The most challenging part of the course for me was the uphill portion near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I slowed significantly at this section of the race.

"The most important thing for me in any race is my time because I am always trying to better myself and see where I am at in my training. Place happened to be near equally important in this race, as I would be fibbing if I said I wasn't trying to win a little money for the effort! I really enjoyed nearly everything about this point-to-point course. One thing I did not like was the gravel sections & so many turns at the end."

Suzy Coffey of Alexandria, Va., finished in 1:43:16, scoring first in the age group 55-59 and first Potomac Valley Association master.

"Yes, this was the first time running this event," she noted. "Actually, this is the first time I have ever run a half marathon. In my younger years (mid 20s to early 30s), I ran a lot of 10ks and 10 milers and a couple of marathons but no half marathons. The attraction was that it was a local race and a great course. I loved the idea of running from Mt. Vernon over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to National Harbor. The last two miles were the most challenging for me, mainly because my quadriceps were screaming! Time was foremost on my goal list as I wanted to run under 1:45. However, I had looked up last year's times for the top three finishers in my age category and was hoping to squeak in."

Coffey continued: "My motivation for running this event was my 23rd year old daughter, Erin, who has never really been a runner. However, on Sunday, October 9 she will be running her third half-marathon in the past year. I learned that I can still be competitive even after all these years, if I train correctly. I was an avid runner and road racer (Washington Running Club member) in my younger years. However, once I had children my focus was on work and raising a family and I stopped racing, although I always ran. Now that my children, ages 19, 21 and 23, are out of the house I have more time to focus on training."

The top winners in the Potomac Valley Association Championship was Michael Wardian of Arlington for the open with a time of 1:09:16 (8th place, 1st 35-39, and 5th American), who received $300. The top master was Hetherington, with a time of 1:17:11 (2nd 40-44), good for $250.

Miller was the top female with 1:19:43 (3rd overall and 1st American, 2nd in age group 30-34), earning $300. Cron was second with 1:24:03 ($200) and Valerie Bambha of Alexandria was third with a 1:55:01 ($100).

The top female master was Coffey in 1:43:16, grabbing $250 for the effort.


2011 Race Photos

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2011 Race Results

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