Michael Wardian
Michael Wardian Credit: Corbin Stewart/Marine Corp Marathon Organization

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Okay, tough guy. If running a marathon isn’t hard enough, try adding a steady downpour, stretches of shin-deep flooding, and unpredictable gusts of wind. And, how about adding another 4.87 miles, making it an even 50 kilometers (31.07 miles)? Just for fun.

Any takers?

Almost 1,700 runners stepped up to the challenge and the start line on Sunday morning in the inaugural MCM50K, hosted by the event organizers for the Marine Corps Marathon. In its first year, the MCM50K sold out in less than an hour, and instantly became the largest ultramarathon in the United States.

Two accomplished local runners who have made a name for themselves in the D.C. running community claimed the titles on Sunday. In the men’s race, 45-year-old Michael Wardian of Arlington finished with a time of 3 hours, 11 minutes, and 52 seconds (6:10 per mile pace). In the women’s race, 31 year-old up-and-comer Liz Kakouris Ozeki of Rockville won in a time of 3:42:04 (7:08 per mile pace).

Both Wardian and Ozeki seemed unfazed by the weather. They took the rain in stride—quite literally—and just executed their strategy, no excuses.

Wardian, a celebrity in the ultramarathoning world, was characteristically upbeat and positive about the race conditions and his preparation.

“I’m lucky because I’ve run in so many conditions, so I was prepared for the things you have to be worried about when you’re getting that kind of exposure,” he said. “We’re lucky in that it was dumping [rain] but wasn’t really cold. So, I didn’t have a lot of issues.”

Ozeki also felt prepared for the weather, having been tested in prior races, including the 2018 Boston Marathon, which she likened to a monsoon.

“I ran my first two marathons in the pouring rain,” she said. “I’ve done it before, so I was confident it wouldn’t affect me. I think it might actually have helped because the rain cooled me off.” 

The MCM50K was Ozeki’s second race at the 50K distance, and also her second win (she set the women’s course record at the Algonquink 50K in the spring). “I knew 50K was a distance I could be competitive in,” she said. “Initially, I wanted to finish top 10. Then, I thought a podium finish would be nice. But then, a bunch of friends kept encouraging me, saying, ‘Liz! You could probably win it!’”

Ozeki tested a risky strategy, deliberately going out faster than her marathon pace, so that she wouldn’t get caught behind larger crowds when the 50K course linked back up with the Marine Corps Marathon course in Georgetown. “I kept looking at my watch and thinking, ‘I should probably should slow down,’ but I just kept hanging on,” she said.

The strategy pushed Ozeki to the brink. “I think I paid for it later in the race. My hamstrings and calves kept cramping and spasming,” she recalled. “I was scared I was going to DNF. But I just kept telling myself to keep running while you can. Just get to the finish line, it doesn’t matter what place you’re in.”

With the win, it’s clear that Ozeki’s risk paid off. She had never won a big race in the D.C. area.

“So this was really incredible,” she said. “And the trophy is really sweet. I’m going to cherish that for a while.”

In the men’s race, Wardian trailed another D.C. running mainstay, 33-year-old Dustin Whitlow of D.C., for most of the course. The two are good friends, with Dustin even helping pace Wardian earlier this year when he broke the world record for completing 10 marathons in 10 days.

“Dustin is such a stud.” Wardian said. “I think I caught him around mile 18 when he seemed to be having some hamstring issues. When I checked in on him, I thought he was done. I’m so proud of him to be able to finish and get his first 50K finish. This is really great for the whole D.C. running community.”

But don’t let Wardian’s friendliness fool you. He’s a relentless competitor. “I wanted to win! I’ve wanted to win the Marine Corps Marathon since I started running in 1996. I’ve placed second, third, fourth, fifth, 20th in that race,” he said. “But ultramarathons are what I do, so this was my chance.”

Both Wardian and Ozeki made special mention of the spectators who lined the course, braving the rain to cheer on the runners from start to finish.

“I thought the spectators were incredible. They were unbelievably supportive. Even though it was crappy out, there were so many people who cheered and yelled and supported us the entire time,” Wardian said. “They deserve a big shout out!”

“Oh my gosh, it was so great,” added Ozeki. “There were people all over the course, and lots of them knew who I was and were cheering my name. That helped a lot.”

With this being the first year the Marine Corps Marathon organizers put on the MCM50K race, the champs reflected on how smoothly it went. “First year races usually have some issues, but I think they did a great job,” said Wardian. “And after the race, the Marines were on point, taking care of all the finishers.”

For the champs, there’s something extra special in winning the inaugural race, especially so close to home. “This is the beginning in what hopefully will be a long, great tradition,” Wardian said. “And there’s only one chance to be part of the beginning.”

While locals Wardian and Ozeki won the first-ever MCM50K, Sunday also marked the 44th running of the Marine Corps Marathon. The men’s marathon winner—27 year-old Jordan Tropf of Silver Spring—brought even more pride to the D.C. area, with a time of 2:27:43 seconds. Brittany Charboneau, 31, of Golden, Colorado won the women’s race in 2:44:47.