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Girma Gebre, Kellyn Johnson win Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon RRCA National Championship

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – November 10, 2013 – Runners at the fourth annual Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon had to wait five weeks for today’s event, but it was worth the wait as they were treated to perfect weather conditions.

Originally slated for October 6, the 13.1-mile USATF-sanctioned footrace and RRCA National Half Marathon Championship fell victim to last month’s U.S. government shutdown. The course’s first eight miles run through the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, a national park, which was affected when employees of the National Park Service and U.S. Park Police were temporarily furloughed.

The new date, the only available one through Christmas which worked for all six jurisdictions involved with the unique course, was not ideal for a large number of entrants, who deferred their registrations to 2014.

However, the 1,739 runners who gathered at Mount Vernon this morning were treated to racing conditions rarely so favorable, as well as fall foliage still intact this late in the season along the parkway.

Girma Gebre and Kellyn Johnson both enjoyed the ideal conditions and ran away to victory, earning the crown in the Road Runners Club of America National Half Marathon Championships. 

Girma, just 20 and on his second U.S. tour from Ethiopia, waited until two miles remained and unleashed his powerful kick of the 1500-meter runner that he is, leaving his fellow countrymen in his wake. Girma crossed the finish line at National Harbor in 1 hour 4 minutes 41 seconds. Siraw Kebede Gelaw and Nahom Mesfin, also from Ethiopia, followed in 1:05:12 and 1:05:16, respectively, giving the Eastern African country a sweep of the men’s race.

“There were three runners with two miles to go,” Girma said through his New York-based coach and interpreter Alem Feven. “He picked up the pace. He is a sprinter, runs the 1,500 and he says he said he picked it up going up the hill (on the backside of National Harbor) at 11 miles.” Girma earned $1,200 for his effort.

Johnson, in successfully defending her 2012 title, utilized the same game plan this year as she did last year – get out in front early. Johnson, one of the nation’s top distance runners who trains with Team USA Arizona in the mountains of Flagstaff, hit the tape in 1:13:02, 22 seconds faster than last year but 35 seconds shy of her personal best set in Green Bay, WI, earlier this year.

“From the start, I was kind of by myself which is kind of a bummer,” said the 27-year-old mother of one. “I felt ok, and with four miles to go I felt real good but in the last mile I felt pretty awful because of the hill… I actually liked the bridge. That was the point where I was feeling strong.”

Johnson’s margin of victory today was 52 seconds, with four Ethiopians trailing her to the finish. Desta Tadesse (1:13:54), Waynishet Abebe (1:14:11), Meseret Ali Basa (1:15:35) and Etafirahu Temesgen (1:16:28) filed in behind the American, who earned $1,200 for overall champion and $600 as top U.S. competitor.

Johnson flies home today only to come back to here Friday for the USA Track & Field 12K championships in Alexandria. “I’ve never had a bad race in DC,” she said.

The top American male was local sensation Kieran O’Connor of Washington, DC, who placed fourth overall and was the only non-Ethiopian in the top eight. The 26-year-old ran 1:06:56, earning $900.

O’Connor was out of contention for the win early on, but stayed steady throughout the course and picked off stragglers. Meanwhile, ahead of him was Gebre, Gelaw and Mesfin, who was 12th in 2012 London Olympics 3000m steeplechase, 11th in 2011 World Championships and 19th in 2008 Beijing Olympics. The trio passed through five miles in 24:33 and it virtually became a three-man race onto the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and into National Harbor before Gebre’s potent move.

Mattias Rosa, a 40-year-old from Ridgewood, NJ, and Stefani Watterson, a 44-year-old from Alexandria, were top masters and RRCA Masters National Champions in 1:20:06 and 1:28:38, respectively.

Gurmessa Megerssa, a 34-year-old Washingtonian, was the champion in the Potomac Valley Association/USATF Regional Championships.

Aaron Scheidies of Seattle, WA, successfully defended his title in the Visually Impaired National Half Marathon Championships, setting a new event record of 1:16:25 after running 1:18:07 last year.

All 1,738 starters finished the race.

For full race results, click here.

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