Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010. The day that I had been nervously anticipating had arrived. I was standing outside Arlington National Cemetery with 30,000 other runners, waiting for a cannon blast to signal the start of the 35th Marine Corps Marathon.
As the starting time inched closer, self-doubt began to wash over me. I questioned my sanity. What possessed me to attempt to run a marathon? Was I worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with “real” runners? A loud cannon boom echoing in the crisp autumn air interrupted my thoughts. I became caught up in a vast sea of runners racing towards the streets of our nation’s capital.
I am a changed person for having run a marathon, but it is not because of the reasons I had envisioned. When I reflect on my experience, I do not find myself reliving each mile as I thought I would. I am different because of the people I met along the way – people whose guts and determination are humbling.
These inspiring runners weren’t at the front of pack with the elite runners, or even the middle of the pack. Most of these back-of-the-pack marathon runners will never set any running records or place in their age divisions. That wasn’t what their goal was. Some were running in celebration of life. Others ran in memory of loved ones.
During the early miles of the race, I saw a group of Marines running in memory of a fallen comrade. The packs they carried on their backs looked enormous, their combat fatigues looked stifling, and their boots looked uncomfortable for running a marathon, but they pressed onward, sharing the duty of proudly bearing our country’s flag.
Around mile 6, I passed a visually impaired man, guided by a sighted runner. I was moved not only by the man’s courage to run 26.2 miles, but by the complete and total trust he had to place in his guide. I encountered the team again two miles from the finish line. I cheered wildly as they passed me, still maintaining the same solid pace I had observed much earlier in the race.
One runner has continuously dwelled in my thoughts. He single-handedly has personified courage and determination for me. He had a list of fallen comrades pinned to his back. They had all died on the same day in Iraq. He had lost a leg on the same day and was running the marathon with a prosthesis. I can’t imagine the horrors of war he had witnessed, but it was evident he had not let the loss of a limb slow him down.
There are countless other inspirational runners I encountered during the marathon, and those were just the ones who had taken the time to display their story for others to see. Every runner probably had a story to tell about their road to the marathon starting line.
For me, that day was a roller coaster of a ride. There were miles filled with smiles and confidence, and miles sprinkled with tears. I completed the first 20.5 miles without a hitch. As I crested the top of a long bridge, my body refused to respond to my demands for it to continue running. I had met the infamous wall face to face. The way I can best describe hitting the wall (running out of glycogen, or onboard fuel) is that it feels like you are trying to run through a huge vat of thick molasses. The harder you work, the slower you go. As a result, I weaved, walked and jogged the last 5.5 miles. I was extremely grateful I did not have to resort to crawling to make it to the finish line.
In spite of a rough last five miles, all the months of training did pay off. I made it across the finish line, achieving a goal I had set over two years earlier. At the finish line, my heart swelled with patriotic pride as a marine in full uniform placed a finisher’s medal around my neck.
As I continued to walk past the finish line, I began to giggle, then gave into unrestrained laughter. The laughter was a celebration of the completion of the months of training, pushing through the self-doubt and achieving a goal that seemed impossible.
Are there more marathons in the future for me? Most definitely. After some rest and regrouping, there are more goals to be reached, more walls to be knocked down, and most importantly, many more steps to be run in a continuous celebration of life.
Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for two years. She continues overhauling her eating, fitness, mental and spiritual well-being, and still considers herself a “work in progress.” She is passionate about helping others who struggle with the same issues she does. She is the proud mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.
Lee Anne Grace