The quality of competition and caliber of talent in the One City Marathon on Sunday was, as advertised, better than ever before. Both winners faced stiff challenges – although one barely knew it – and won in course-record times.
Will Christian, 34, a former Atlantic Coast Conference 5,000-meter champion at the University of Virginia, took the men’s marathon crown in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 5 seconds. That shattered the previous men’s best of 2:25:25 set by 2016 winner Bryan Morseman.
Alexandra Niles, 34, a gymnast during her collegiate days at James Madison University, won the women’s marathon in 2:40:43. That’s more than 11 minutes better than the 2:52:00 Greta Sieve ran a year ago.
The victory is Niles’ third in 11 marathons. Christian had never won in 12 previous marathons, his best finish being a second in the Outer Banks.
“It feels absolutely amazing to win a marathon,” said Christian, who hails from Norfolk. “My first state championship (as a high school cross country runner in Maryland) is always going to be like the best running moment ever, but this will rank in my top 10.”
For Niles, the win might be her biggest. It was not only five minutes better than her previous best, it was also almost five minutes faster than she needed to qualify for the 2020 United States Olympic Trials.
“My goal coming in was to qualify for the trials so this is pretty big,” she said. “I was a little nervous about the wind, but I knew it was a pretty good course so I figured I’d give it a try.”
She never figured that the One City win, and the $1,000 check that comes with it, was ever in doubt. Niles led from the start at Newport News Park and led big at one point, though she could see Marie-Ange Brumelot a lengthy distance behind her the one time she glanced back.
Brumelot, however, finished with a flourish and was just seven seconds back in second place when she crossed the finish line at the Victory Arch in 2:40:50. Brumelot said that although she ran a fast final 5K to close the gap, she never felt she’d erase Niles’ big lead.
“I knew she was behind me, but I didn’t realize she was that close,” Niles said. “I’m glad I kept it up.
“That would’ve been rough to lead it the whole way and lose it at the end.”
Christian, by contrast, was well back of leaders Ethan Coffey and Matt Cheyney a third of the way into the race. And, knowing that Coffey was a 2:22 marathoner and Cheyney was a 2:23 marathoner, he was aware of the challenge he faced in catching them.
But Christian never doubted that he could catch up if he put in the effort.
“I knew the people and I knew their times, so I figured if anything is going to happen I’ll have to go get them.
“It was a combination of me going to get them and them kind of fading off of their pace.”
Coffey broke away from Cheyney at the nine-mile mark and built a lead that would grow to more than a quarter-mile according to one estimate. But Christian sliced that to 50 yards by the 19-mile mark and was ready to pounce.
“When I caught him (at about 20 miles) he was definitely feeling the distance,” Christian said. “You could tell his rhythm was a bit off, so I tried to go past him as quickly as possible and put some distance between him and I.”
That distance continued to grow as Coffey finished second in 2:23:58. Cheyney was third in 2:25:42.
“It was exciting and amazing,” Christian’s mom, Lulu Christian, said when he crossed the line first. “I knew he could do it because he’s focused.
“If you stay focused everything comes out just as it’s supposed to.”
Two runners who’ve completed the World Marathon Challenge – seven marathons on seven continents in seven days – were part of the field. Michael Wardian finished sixth overall in 2:34:23 to prepare for a 100-mile race in China this week, while JP Caudill completed the course in 3:36.
“I loved running here,” Wardian said. “The course was beautiful.
“In some sections you could see the river and in others you were running on big, open streets. It was well supported, too, with lots of people cheering you in some sections and in some random neighborhoods there were a few kids and their parents giving you shout-outs.
“I felt like a rock star.”
Garrett Kenyon won the 8K in 24:55, beating former race winners Charlie Hurt (25:36) and Adam Otstot (26:03) for the victory. Maddie Ivy won the women’s 8K in 29:10, with Ann Mazuer (29:43) and Sara Lasker (29:50) also in the top three.
Bruce Newman was first in the marathon hand crank race in 1:34:02.
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963 and on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP