“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” – Emil Zatopek
When I had my baby in February of 2015, I committed to running the Marine Corps Marathon in October of 2015 as a way to help me lose some of the baby weight. It was also something I wanted to check off of my bucket list. When I began training in July, I quickly realized that it was so much more than any of that.
I took to the road on a humid summer morning. My legs were on fire, the stroller was a huge burden, and my body wanted to give up. It seemed like the longest run at the time, but it was just a two-miler. At the time, the idea of running anything longer was intimidating and I was terrified of it. It took me thirty minutes to finish. But, I knew I had to continue if I wanted a shot at even showing my face at the marathon.
My first “long” run was six miles. I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome it was to run six whole miles. After all, that’s the farthest I had ever run in my life. At that point I was ready to crank up the mileage. I wasn’t fast, but I was determined.
Eight miles, ten miles, and thirteen miles came and went. I felt a sense of accomplishment with each long run. When fifteen miles came, so did a piriformis injury. I was discouraged, but not defeated.
A Marine I met at church invited me to train with her for my first eighteen mile run. I tried to talk my way out of it, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was running the Marine Corps Marathon too, as well as the New York City Marathon the following week. This would be her fifth marathon. She was legit, and extremely intense. I tried to keep up with her, but couldn’t. She had to run ahead of me majority of the time, especially because I had to stop and walk. By mile fourteen I was in tears. She ran back to make sure I was okay. I was crying because of the pain, but mostly because I thought it meant I didn’t have what it takes to finish the marathon. She looked at me and said, “I know you’ll finish because you’re obviously stubborn”. I carried those words with me.
The following week I set out for another eighteen miler on my own. It wasn’t pretty, but I completed it. I couldn’t imagine doing the two more I was going to do the following weekend, never mind the eight more I would complete at the marathon. The next Saturday was freezing, windy, and rainy but by noontime I would have a twenty-mile run under my feet. This was the first time I knew I had a marathon in me.
As race day approached, excitement and trepidation became unbearable. I had put in the time and the miles, along with hours of cross training. Through early mornings and late nights, drenched by storms and scorched by the sun I’d really gotten to know myself. This process had taken on a life of its own, and now it meant so much more to me than it did at the beginning.
Each one of my runs, down to the last step brought me to marathon morning. After I finally made it through security, I was absolutely pumped. There were thirty thousand runners all ready and willing to undergo the course to make it to the finish line. It was a race, but not a competition. It was a community of people that offered endless support and encouragement without having to say a word. We were all different people, but we were courageous enough to set out after the same goal. The only competition I would encounter was with myself. The war was between my body and mind; both would dictate whether I successfully crossed the finish line or not.
I started faster than I had in any of my training runs. Everyone said not to, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt like a champion. I absorbed the crowd’s support all while feeling a sense of kinship with every runner on the course. I ran past a man with one leg carrying an American flag, and every inch of my body had chills. I was overcome with admiration and began to clap and cheer as I ran by. He was on my mind the rest of the race and will forever be a special part of my memory of that day. Several had amputated limbs and various disabilities, but they all had one thing in common – heart.
I cruised until mile twelve when I approached the blue mile. It was silent, as it should be. As I ran I began to pray for the fallen service members and their families. Some of these men and women were younger than me when they were killed in action. Some had children and spouses that they left behind. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that this run was bigger than me. I was running for those who no longer could, for those who lost their lives to protect our homeland. I wanted to break down and cry, but I kept running in their honor. It was after this mile that I knew I would finish this race.
I kept running, even when my body started to feel it. Somebody along the way stepped on my left foot, and my right side started cramping like never before. I told myself that I wouldn’t walk until I beat the bridge, which was at twenty miles.
The bridge came and went too. I was now running in unknown territory. I had never run farther than twenty miles. Six more miles meant another hour, probably longer. I wasn’t the only one feeling it by this point. In fact, there were more people walking than running. I knew the last stretch was going to be a mix of walking and running. That little voice in my head transitioned from coach to drill sergeant by mile twenty-three. It kept saying, “DO NOT STOP! YOU DIDN’T MAKE IT TWENTY-THREE MILES TO NOT FINISH THE LAST THREE!”
As I came up on mile twenty-five I turned to God and asked for the strength to finish. It was bigger than my body and mind by now. My gas tank was empty, but my heart had been pumped full from everything I experienced on that run. I sped up and sailed the last mile. I came upon the finish line met by cheering Marines. My body was tired but I felt amazing. I finished the Marine Corps Marathon in five hours and three minutes. I’ll never forget the Marine putting the medal on me, congratulating me, and smiling as I thanked him for his service.
The experience was a celebration of all the hard training that went into preparing for that day. It was more than I could have hoped for. I wasn’t the same person that began training in July. I don’t even think I was the same person that started the race that morning. I went into the race with expectations and came out with profound experiences.
This race started in July and ended in October. I suffered through hours of training, never-ending complications, painful injuries, and doubt. With each step I ran further away from who I was, and closer to who I wanted to be. I was met with a course that would change my life forever. I approached the start line uncertain, and crossed the finish line changed. I gained perspective and found a new respect for myself. I completed it, and will do it again.