As we hugged each other in a sweaty embrace, Tina fought back tears and offered me some watermelon. I told her it wasn’t for me, it was for her. My indomitable wife had just run 26.2 miles to finish her first marathon.
The 39th Marine Corps Marathon – 2014
As a runner, I am often reminded of the generosity and compassion of strangers. But, this past weekend, I experienced it firsthand. Thousands of voices called out encouragement, their presence a testament of their love for another, their smiling faces a reminder that the pain of running is temporary.
Before the sun came up on race morning, the Metro was already packed with runners making their way to the starting area. The subway cars were packed with bodies and the nervous anticipation of the group was palpable. Silence was broken by laughter every minute or two as runners let off steam and began to mentally prepare for the race.
After the runners departed to the starting corrals, there was a smaller stream of family members and friends headed back in the opposite direction. Although we were not running, we all were quiet and pensive as our hearts and minds were still with our loved ones. From that point on, it would be difficult to think of anything else.
I clapped and cheered for passing runners as I stood beside the magnificent Washington Monument at mile 17. I was truly humbled by the determined faces of the thousands of runners who passed, but I was searching for the one who belonged to me. When Tina rounded the corner and made her way towards me, I jumped into the race to give her some words of encouragement. I was able to stay with her for only a few short seconds, but I hoped she would be buoyed by my presence.
In my excitement, I had forgotten to take a picture. I decided to run across the grass to Constitution Ave and see her again at mile 19 before heading to Arlington Cemetery for the finish. This time, I took a brief video as she approached and jumped in to tell her that I loved her. Only six more miles! I sent the video to our family members back home who were also on the edge of their seats hundreds of miles away.
Signs lined the course offering encouragement and humor. Some of my favorites were the ones that caused runners to laugh aloud, or at least snap out of their isolation for a moment and become distracted as fatigue set in. “Keep running, I just farted.”
I found a spot just a tenth of a mile from the finish line. My watch read three hours and forty-five minutes. Plenty of time. Tina was on pace to finish around 4:10:00. As I watched the weary runners gaze up at the hill towards the finish I again marveled at their ambition and resolve.
There was a woman standing next to me telling every runner that they were doing so well, looking so good, and were amazing. What a kind and generous spirit. Some runners responded with smiles and head shakes, but it helped all of them power through the next arduous mile.
One runner suddenly stopped and grabbed his hamstring in agony. Another runner stopped to stretch out her cramped calf muscle. A third runner tripped and skidded to her knees on the asphalt and began to cry. All three pulled themselves up and made it up the final ascent.
Tina rounded the corner and I could tell she was in the tunnel. That place where runners go when the race becomes internal. The world gets quieter, your peripheral vision fades, and each step is a singular event. She passed without so much as a glance in my direction.
Twenty minutes later, we finally found each other. I congratulated her on becoming a marathoner and she offered me her watermelon. As we walked arm in arm through the sea of runners and spectators, I couldn’t have been more proud.
Thank you to all the spectators and race volunteers that make it possible for us to continue doing what we love.