Running: Merachi wins inaugural Iron Girl Half Marathon

The inaugural running of the Athleta Iron Girl Half Marathon and 5k race brought in a large contingent of 2,500 runners to Columbia Sunday.

Askale Merachi and Hirut Mandefro, both professional runners, took the lead at the three-mile marker and held off the rest of the field, finishing 1-2.

Marachi's time was 1 hour, 17 minutes, 6 seconds, an automatic record for the first-year race. Mandefro posted a 1:19:18. Heather McWhirter was third in 1:21:33. Marachi won a cash prize of $1,800.

Olympic gold medalist and two-time Boston Marathon winner Joan Benoit Samuelson ran a very nice 1:25:39. At age 54, Samuelson is older than the first two finishers combined.

Samuelson, who was in Portland, Ore., just a few days ago, was in Columbia to help promote women's running in general. She held a one-hour session at the Sheraton Columbia on Saturday, explaining her running philosophy and taking questions from the overflow crowd.

The 13.1-mile course was "a good course and a tough one," Mandefro said.

The race started and finished in downtown Columbia. The course went out Little Patuxent Parkway, past the hospital, then looped around the Hickory Ridge neighborhood. There was a nice downhill on Cedar Lane that was followed by a wicked uphill on Harriett Tubman Lane at about the halfway point in the race.

A coed 5k race was held in addition to the half marathon. Silver Spring's Cliff Franz was the winner in 18:42. Ben Mertes, from Elkridge, was second in 19:49 and Columbia's Norah MacPhee was third (and the first woman) in 22:13.

There were 365 finishers in the 5k and more than 1,600 in the women's half marathon.

TriColumbia donated $25,000 to the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource Center.

Complete race results can be found at

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