A good friend of mine recently finished her first marathon, and it was such a treat to cheer her on, to watch her grow through the training process, and to be reminded of my first marathon. It was 2004. We were living in Washington DC, and my husband was stationed at the Pentagon. My brother had given me a book about running a marathon. I was going to turn 30 soon; I had not really hit any milestone accomplishments in life, and so in my mind, it made perfect sense that I could run a MARATHON and feel like I had accomplished something monumental. Signing up for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) would be my race.
We registered in March, and on May 6, 2004, we were selected in the lottery to be able to participate in the race. I somehow convinced my husband to do it with me. We would train together, run together, and experience this together. Sounds fabulous right? Well, we signed up in early spring, and shortly thereafter, my husband was given orders to deploy to Iraq. By May, he was prepared to deploy. This marathon thing was not happening for “us”. I was running at that time, but I wasn’t really training. All I could think about was war, deployment, loneliness, and fear. He was headed to a war zone.
I had gone through a deployment before, and it was a long six months. His first deployment was pre-9/11 so it was a very different deployment. He had been deployed to Okinawa, and from there, they spent some time training in mainland Japan. For me, that deployment was figuring out communicating with him and working through some jealousy issues; the Marines seemed to be having a lot of fun with weekend get-aways to Tokyo, while I was working to pay off his truck with the money were were saving because of the deployment. We were so young, and I felt like we were so poor. This seemed like a big deal back then, and I have learned so much, but that is a whole other blog, so let’s get focused on the running.
This deployment would be very different. The news continued to show the war, and my stress level continued to rise. By the time my Marine worked his way through Sadr Ciry and Najaf, I had quit watching the news and was focused on the training. I realized by late-summer, and into this deployment, that I had two choices: I could watch the news, lose sleep, and be worried non-stop, or I could focus on something that I could control. I could run, and I could read books about running. I could focus on my weekly mileage. I could focus on forward progress. Needless to say, I did both. Each and every day, I worried, and 4 days a week, I trained. Each week, my mileage grew, and each week, I became physically and mentally stronger.
As it got closer to race time, my best friend, Jenn, and her husband, Will, decided to graciously join in on this crazy marathon experience. It seemed so crazy back then because I didn’t know any other marathoners, and back then, we didn’t “follow” endurance athletes. Social media wasn’t a thing in 2004. (To put it into perspective, I think I had a flip phone in 2004.) I regress again; now, back to the running…Will agreed to run the race, and Jenn agreed to take care of us. The registration window had closed, but somehow, Will and my husband worked out transferring his bib, so that Will could participate in the race. It took several emails and a general’s signature; because Marines are Marines, a Marine in Quantico and a Marine in Iraq figured out how to make it work.
Marine Corps Marathon always runs on the last Sunday in October, and it happened to fall on Halloween that year. It made this already unique experience even more interesting. When I arrived to the race, I not only figured out that not every one looks like the athletes on the cover of Runner’s World Magazine, but they looked like regular people. (Yes, I thought I was going to be the only runner with curves out there. I thought EVERYONE was going to be long and lean, and that I would be the total outsider.) Not only were there people of all shapes and sizes, some were even dressed in costumes. How fabulous would this be? I could be anonymous among all of these runners from all over the place, and I would fit in just fine. Thousands of people who all had the SAME GOAL – to finish had come together to do something monumental. We weren’t competing against each other. We were actually using each other’s positive vibes to keep going. The people running in the middle and back of the pack weren’t there to win a race. We were there to accomplish something BIGGER than anyone of us could imagine accomplishing. We had all trained and worked to get to the starting line, and we would FINISH!!!
I trained for 16 weeks. During those 16 weeks, I was not completely focused on deployments and war. I had found something else to focus on, and for that, I will always be grateful. I got to the starting line and accomplished something that felt monumental. Because of that experience, I learned that I can do hard things, and I am capable of surviving challenging times. Two weeks later, my husband would be shot in the Battle for Fallujah. I can look back and commend myself on how well I handled his injury and recovery. I can look back and know that I handled subsequent deployments better because of my running. I can look back and think about how my endurance running has helped me get through other challenging times too. The running has allowed me to FOCUS on something positive, and the running reminded me that I CAN DO HARD THINGS.
For my non-running reader friends, remember this: it doesn’t have to be running or running a marathon. Your hard thing is your hard thing. I encourage each of you to find your hard thing. Set a goal. Work to achieve it. Achieve it. Celebrate it, and let it remind you that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS.