Vic Dorr, Jr. Nov 12, 2006 – Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Va.
Maureen Ackerly’s victory in the women’s portion of the 29th SunTrust Richmond marathon was achieved more with heart than legs and feet.
Ackerly, a 37-year-old Richmond attorney and mother of two, conquered lightheadedness, persistent cramping in her calves and unseasonable heat and humidity to win yesterday’s 26.2-mile race through the streets and neighborhoods of Richmond. Her time (2:53:14) was nearly three minutes faster than that of her closest pursuer, 34-year-old Russian Elvira Kolpakova.
“At around 16 miles I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh. This has a chance to get really, really ugly,’ ” Ackerly said.
So visibly was she laboring in the latter stages of the race, she said, that friends and relatives following on bicycles “were literally encouraging me just to put one foot in front of the other. Basically, they said, ‘Just go as far as you can.’ ”
She dug deep at this juncture for inspiration that was uniquely female. Ackerly, racing a marathon for the first time since giving birth to her two children – now 3 years and 17 1/2 months – re- called her preparation for childbirth. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, well. If you’ve run a marathon, you’ll certainly be able to handle labor.’ ” Her mantra yesterday: ” ‘Look, you’ve been through labor twice. You can certainly handle this.’ ”
Ackerly hoped to run yesterday’s race in 2:47, thereby satisfying the ‘B’ qualifying standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials. She and her husband/coach, Ben, aware that optimum performances were unlikely in yesterday’s warm, humid conditions, left open the possibility of bailing out early in the race and trying for a 2:47 in cooler, drier weather.
Ackerly chose to trudge onward, she said, because “more than anything else, I wanted to make my family proud of me. That’s probably more important to me, even, than going to the Olympic Trials. When you’re in love with your coach and your support group calls you, ‘Mommy,’ and they’ve all done so much to make something like this possible – all you want to do is try to pay them back.”
She received at least one other bit of compensation: the $2,500 winner’s check.
The race began poorly for the new champion. She trailed Kolpakova by a wide margin in the early going but rallied to pull even near Mile 12. She said her husband advised her beforehand: ” ‘Never make a move on the leader unless you’re prepared to stick with it.’ I didn’t know if I was prepared or not. But I was in a pretty good rhythm at that point and I didn’t want to change anything, so I said, ‘What the heck.’ ”
The next few miles were an exercise in suspense. Ackerly, unsure of Kolpakova’s location, ran grimly, tenaciously until reaching the Lee Bridge. Here a fellow runner – “He was so supportive” – peeked over his shoulder and told her: ” ‘You’ve got about 50 yards on (Kolpakova).’ After that I was able to relax a little bit.”
Kolpakova, the runner-up for two consecutive years, ran on an inflammed left knee that rendered her incapable of responding to Ackerly’s mid-race challenge. She told interpreter Natasha Smith that she “struggled all day with my knee and the heat. At the end, I was running on one leg.”
She twice mentioned that her discomfort was so intense that she considered pulling out. Why didn’t she?
“Sometimes you have to overcome yourself,” she said. “It’s a disease of professional runners. You have to fight through it. If you don’t, if you quit, you’re just making it easier to quit the next time.”
Johanna Allen, a 25-year-old from Woodbridge, finished third, a stride behind Kolpakova, in 2:56.14. Michelle Mudge-Riley, a 29- year-old from Glen Allen, placed fourth in 3:00.31. Tammy Slusser, a 41-year-old former champion from Monroeville, Pa., finished fifth (3:02.38). The top-five finish was Slusser’s fourth in five years.
1. Maureen Ackerly / 2:53:14
2. Elvira Kolpakova / 2:56:03
3. Johanna B. Allen / 2:56:09
4. M. Mudge-Riley / 3:00:26
5. Tammy Slusser / 3:02:38
6. Paula Baldasano / 3:03:43
7. Suzanne L. Lewis / 3:06:47
8. Karen A. Black / 3:10:42
9. Kate L. Woodliff / 3:11:35
10. Johanna E. Bischof / 3:14:04
Contact staff writer Vic Dorr Jr. at email@example.com or (804) 649-6442.