Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mission Accomplished - Running the Marine Corps Marathon

“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” is a short story by Alan Sillitoe, later made into a movie.  The title has often intrigued me.  It conjures up pictures of a solo runner, running on empty streets, a sad look on his or her face.

Since I became a long distance runner, loneliness is about the last emotion I have experienced.  And nowhere was this more apparent than at the Marine Corps Marathon.  The entire weekend I was surrounded by friends from all over the country, supported by 10,000 Marines and countless volunteers, and inspired by amazing runners and soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

I arrived the day before the marathon.  Washington DC was ready for 30,000 runners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 50 countries.  Our timing was perfect.  Only about a week prior to the marathon has the government gone back to work after a 2 week shutdown.  Had this not occurred, the marathon, run on 60% federal property and supported by thousands of government workers, would most likely have been cancelled, as a couple of marathons in NJ and Virginia the weekend before had been. 
Several of the Brevard County, Florida runners from Doug Butler's running camp met up at the expo for bib pick up and the purchase of many Marine Corps Marathon T shirts and running attire.


It’s important to carb load with a pasta dinner the night before a 26.2 mile run.  But to carb load with friends who I haven’t seen since I was a teenager – it was one of the happy days of my life to reconnect with Scott and Eileen, middle school sweethearts, now happily married for 30 years, who  took me out dinner.  Eileen brought the Lloyd Road Middle School yearbook, and we spent the evening catching up on
life from the early 1970’s to the 21st century. 
Marathon morning brought us perfect weather - clear, no rain, temperatures in the 40's to start, in the 50's throughout the race. 

Just after sunrise, my friend Sue and I made our way to the start mat. Sue is a Navy lawyer from St. Louis.  She is a former Indiana University runner who has qualified for the Boston Marathon more times than I can count.  Sue is the reason I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon - she had run it 8 times in the past and told me I absolutely had to run our country's most patriotic marathon.  She was right - oh am I glad she talked me into running this race! 

 Sue took my picture with two Marines.

 When I asked if I could take Sue's picture next, one of the Marines motioned with his gun.  "Ma'am, we need to get back to our security detail," he said.  Never one to argue with a man with a gun, I nodded and Sue and I headed over to the start.

 There were flags everywhere; more American flags than I have ever seen in my life.  The world’s largest flag to ever fly through the sky during a parachute jump was visible that morning just before the start of the marathon, when US soldiers and sailors brought Old Glory to the ground for us.

The countdown began, we all sang "The Star Spangled Banner", the cannon was lit and a large boom was heard. 

There was a moment of hushed, respectful silence, then we all began running at once.  The marathon began.  Our running shoes hit the mat.  There was no turning back.  Thousands of men and women, of all races, nationalities and ages,  all wearing a Marine Corps bib with a number proudly displayed, began to run past the Arlington Cemetery towards the sights of Washington, DC. 

I ran with Ilse, a dentist who lives just down the road from me in Florida and is a member of our running camp. 
Ilse is a strong, fast runner who I enjoyed training with for the last four months at running camp and on Tropical Trail. 

When I run, I like to talk to keep my mind off our fast pace, and check out as many distractions as I could, including the signs the spectators hold up for us during marathons. There were many signs relating to recent government shutdown such as:  “You run better than the government.”   There were also the usual signs:  “Worst Parade Ever!” and  “Today you are all Kenyans”.   But what really got me going was “Run faster – Miley Cyrus is twerking behind you!”

 In addition to the spectators with the signs, there were Boy Scouts and ROTC students, civilian volunteers and US Marines handing out water for us at tables every 2 miles during the race, and Marines just lining the course, telling us they were proud of us, just keep going.  Proud of us?  I was proud of them and so grateful for their service.  I thanked as many Marines as I could at the finish line and during the mile long walk afterwards.  They are the heroes of our country.

The scenery is about to get better, I thought at mile 10, as we approached the Lincoln and FDR Memorials.  No other place on earth can a runner witness so many American monuments - we also ran by the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Memorials, Korean, WWI and WWII Memorials, the museums of the Smithsonian, and the US Capitol.  It is easy to ignore the protestations of weary legs as you see these inspirational sights.

There were so many inspirational runners around us.   I ran for the charity Semper Fi, which supports wounded warriors and their families.  Many of the wounded warriors were there, not only watching the marathon but running it – with burns and scars over most of their bodies, or with hooks instead of legs.  Watching these men run – and finish – a marathon makes you realize that anything is possible, any goal is attainable. 

And then there is Dick Hoyt.  When his son Rick was born with cerebral palsy, Dick and his wife Judy decided, against medical advice, not to institutionalize their son but to raise him at home, send him to public school (Rick has physical limitations but not mental, he is intelligent) and incorporate him into the family and world.  Dick’s incorporation included sports.  Dick and Rick together have completed 1,100 running events, including 71 marathons, 22 Duathlons, six Ironman competitions.  One of these marathons was this Marine Corps Marathon.  It was an honor to watch Dick and Rick together at this marathon, Dick pushing Rick in a specially outfitted wheelchair, as they have at so
many other events. 
 Ilse and I were silent, then thrilled, when we realized that we were running alongside the Hoyts at one point.

 We  had so much to look at, both in scenery and other runners and all the thousands of spectators and volunteers, that we never felt alone.  All the politics I had heard and read back home, angry discussions on both side of the political spectrum, faded into the background.  What I saw during this race was a celebration of all things American, and I was proud to be running where all things are possible.

The last 2 tenths of a mile were tough, up a steep hill, but it led to the Iwo Jima statue, celebrating the Marine's victory during WWII. 

As I approached the finish line, I realized that I had reached my goal, a 4 hour 9 minute 15 second marathon, a Boston qualifying time for 2015. 

I believe – I know – it was by running with Ilse that I was able to qualify for Boston.  Thank you Ilse for running with me!  And it was with the support of my husband Larry and  my friends, my running coach Doug Butler, the inspirational spectators and runners, and the military and civilian volunteers that allowed me to run a healthy and injury free marathon.   

After I finished, I made my way to the VIP tent, where I joined Sue and her family.
  Sue pulled some strings, and got me admitted to the meeting area for the elites, both runners and military members.  It was in that tent where I got to meet military dignitaries and take a picture of the winner of the marathon, Ethiopia's Girma Bedada, celebrating with his family. 

After the marathon it was time to celebrate.   About 20 of us from Brevard, and my son Daniel and his friends, joined together at a dinner celebrating not only the marathon but fellow Brevard runner Betsy’s new age group birthday. 

Wine and cake and free desserts (the service was a bit slow – almost two hours to get the main course - so the manager smoothed things over with free desserts) added to the happy mood in our private room at the restaurant.  I want to bring this whole crew to my next marathon, they were all so much fun to wind down with and celebrate after a marathon. 

For the rest of my life I will remember all it:  my friends old and new, so many flags, the service men and women, the volunteers,  the runners, the spectators,  and the spectacular sights of our nation's capital city.