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Globetrotting Comes Naturally
NIH's Scanlon Wins Marine Corps Marathon

By Rich McManus

On the Front Page...

It's no wonder that Elizabeth "Liz" Scanlon, a laboratory animal technologist for NCI in Bldg. 14D, performs so well in footraces sponsored by the military: she grew up as one of seven children of a career military man, and has lived astride bases all over the country, primarily out in the wide open Plains states. Winner in 2:57:27 of the women's portion of the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 27, she also placed third among women in the Army Ten-Miler just six days prior to the Marine race, finishing in 1:00:19. And on Sept. 29, she won the female division of the D.C. Road Runners' National Capital 20-Miler in 2:11:56; it was her second consecutive year as champion of that race.


Scanlon, 31, who now resides in Alexandria, Va., has been nomadic for so long that she claims not to have a place of origin: "I don't say I'm from anywhere." But she has long inhabited success as a runner. She began at age 12, when her family lived in Great Falls, Mont., a beautiful town that boasts a surprising number of runners, she said. "Running came easy to me," she remembers. "I used to win the little road races around there."

NCI's Elizabeth Scanlon
She spent most of her high school years in Nebraska, where her biggest achievement was finishing fourth in the state in the 2-mile run. She won an athletic scholarship to Oklahoma University, where she competed on the Sooner track team for 5 years while majoring in health and sports sciences. In her final season in 1994, she finished second at 10,000 meters in the NCAA championships, earning All-American honors. "I never thought I'd (win that accolade)," Scanlon says. "I spent so many years injured."

Unlike such NCAA sports as football and basketball, track encompasses all seasons: cross-country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring. Overtraining is a fact of life, whether inspired by demanding coaches or personal goals. Scanlon has suffered two stress fractures, one of her pelvis during college, and the other of her foot, only a year ago. She also has "tendinitis everywhere — I don't even remember most (of her injuries)."

But her thirst for running is almost palpable. These days, she runs 80-90 miles a week, averaging 6 afternoon solo outings per week, usually along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. "I run 10 miles at least, and then 15 miles for maintenance runs, and on the weekends 17 or 20 miles if I'm training for a marathon."

Her most recent performances were remarkable for two reasons: first, competitive runners almost never enter 10-mile races less than a week before a marathon; Scanlon says she didn't know it was a faux pas. Second, she is only just getting over her most recent fractured foot, an injury that sidelines even the most committed athletes.

"You can't run for 2-3 months," she lamented. "So you freak out. I did a little cross-training, because I was bored out of my mind. For 2 months I had a cast on my foot. I would sort of bike a little bit. But (being injured) sucks."

Last January, she healed enough to start running. By April she began building miles in preparation for her fourth Marine Corps Marathon, a race in which she had placed seventh 2 years ago. "My main goal was to finish in under 3 hours," she said. "I had hoped to get closer to 2:50, but it wasn't a good day."

She didn't expect to win the race. "I thought that if I ran the time I wanted, I'd be in the top five," she said. "But it was a windy, humid day, and a lot of runners had it tough."

Scanlon runs to a winning time of 2:11:56 in the 19th National Capital 20-Miler on Sept. 29; this is the second year in a row she has won the race. (Photo by George Banker)

Scanlon required a trip to the hospital on the evening of her victory, to rehydrate via intravenous lines following an unusual post-race upset stomach. But she dismisses the treatment as a trifle, barely worth mention.

Now in her fifth year at NIH, where she is actually a contractor employed by Charles River Laboratories, Scanlon works in NCI's nonhuman primate facility, performing lab tests on monkeys, rabbits, dogs, mice and rats. A former resident of Rhode Island and North Dakota, in addition to Nebraska, Oklahoma and Montana, she is in the D.C. area, again, because of family. She intends to build on her recent road-running success. "Anything over 10 miles, I like," she says.

She acknowledges the ravages of age, noting that recovery from the Marine Corps race has been "the toughest so far." Her best marathon was her first, right after college, when as an athlete sponsored by Brooks running shoes, she ran a 2:46 in Altus, Okla. Unaffiliated now with either sponsors or teammates, she is content "just to do my thing." Scanlon plans another marathon, perhaps next spring, but has no specific race in mind.

"This is a nice area," she observes. "There's good competition here, it's easier and there's a lot less pressure (than in college, or when traveling solo to races under Brooks' sponsorship). I enjoy it more that way."

Admittedly "not real athletic" in sports other than running, an avocation that "takes up most of my time," Scanlon expects to be road racing again soon. "I can't imagine not running."

NIH Hosts a Cadre of Elite Runners

What is it about the conduct of biomedical research that so attracts talented runners? NIH seems to be sponsoring, albeit inadvertently, its own health disparity: we get all the top area road racers. Check the Washington Post sports section almost any Sunday morning, and six or seven pages in, on the Scoreboard page under the headline "Local Running," you will likely find the name of an NIH'er among the top three finishers in any metro area 5K, 10K or marathon.

Occasionally, an NIH athlete will get his or her own feature article in the Post, as Liz Scanlon did after winning the recent Marine Corps Marathon. But a check of some area web sites devoted to D.C. running reveals that NIH'ers don't lack for attention.

According to the Washington Running Report (, three NIH employees are among the top 10 athletes in the Women's Division (age 35 and under), based on performances this past summer. Leading the list is Dr. Naoko Ishibe, 33, an NCI epidemiologist who was profiled in the Nov. 28, 2000 issue of the NIH Record. The report cited her second place finish in the Rockville Rotary Twilight 8K on July 20, in a time of 28:08. Her fastest race of the season, though, was 16:54 in the Run for Recovery 5K. This is her second consecutive year atop the women's rankings. Ishibe has also met the Olympic trials standard in the marathon for 2004.

In sixth place is Dr. Marjan Huizing of NHGRI, who was featured in the Record of May 4, 1999. She is a noted bike racer as well as runner (WRR calls her "a professional triathlete"), and even had a team named after her in the recent NIH Institute Relay. She was the first female finisher in the Riley's Rumble Half-Marathon on Aug. 4 in a time of 1:26:39. Placing 10th on the list is Liz Scanlon, among whose accomplishments was winning the 2001 Annapolis Ten-Miler in 1:00:03 and placing third in this year's Annapolis Ten-Miler, held Aug. 25, in 1:02:58.

In the WRR category for women ages 60-64, CSR's Dr. Janet Newburgh is in 10th place; she was featured in the Record on Mar. 5, 2002, for finishing marathons in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Another prominent NIH woman runner is NIA's Dr. Eleanor Simonsick, last profiled in the Record on Mar. 3, 1992. The Baltimore runner, a record-setter while an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, was third in WRR's 2001 rankings in the women's 40-44 category. She is a former U.S. Olympic trials 3,000 and 10,000-meter finalist and two-time Cherry Blossom 10-miler champion, with a personal record of 53:46. Simonsick, 44, won the master's division and finished fourth overall in the Baltimore Women's Classic 5K at Meadow Mill on Sept. 8. Her time was 20:21.

Turning to the NIH men, Dr. Mark Hoon, 38, of NIDCR remains near the top of local distance running. The Washington Running Report ranks him second in the 35-39 age division, noting his victory in the Capital Crescent 5K and a strong showing (ninth) at the Kentlands/Lakelands 5K in 15:58. (At that same race, NHGRI's Huizing finished fourth among women in 17:28.) Hoon is also the dean of Record sports coverage, having appeared in the issues of Dec. 5, 1995, Nov. 18, 1997, and Nov. 28, 2000. For the second straight year, he won the Riley's Rumble Half Marathon, held Aug. 4 in Poolesville. His time this year was 76:43; he won in 2001 by nearly 2 minutes. Huizing's victory among the women in this race was a double championship for NIH.

Hoon also finished fifth in the Montgomery County Marathon in the Parks on Nov. 17. His time was 2:36:45 in the event, which he has won in the past.

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