On a 'perfect day,' a healthy Fulton comes up roses
June 22, 2005
Chay Rao
Staff Writer

J. Adam Fenster/The Gazette

Silver Spring's Patty Fulton won the Run for Roses 5K in Wheaton Saturday with a time of 19:20.

The cool air of a cloudless morning washed over the gathering of women that spread out on the asphalt parking lot at Wheaton Regional Park Saturday. They did not so stretch so much as wait for the beginning of the Run for Roses 5K race, part of the women's distance series sponsored by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club (MCRRC).

The runners reveled in their good fortune of favorable running conditions. Some of the contenders -- including Patty Fulton of Silver Spring, who was coming off an injury -- sought to post a fast time. In the end, Fulton's winning time of 19:20 was enough to put a smile on her face.

"I was very pleased with today," she said. "I haven't really done any speed work this season, so this is the fastest I've run in two months. I ran pain-free, and I'm thrilled about that."

For many participants, the results were not as important as the race itself. Female-only running events are a rarity, so the Run for Roses has become a great way for women interesting in running competitively to get involved in the sport. Women of all ages and ability integrated at the starting line. People running their first race mixed easily with those that belonged to running clubs like the Annapolis Striders, whose members came out en masse.

"My sister called me to run," said 42-year-old Sykesville resident Patty Engler said before the race. "I'm going to run with her and my niece. She's better than me, but I'll keep up."

Fulton, 39, however, did not run to keep up, but to set the pace. The favorite coming into the event, she vindicated that status, beating the runner-up, K. Liisi Linask (20:05) by 45 seconds. Monica Braken finished third at 21:00.

Injuries have been a problem for Fulton for the last year and a half. She had not run competitively until she joined the MCRRC in 1997, but shortly after completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., she began to get serious. By 2003, she attempted to qualify for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, but those plans quickly dissolved.

"I was running in a marathon in Duluth [Minn.], and I ran for 24 miles in a lot of pain," Fulton said. "It turned out I had a stress fracture in my back."

The injury sidelined her for the rest of the season, dashing her hopes for a spot on the 2004 Olympic team. That summer, while training for the Pike's Peek 10K in Rockville, Fulton suffered another setback. She developed three bulging disks, which sent pain coursing through her neck and forced her to stop her training again.

Now, though, Fulton is on the comeback trail, and though she is just shy of 40, she is hoping to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team to run the women's marathon in Beijing. Winning this race started that process.

"I wanted to get out here and have fun and get my legs going," she said. "The atmosphere was really fun."

It's that atmosphere that gets women to run this race every year. On Saturday, 262 participants registered, and at the finish line, young children waited for their mothers to cross, gleefully cheering them on. Husbands volunteered as race officials, handing out water along the route and snapping photos at every opportunity. Friendly competitors, covered in sweat but smiling, found each other to compare times and show off the certificates they received for participation. Each woman that crossed the line was given a rose.

Elizabeth Kenyon entered the race because she was training to run a marathon. The opportunity to enter a women's-only event was the impetus, but the fact that she was able to get a friend to join her was the clincher.

"I was really happy with the race and with the way I ran," said Kenyon, a 25-year-old resident of Silver Spring. "I've been running with my dad since I was really young."

Her friend, however, had not. Krista Johnson, 22, of Indianapolis, took time out from her summer job to support her friend.

"It was great," she said. "I'm happy I ran. I really didn't train for this at all. I'd like to run a longer distance the next time."

At the festival atmosphere that followed the race, runners exchanged congratulations over muffins and fruit. Prizes were not just awarded to the overall winners, but to the winners of each age group. On a somber note, the race also served as a memorial to Lona Brady, a member of the MCRRC who died swiftly of cancer last year. At the race's conclusion, members of her family presented an award in her honor.

Yet, on this day, spirits remained high.

"I've run this race quite a few times," Olney's Cathie Rosenfeld, 53, said. "It is so nice to come out here and see all the women who run. It's a wonderful course [for beginning runners]. There are not many hills, so it's not too daunting, and you know where it's going. It was great. It was a perfect day."