26.2. Let’s just stop and think about that for a moment. The next time you’re out and about, take note of the mileage you’re driving and imagine walking/running it instead. It’s a long way, folks!
And guess what? I did it…well, more precisely, we did it. I walked the distance; you raised the funds. We surpassed the $5,000 goal, raising a grand total of $5,925!!!
Thank you. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for waiting so patiently for a “thank you” note. :) Almost a year has passed since I crossed the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon, but the gratitude I feel has not waned. I carried your names in my heart and in my hip pack.
It was such an honor to be part of my hometown marathon. If you have never been to the Marine Corps Marathon, it s a sight to behold! Around mile 3, we were walking/running on Spout Run Parkway, and Georgetown University came into view. At that moment, I was overcome with a sense of peace, pride and joy. I told myself: “Enjoy this. Look where you are! Remember how far you’ve come and relish the moments, each moment, that comprise the race.” I actually laughed out loud a moment later when a man ran by and interrupted my deep thoughts with “You got some fries with that shake?!!” hahahaha Oh my goodness. Shaking your hips is an essential element of good speedwalking form, and I suppose I was doing it well! (cue this hysterical clip):
Although I did not have a walking partner, I never once felt alone. Team in Training coaches, teammates, family, friends, other racers and onlookers cheered me on and kept me pumping those arms and pushing off those feet. Instead of searching for the closest mile marker, I looked forward to the next person I would see in the crowd. I high-fived every child who offered their hand, even if I had to veer all the way across the course to reach them. I always aspire to maintain the enthusiasm of a child, and I wanted to make sure they knew we were happy they were there and we were uplifted by their encouragement.
I was not there to set a personal best; I was there to enjoy the course and appreciate the strength and resilience of the human body and spirit. People say that doing marathons is addicting, and I get it now. I kind of got it when I did the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco and the VA Beach Half Marathons, but I truly understand now. You start off the day early in the morning with an enormous challenge in front of you. It is an undertaking of immense proportions, one you have (hopefully!) trained for for many months. You are alone in the race, but you are buoyed by the presence of runners/walkers/cyclists who are beside you on the course, feeling similar pains, sharing similar joys and experiencing the same high when the finish line comes into view. People you don’t know yell your name and shout words of encouragement, holding funny or inspiring signs to propel you forward (some of my favorites were: “You’re running better than Congress.”, “Run faster! We have brunch plans!”, “Run like you just scaled the White House fence!”, “Let it go and run (or Elsa)!”). They offer you snacks and high fives. Many of them you see in multiple places on the course. Clearly they take their support job seriously.
The greatest supporters of all though were of course the ones I knew. When I first saw Lori and Tim, I was approaching the Kennedy Center and I heard a familiar voice yell “Go Julie!”. I looked over and saw Lori and Tim dressed in matching blue R2-D2 tank tops with turtlenecks underneath (in homage to the famous outfit from my youth). Although the Marine Corps Marathon course didn’t allow me much time to dawdle or take photos, I definitely had time to stop and visit with my cheerleaders! I found my mom, dad, Laura, Tiso, Katie, Lucy and Ellie around mile 16, hanging out with Lori and Tim. To my surprise, the whole family was wearing the stylish R2-D2 tank/turtleneck combo! They were by far the best looking cheerleaders on the course! I believe I’ve started a fashion trend.
Team in Training coaches often hopped onto the course with me to chat and check in. Teammates who walked in other races showed up to lend their support, and two very special ladies met me at THE BRIDGE. I write that in all caps because it’s kind of a big deal to make it to the bridge. If runners/walkers don’t maintain at least a 15 minute pace throughout the race, they will not cross the 14th Street Bridge before buses come in to sweep the course so they can re-open the roads. Carmen and Margaret met me at THE BRIDGE and walked with me the last 6 miles. Once I realized I would make it over without being swept, the pain crept in. I’m pretty positive the pain was there before, but I couldn’t feel it because all I could think of was “make it to the bridge, make it to the bridge”. All of the sudden, my hip felt like it might pop out and I allowed myself to limp slowly. No longer did I pay attention to the app reading my pace or the racers quickly passing me. I walked as quickly as I thought my mucles/tendons/bones would allow, which was slow folks. I never went too far without seeing someone I knew, either in the bright green coach’s race jersey or in another TNT jersey. Of course I stopped to visit with Jenn, Arthur, Grimsey and Finn (their 2 dogs :)). They probably weren’t too impressed with my pace, but I was so relieved to have made the bridge, all I cared about was putting one step ahead of the other and making it to the Iwo Jima memorial. I didn’t blame the runner in front of me who offered someone on a Segway $10,000 to borrow his wheels.
When we were coming up on the last 2 miles, Coach Jack walked with me (and my BRIDGE angels Carmen and Margaret), and told me to visualize someone special to motivate me those last couple of miles. Of course, I thought of Ronnie. I hoped he could see me and know I was racing in his honor/memory. Just then, we walked under a bridge and there was a bike propped up against the wall with a portable stereo. The unmistakable notes of “Enter Sandman” filled the air. Ronnie, indeed, was with me.
I wish I could say the music infused a new source of strength and stamina, and I whizzed down the rest of 110, but alas my muscles were too fatigued from the previous 24 miles. Margaret and Carmen kept encouraging me, and soon we came to the final hill, mere steps away from the finish. I saw the R2-D2 clan and walked over to give them high fives before completing the end by myself. The fatigue vanished and I ran to the finish line, arms raised in triumph, with an official finishing time of 6:43:06 (an average of 15:22 per mile). I walked through the chute to get my medal, race jacket and victory photo, and the tears started falling. I thought of Ronnie, and I thought of my struggles the past years, and I was overwhelmed. It’s hard to describe exactly what I was feeling; I was proud, I was tired, I was lonely but I felt loved, my heart was full and yet it ached. I was slightly broken but strong enough to keep moving. I have learned this is the most important skill in life. And so I keep walking, but I always remember, as my necklace reads, “you never walk alone”.
P.S. I love this joke: “How do you know if someone ran a marathon? Don’t worry they’ll tell you.” But seriously, it’s true. I will tell anyone proudly that I have now completed 2 full marathons and 2 half marathons. Does that make me annoying? Possibly. Do I care? Not really.