WUHAN, China –
Marine Corps Capt. Kyle King sat exhausted in the back of an oversized bus as it cruised through the downtown streets of a Chinese metropolis.
The U.S. runner, still weary nearly an hour after becoming the first U.S. athlete to cross the finish line during the Military World Games marathon, had a look of satisfaction that gleamed across his face.
“I’m very pleased,” he said softly, as he slumped in his seat next to his U.S. teammates on Oct. 27. “I hurt a lot. But I (set a personal record) by over a minute. Yeah, you can never say anything bad about a PR.”
King finished 8th in the 26.2-mile race which ran through the streets of Wuhan, a city of more than 10 million built around China’s winding Yangtze River. King, who won the Eugene Marathon in Oregon April 28 by setting a person-best, bettered that time by more than a minute, finishing the Military World Games marathon at 2 hours, 16 minutes and 56 seconds.
The Marine said he raised the intensity level of his workouts this summer, consistently running 80-100 miles a week. In only his third marathon, King competed against some of the world’s top runners in Wuhan and learned he has room for improvement.
“I got a little excited halfway through the race and I ran some pretty quick miles,” said King, an artillery officer in the Corps. “That left me on empty when I made it to the final 10k.”
Still, King’s finishing time fell below the Olympic men’s qualifying standard of 2:19, allowing him to participate in February’s Olympic trials. Fellow Marine, 1st Lt. Lindsay Carrick, earned the distinction of becoming the lone female qualifier for the Olympic trails.
Carrick finished first among U.S. women and bettered her personal best at the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon by five minutes, finishing at 2:43:43. Bahrain’s Leche Shumi won the gold for the men, finishing first with a time of 2:08:28, while teammate Chumba Eunice took first for the women.
The U.S. Armed Forces marathon team finish 5th overall for both men and women, and each team member set personal bests, which the runners called a rare feat.
“That’s incredible,” said Carrick, who finished 14th overall among females. “I’m really proud to be part of this team. Being in the military, you have focus on a lot of different things. Everybody showed up and performed on the same day; that doesn’t happen very often.”
The marathon capped an overall disappointing finish for U.S. military track and field athletes, but the American marathon runners walked away knowing that they have made steady progress toward reaching their long-distance goals.
The runners said that the mild weather conditions along with a mostly flat course helped spur the team to success. After meeting in San Francisco, the team had nearly two weeks to get to know each other and do some light running together.
King has trained seriously since high school, but took a brief break after commissioning into the Marines. The Eastern Washington University alum said his finish has encouraged him to compete in February’s trials, but he really has his sights set on the 2024 games in Paris.
“I’m just not at that level yet,” he said.
Carrick, a former Naval Academy lacrosse player, only began serious distance running a year after her college graduation in 2015. The logistics officer set a personal-best at the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon, where she finished third among females, bettering her time by five minutes. She said she also hopes to qualify for the 2024 Olympics.
Carrick bounced back from a lower back injury prior to the Boston Marathon where she missed a chance to qualify for the Olympic trials. This around, the Navy grad said she played the race a bit safe to avoid injury, but still managed to break her personal best record. The Marine said that working with running coaches helped her quickly adapt to distance running.
“You have to have incredible self-discipline to just get out the door every day,” said Carrick, 26. “For that first year I was really coaching myself.”
“It was great to see the progress. (Training) was frustrating early on, but today is kind of why you do it all.”
Navy Lt. Patrick Hearn, the second U.S. runner to cross the line, finished with a time 2:20:28, placing 22nd overall. Hearn previously set a personal best when he won the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon and bested that time by about three minutes. But he narrowly missed the 2:19 cut to qualify for the Olympic trials.
“I’m definitely happy with the time,” Hearn said. “I was kind of unsure where my training fitness was. But I felt like I could do under 2:22.”
The University of Maryland grad said after competing at the Los Angeles Marathon in February, he credited the All-Navy Marathon coach, James Felty, for helping him become more disciplined in his training. He also had better nutrition that kept him energized throughout each segment of the race. A former high school baseball player, Hearn said he didn’t discover his talent for distance running until his college years.
“Running a marathon does some damage to your legs,” Hearn said. “Like the last five miles, my hamstrings and my calves were just screaming. But I did feel good; I didn’t hit the wall.”
Navy Lt. Katherine Irgens, the 2nd U.S. female finisher at 2:51:37, had taken a break from competing, although she continued to train for Wuhan. Irgens said she spent hours studying for a master’s degree that took a toll on her marathon preparation.
“Some of my training runs, I was pretty tired,” Irgens said. “But then during the race, I got to about 10K and my legs felt really good and I just kind of got into a groove and was able to finish strong.”
Irgens PRed by two and a half minutes, beating her time at the 2017 Eugene Marathon.
Maj. Amy Natalini, the 2018 Air Force athlete of the year and an intelligence officer with 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, finished third for American women. Natalini, who completed the Chicago Marathon just days before leaving for Wuhan, said she had more team goals in mind than individual ones.
“My goal was to come out here and run for the team,” Natalini said. “These guys … I’m so proud of everything that they accomplished today.”
Army 2nd Lt. Mutua Samson was the third male finisher for the USA. Samson, a native of Meru, Kenya, enlisted in the U.S. Army six years ago before commissioning and he became interested in running while doing physical training. He said setting a personal best at Wuhan showed his steady progress in the sport.
Samson, who recently became stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland, only had two months to prepare for Wuhan. But the team’s performance highlighted his time in China.
“I could not ask for anything better,” Samson said. “We were hoping for a medal, but there is always tomorrow.”