Peter Sherry of Great Falls, Va., heads for a first-place finish in the 28th Marine Corps Marathon.

Peter Sherry of Great Falls, Va., heads for a first-place finish in the 28th Marine Corps Marathon. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Army Maj. Jacqueline Chen, a podiatrist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, summed up her efforts in the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday with two short words.

“Still … alive,” she said between pants after completing the marathon in 3:07:36, making the 41-year-old doc the first military woman to cross the finish line and 144th overall.

More than 18,000 runners gathered Sunday in the unseasonably warm and humid Washington, D.C., fall day to run the 28th annual Marine Corps Marathon, enduring blistered feet, cramps, and for some, a dose of humility when things didn’t go as hoped.

But for some, there were surprises.

Like for Peter Sherry, 35, who thought it was all but over around the eighth mile into the 26.2-mile run. “I had a cramp and thought I was going to have to drop out. But then I started feeling better and better, and kept plugging away.”

He ended up winning.

Sherry, who just opened a runner’s supply story across the street from the Pentagon called “Gotta Run,” was the first runner to cross the finish line with a time of 02:25:07.

“I was in this to win,” he said, adding he’ll be trying out for the U.S. Olympic team.

Unlike other marathons, however, there is no cash prize at the end of the Marine Corps Marathon, dubbed “The People’s Marathon” because just about anyone can sign up to compete and there are no qualifying times, just a registration deadline.

Geoff Hopkins, 38, was the first hand-crank cyclist to cross the finish line, with a time of 1:54:30. One phrase kept running through his mind as the paraplegic circled the nation’s capital: “My elbow doesn’t hurt. My elbow doesn’t hurt,” he said, letting out a hearty laugh.

Heather Hanscom, 25, a research assistant for the American Red Cross, not only made Sunday’s marathon her very first ever, but she also was the first female finisher, marking in with a run time of 2:37:59. Her first mission upon crossing the finish line was to search for a Stars and Stripes reporter, who could deliver a message to her father, a civilian working in South Korea, and who would be scanning the paper the next day for any news.

“I want to tell him: ‘Dad, I did it,’ ” she blurted. “He’s always been there. He’s just a great dad, fan and supporter.”

Army Staff Sgt. Gerardo Aliva, stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., was the first U.S. military man to cross the finish line. “I feel good, and frankly, I’m just glad to be done,” said the 30-year-old infantryman.

The 26.2 miles are grueling and tough on the body. When asked why she does it, Lt. Cmdr. Sue Himes, 34, chuckled: “I ask myself the very same question.”

Sometimes, she comes up with an answer, said intelligence officer for the amphibious ship USS Nassau in Norfolk, Va.

“You forget about the pain and it becomes about camaraderie and a great feeling of personal satisfaction.”

More photos ...

For 58 more photos from the 28th Marine Corps Marathon, click here.

Results ...

Click here to go to the official Marine Corps Marathon site.

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