I completed the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) yesterday. This was my third time running it. It wasn’t my greatest performance, primarily due to heat and humidity. By mile 14, I was feeling really bad and went into active recovery mode. After a couple of miles, I had recovered enough to pick up intervals again and I finished out the race that way. I ended up with a time that was my slowest for this distance, but I finished.
Before the race, I would jokingly say that my goal was “just finish, don’t die.” When it is all said and done, the race itself is simply icing on the cake of a long period of training that made me better and healthier. My training season was less than ideal, with injury, a bout of COVID, and a few other setbacks, and I knew I wasn’t in the condition I’d like going into the race.
All of that is true, but it’s the buildup that counts. Race day doesn’t take away the back-to-back weekend 20-mile runs I did a few weeks ago, or the multiple 15+ mile runs. It does not erase the multiple weekday morning runs that got me up early and gave me focus for the rest of each work day. This whole process did reinforce the fact that the War on Cubicle Body is daily and constant.
The MCM is more than a race, however. As the “people’s marathon,” it is very much a human event that brings out the best in people, especially in their most trying moments. Here are a few I saw yesterday:
- The course of the MCM always features the Blue Mile, a stretch of the course that is lined with photos of service members lost in the line of duty from World War II up to the present day. In approximately mile 12, I watched a runner stop, go back, and embrace the photo of her daughter. She sat down on the ground with tears in her eyes.
- In mile 14, I passed a man who was struggling. As I passed him, I noticed that he was repeating to himself “I will not give up.” I slowed down and said to him “No, you won’t.” I was actually struggling quite a bit at that point myself. I had been focused on the fact that I was struggling and this exchange helped me get back in touch with what I knew about active recovery. I’m not sure I would have finished otherwise.
- In mile 21, crossing the 14th Street Bridge, I overheard an exchange between two runners. The first was lamenting her performance and was concerned that she had slowed her friend down and ruined his race. He said simply “I made my own decision to stay with you and make sure you’re okay. We’ll finish together.”
- In mile 25, a woman who had been running with her husband stopped, moved to the shoulder of the road and sat down. She was rocking back and forth in obvious distress. Her husband, other runners, and a nearby Marine began moving toward her to check on her. Before anyone could reach her, she stood up and said “No, I’m going to finish this.”
For every person who finishes the race in under three hours, or sets a PR, there are multiples for whom their 6+ hours finish is their PR. Each requires its own kind of grit and determination. The elite runners know this and often walk back down the course with their medals encouraging those of us in the back of the pack to keep going.
As for me, I am happy with my finish because I finished. It also got me back in touch with the constant need for discipline to be able to perform better and maintain my health. I would say that, over the past year, I have been more focused than I was six years ago but not as focused as I was three years ago. So I am grateful to this race for reminding me both of what I can do and what I haven’t been doing.
I’m also grateful for the opportunity to see the best in people.