If you remember when I made my goal board over a year ago, in the top right hand corner, I had the Marine Corps Marathon logo with 2017 printed under it. After a year of staring at that logo every day, on March 22 of this year, very anxiously and nervously, I entered the lottery.
On March 30, I got a text from my credit card company that I had spent over my alert mount. I checked it. It was the exact cost I had agreed to for the MCM lottery. I checked my email and there it was – my confirmation email I got in through the lottery. The MCM was one step closer to being mine.
I began training and it was hard. There is no denying it. Training for a fall marathon in summer, in Texas, was killer. I had to force myself to run. I ate nothing but salads, chicken, and pasta, and drank more Gatorade than I ever have in my life. But I still struggled in training. I couldn’t finish long runs to save my life. I doubted myself and my abilities. I came very close to giving up.
In September, I ran a 15k and wowowow. Even though I finished 11 minutes slower than my 15k PR, I felt horribly unprepared. I got tired fast. I had no energy. I couldn’t maintain a stride. I couldn’t get oxygen to my lungs. I finished the 15k, but I finished discouraged. From there, anxiety set in. For the next month, I didn’t know how I was going to Beat the Bridge at the MCM, much less complete 26.2 miles. I was scared. More than ever, I wanted to quit.
The week before the marathon, I began mental preparation. I started telling myself I was strong enough (even if I didn’t believe it). I told myself to expect the wall, but fend it off for as long as possible. I quoted scripture and empowerment songs to myself, doing anything I could to help wipe away the flooded feelings of doubt in 7 days.
Going into marathon weekend, I was more nervous than I had ever been before. I was determined to beat the gauntlets, but still so, so, SO scared, and still struggling to know how to overcome the doubt.
I was a mixture of emotions on race day. Anxiety. Excitement. Nervousness. I could feel it flowing all through my body. I knew that at mile 5, my knee always starts to hurt, but I needed to fight through it. I knew that at mile 7 I always hit a wall where I feel I need to walk, but I needed to fight through it. I knew there was no turning back. I had to finish.
The first 5k was nothing but hills. As much as I tried to put off all doubt and fear, I felt it creeping up. I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish the race if the hills continued. Eventually it leveled out. We ran over a bridge at mile 4 into Georgetown. There was music, crowds, news stations, food, and most importantly, Marines. (Call me shallow, but Marines giving you water, food, and cheering you on throughout the race was great motivation) As I ran through Georgetown, I booked it down a hill to high five 2 Marines on the right side of the road. One of them didn’t see me coming, the other one gave me probably the best high five of my life. To the Marine who didn’t get to high five me – you were cute and I forgive you. Maybe see you next year??
Miles 5-10 took you along nature trails outside the city. At mile 5, my knee started hurting. Right on cue. But I kept going. At mile 7, stopping wasn’t an option. I was going to push myself more than anything to Beat the Bridge. Here, I clapped for the DC police running in their uniforms. I fed off the crowd hanging out on bridges and the trail runners cheering us on. I clapped for the last place runner to find the strength to keep going. And most importantly, I ate TWO oranges at the first food station. (I hate oranges)
Miles 10-15 took us along the Potomac. For someone with as much Potomac Fever as I have, running along the river was a dream come true. It was beautiful. It also left me with a sense of accomplishment being able to look across the river and tell my dad “we were over there this morning.” But this was also were we had to run the Blue Mile. At mile 12, there is a row of blue signs honoring fallen soldiers. Out of the many times I started to tear up in this race, this was one of them. Daddy and I paid our respects as we ran. We passed the signs of fallen soldiers into a sidewalk lined with dozens of American flags. The pride itself was overwhelming.
This is also where my dad initially told me I was running strong and if I wanted to leave him I could. He said he’d meet me at the finish line, but that wasn’t an option. We started this journey together, and we were finishing it together no matter what.
As we turned back for miles 16-20, this was the real dream come true. Not only did we beat the mile 17 gauntlet with plenty of time, this was where we saw my mom for the first time, and I got to do something I’ve wanted to say for my entire life – I ran the National Mall. I ran on the road parallel to Lincoln, the Reflecting Pool, and the WWII memorial. I ran in front of the Washington Monument, past all of the Smithsonian museums straight to the Capitol where my dad and I aptly took our mile 18 selfie. I almost ran over 15 tour groups in the process (don’t mess up my stride), threw a gig ‘em for the Aggies, met my mom again by the Smithsonian Castle and made the turn for the mile 20 bridge.
The dreaded bridge. The bridge that if you did not beat by 1:15 p.m. you were placed on a bus and sent back to the Finisher Festival. This was not an option. But as we approached the bridge, there was a Marine there counting the time left, a drum line giving you a solid beat to run to, and before I knew it, daddy and I were past the gauntlet and in the home stretch.
The last 10k was long. Very, very long. So was the bridge. I won’t lie, we did not run the entire thing. Every time we thought we were close to the end of the bridge, it seemed like another half mile popped up in front of us. But we made it and by mile 22 we were in Crystal City past the third and final gauntlet with only the home stretch in front of us.
This is where the marathon got hard. I had been so strong up until this point. I had pushed myself and realized I was a more capable runner than I had ever thought. I was proud of all I had achieved. After all, this was the farthest I’d ever ran in my life, and I still wasn’t to the finish line. But there’s the kicker, at mile 23 with all the gauntlets behind me, the sun beating down on me, the finish line in front of me, and a right arm that was beginning to chafe, I realized I still had a 5k left.
In that final 5k, that was why I never took off and left my dad. Before mile 23, I found the strength in myself to endure everything thrown my way, to persevere through legs aching, both knees buckling, my back hurting, and everything else. But in that final 5k, life got hard. My feet became cinderblocks, I was trying to not get dehydrated, I could feel the muscles in my arms tightening, I was trying to stop my fingers from swelling, and still wasn’t finished. It was at this point, my dad reminded me of the strength in a power walk. If we couldn’t run it, we would walk it, but we would walk it with all we had. I had officially hit “the wall” and it was having my dad there that helped me power through.
Eventually, we were back at the Pentagon where the race had started hours before. Then we looked up and saw Arlington National Cemetery. The finish was as far away as it was close. As my dad and I continued our slow power walk, we looked up and there it was – the sign that said mile 26 (and the uphill ascent…) We had walked for 6 miles and together we made the turn uphill toward Iwo Jima and the last .2 miles. At the top of the hill my dad looked at me and said go. I asked if he was sure and he told me I could do this, and it was my time to finish. My eyes already starting to swell with tears, I made the turn and at a dead sprint headed to the finish line with everything I had. I crossed at exactly 6:16:00 and immediately started crying. Is it the best time? No. Do I care? Also, no. I had finished my first marathon.
As much as I have tried to describe the experience, it’s difficult to place it into words. I fought for this. I needed to do this, if nothing more than for my own edification, and I did. This is hands down the single greatest achievement of my life. I am officially 26.2 miles stronger, and as crazy as it sounds, I’m ready to do it again.