Oh my goodness! Where to start!?! I am going to begin back in January of 2012, just so that by the time we all make it to the Marathon together you will be as excited as me. I’ll try to be as brief as possible. Good plan?
Last January, John and I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it because of the interesting stories in it, and for the engaging “sports writer” style of the prose narrative. That’s what it is — a truly enthralling story, punctuated with colorful biographies of the key actors who he weaves through the plot. Each mini-biography pushes you to read the book faster, as they interrupt the plotline. My dad, an avid reader, picked it up on my recommendation, even though he is not into running. He enjoyed the story, albeit not as much as I did. 🙂 (The author’s style started to annoy him eventually.) ANYWAY, I said to John while reading it, “Don’t worry, honey, it’s not like I’m going to want to run marathons or anything.” But then, something changed. I got lost on a run in England one Saturday and ended up logging nearly 12 miles. I was about 3 months pregnant at the time, and the run hadn’t been difficult for me. This drove me to look for a Half Marathon for which I could register that wouldn’t be too far along in my pregnancy and was on a Saturday pretty close to home. That left: March 24 (6 months pregnant) at Dorney Lake (the place where they did the Olympic rowing right near Windsor Castle and Eton College.) I set this as a goal and registered, and essentially it served to motivate me to keep running as much as possible while pregnant. I decided to sign up for another, shorter race about a month farther along – a 10K (7 months pregnant) at the end of April. During the months that followed I started to appreciate my ability to continue running more and more (I had to stop at 16 weeks gestation with baby number 5 due to some complications) and just before the Half Marathon I decided that if I could run 13 miles 6 months pregnant, I could certainly run 26 any other time. I REALLY WANTED the Marine Corps Marathon to be my first marathon, and I knew the registration filled up waaaaay in advance. At this point we knew we’d be leaving England in the summer, but we had no idea where we would be heading. I just hoped it was the East Coast so we would be close enough for the Marathon! The MCM had always been on my mind since being a midshipman at the Naval Academy and seeing one or two people walking the halls in their coveted MCM race shirts (always a distinctive mock turtleneck.) Back then, I thought a marathon was impossible, and that it was undesirable. Why would I want to torture myself??
I looked at a calendar and thought that a Tuesday was a strange day for a marathon (I was looking at the date for 2011’s MCM – October 30 – but in the year 2012.) Still, I set my alarm for the signup day to make sure I’d be ready to go since I was bunches of timezones away and didn’t want to miss it. When the day came, I signed up right away, and the registration filled up after 17 hours! I can’t remember what clued me in to the fact that the marathon was on October 28 – a Sunday – but some time in the next few hours I realized I had just signed up to run on a Sunday. This may seem like no big deal to most of you, but to me, someone who had just informed my pipe band that I would not be participating with them – the only Pipe Band invited – at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics because they were on a Sunday (turns out I had baby Daniel too late to have been able to participate anyway), this was almost a deal breaker.
That’s my fun group of friends from the Redding (UK) Scottish Pipe Band at the Olympics in London. They came on during “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with the famous Eric Idle from Monty Python fame.
I had to really think and pray about whether or not these two things were the same to me. I realize that everyone has different convictions about what it looks like to walk in faith — some are not Christians, and even among different Christian denominations, and within particular churches, people disagree on what people “should” or “should not” be doing if they are followers of Christ. (I was reminded of this again concerning Halloween when discussions sprung up on Facebook about whether or not to go trick-or-treating. With the liberty we find in Christ, a personal walk with God can have a myriad of different appearances.) In my family, we feel a conviction that we should be “keeping the Lord’s Day holy” – which to us may mean something different than what it means to others. We try to make it a day set apart to honoring God, worshiping Him at home and in church, and refraining from other labors and activities. For the most part this means we try not to eat out on Sundays, and we attempt to spend the time between our morning and evening church services resting or doing things related to our faith. Sometimes this will even include walks outside or fellowship with friends and family over boardgames or meals. We try not to be legalistic in the ways that we live out our convictions, so of course we make exceptions when we deem them appropriate. Other times, we just fall short of our own expectations and do things on Sundays that we really think we shouldn’t be doing — but we don’t beat ourselves up about it. So running a marathon once – the Marine Corps Marathon is ALWAYS on a Sunday – could be something for which I would make an exception, but why? Ever heard of the movie Chariots of Fire? (of course you have.) It’s the story of Eric Liddell, who refused to run in one of the Olympic races (for which he was favored to win) because his heat was on a Sunday, but then won Gold instead in a different race (the 400 metres) a few days later. If I am going to willingly do something that I normally would not do on the Lord’s Day, I need to have what I feel is an acceptable reason. Here’s an example: I just delivered a baby. It’s Sunday, and there’s nothing ready to eat in the house for when we return from church. We are too wiped out to even go to someone else’s house for lunch but just need to get home to eat and rest. Sure, I could have planned better, but my cart fell in a ditch (tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the situation is a bit beyond my control.) In this case, we would just hit some drive-thru on the way home. You get the point. Okay, so I had to ask myself – is the MCM any different to me than the Olympics?
The answer is, undoubtedly, yes. The Marine Corps Marathon is different from other marathons for the same reasons it is different from the Olympics, from professional football, etc, etc. In my mind, those other things are about glorifying athletes, glorifying sport in and of itself, and honoring those sporting events (not necessarily a bad thing.) There is nothing wrong with those aspects of professional athletics and such, so long as the events are not on Sunday if it is your conviction that Sunday is a day set apart to honoring God. I pay homage to my favorite entertainers by paying money to see them in concert, or I give in to my love of running by signing up for races, or I exercise my musical talents (along with a love of Guinness) by playing the bagpipes in a local pub, and in so doing I dedicate time and energy on a regular basis to things that are for my own enjoyment, things that don’t have anything really to do with God. I just don’t commonly do these things on Sundays. And I completely understand that I differ from most people in my convictions on this matter, so I am only talking about this as it pertains to me.
You may not know this, but the Marine Corps Marathon is the largest Marathon in the country, probably in the world, that does not give prize money. Yet, year after year, professional runners (ie those who compete for the top spots and earn prize money when they win races) run the MCM because of what it stands for – honoring those who serve our country, those who have died or been permanently injured serving our country, and the families of servicemembers everywhere. The event is run by the US Marine Corps, and every runner there knows that the Marines they see lining the roads make great sacrifices in the course of their careers. Multiple groups formed to raise money for charities benefitting families and soldiers alike are represented. Others simply remember the fallen without contributing any funds to a cause, and they wear shirts and put up signs to remind everyone around that freedom isn’t free. I decided that if there was a way I could run the Marathon in honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our great Nation, then I would be honoring God as well. That’s when I found “Run to Honor,” a group headed by other Naval Academy graduates in order to remember our classmates who have fallen since 9/11/2001. At the dinner with Run to Honor the night before the race, I was presented with a hat given by the parents of Major Megan McClung, the first female Marine officer killed in the Iraq war, who died when her Humvee struck an IED. The front of the hat says, “Be Bold,” as Megan’s motto in her Public Affairs Officer position in the USMC was “Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone.” Kara, who heads up Run to Honor and was a classmate of Megan’s at the US Naval Academy, chose to give me the hat because she felt it was a bold move to attempt to run a marathon three months post-partum, while raising 6 kids all nine and under (nursing one of them), and moving across the globe (essentially, her words.) It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me at the time – I mean, it’s just 26 miles. (I say this jokingly now, because it was so much harder than I had anticipated!) Megan’s parents also give an award every year to the final finisher at the Marine Corps Marathon. Here’s a brief summary, taken from the website about the Megan McClung Memorial Run in Washington State, of Megan’s commitment to her love of running (and swimming, and biking…): “Major McClung was an avid marathon runner and tri-athlete. As a tri-athlete, she competed in seven Ironman distance triathalons. Her accomplishments include winning the First Military Female award in Kona in 2000 and placing second the next year. She organized the first Marine Corps Marathon (Forward) in Iraq to coincide with the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon and served as the Race Director. Despite running with an injury, she placed second among the female runners.”
At the Expo and the Marathon, I saw many other similar groups – like Run to Remember, Wounded Warriors Fund, TAPS, and the Semper Fi Society. At this particular marathon, in this amazing location, weaving through our Nation’s landmarks and its people’s tributes to those who have died in America’s wars (Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, The 9/11 Monument, the WWII Monument to name a few), I couldn’t help but remember those who serve and to thank God with every step for my freedom, for this country, for those who keep us free, and for a God who has blessed me in so many ways.
So now I have you caught up on why I was so super-motivated to run this Marathon. Plans began – hotel reservations, a plane ticket for Christine to join us in DC, and a training plan to begin on August XX (the date depended entirely on when I would deliver Daniel and how healthy I would be during and after the delivery) including figuring out when and where to run since we would be spending August 14- September 12 on the road. I knew I couldn’t train for as long as is recommended since I only had about 10 weeks from my first run post-partum until the marathon, but part of my motivation for running until I was three days overdue with Daniel was thinking that all the running while pregnant was part of my training for the MCM. Since my first run on my last day living in England, each and every run has mattered. I have barely been able to squeeze in 4 runs a week (and I had to take a week off due to a sore calf muscle); I only progressed as far as one three-hour run, which was only 16 miles for me (most marathoners get up to a 20 or 22 mile run a few weeks before a marathon.) By this past weekend, the training had come to an end, and I spent Saturday night in the hotel room packing up for the big day. I needed to pack a bag for John to bring to the race in case it rained the whole time (dry socks and running shoes, long sleeves and running tights in case I became chilled) and also for afterwards – jeans, long sleeves, dry underwear – because we would be away from the rest of our stuff for a while. Then we packed up the things John, Christine, and the kids would need the next day as they attempted to watch the marathon, and finally we put all our other belongings in the van. That night didn’t go quite as planned – since I didn’t fall asleep til after midnight, and Greer woke up coughing a little past 2am. After medicating her, I tried to sleep a bit more, and then John started coughing. Next it was the Halloween partygoers in the hallway, and the final sound to prevent my sleep was my alarm at 4:45am. Oh well. Apparently plenty of other runners lose sleep the night before races. I quickly pumped some milk for Daniel and readied myself, then I woke up John who was driving me over to the DC Armory to catch the Metro. I was at the Pentagon by 6:15am, walking out into the chilly, drizzly morning to join 30,000 other runners. As I lamented my shoddy night’s sleep to the Facebook world on my iphone, an amputee with one of those “flex-foot Cheetah blades” walked by me. Humbled, I began thanking God for the first time that day for my wonderful life – and my thankfulness continued to overflow throughout the many, many long hours on the course.
Around 6:45am or so I met up with Brent and Carole Shrader (Carole was running the MCM for her first time, but she has done several other marathons. She finished in 4:13 and some change.), and I was glad to finally have someone with whom I could talk. Carole shared a Clif bar with me since I was starving and hadn’t brought any suitable pre-race food. It was pretty cold, and I was beginning to second-guess my apparel, but in reality, my trashbag and throw away pants kept me warm enough until the start, and I didn’t regret my short sleeves or lack of gloves at any other point in the day.
That’s it for now – I’ll have to give you more details about the race itself in another post, since this one is so long already! Check back in tomorrow to find out how John, Christine, and the kids fared. 🙂