Race report: Marine Corps Marathon (what motivated me to finish)

I won’t bury the lede: I finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:39. This was 40 minutes behind the goal time I knew I could accomplish on a good day. It was also four minutes slower than my first marathon in 2007. Though my first marathon was tough in all the obvious ways, was also a lot of fun, and at no point did I wonder whether I’d finish. This morning, finishing was never, at any point, a certain thing.

Grinning ear-to-ear before the race.

The reason: near-constant vomiting and, erm, porta potty stops throughout the race. I have a sensitive stomach, and I made the mistake of eating a (very plain!) grilled chicken sandwich at a restaurant I’d never been to for lunch yesterday. It immediately didn’t sit well in my stomach, and I started the race this morning feeling not-quite-right. Starting at about the 5-mile mark, I spent more time hunched over than upright. My legs feel pretty great right now, considering, but my torso feels like I spent the morning in the plank position.

Most race reports focus on a mile-by-mile breakdown. And I feel fairly certain that if you read those details, you’d be impressed, and would think I was pretty hard-core for simply finishing. Instead, I’d like to tell you about some of the amazing, inspiring things that motivated me to keep going.

There are lots of amazing moments on this race course, including the unforgettable throng of spectators at the Lincoln Memorial. After miles of nonstop cheering crowds through Georgetown, seeing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial literally packed with people cheering at what sounded like the top of their lungs made me tear up a little (for the first, but not the last time today).

Around the 13-mile mark, I started to panic. Two thoughts ran through my mind: Should I be worried, medically?  And : How could I have trained so hard, and then fail to live up to what I know my body is capable of on race day? Then, I saw a man who was covered with scars, walking with the aid of arm braces. Behind him, a friend in military fatigues followed — with a wheelchair. I was too floored to even utter words of encouragement. My friend Jen pointed out something amazing: If I were running faster, I never would have seen this incredible man.

Around the 19-mile mark, I ran about 200 yards backwards on the race course to get to the nearest available porta potties. I ran up, bawling, hunched over, and asked the line of about a dozen or so people if I could cut them, explaining that if I did not, I would need to go behind a tree. We were on the National Mall. Everyone sympathetically agreed I should go. One woman rubbed my back to comfort me. Another woman even saw me on the race course after and asked if I was OK. I thanked them profusely and tearfully, then let their kindness carry me through another few miles.

I met up with Steve at about the 20-mile marker. I will not share details about this (and there are details) other than to say that he found me after I emerged from taking care of business behind a low concrete wall. I tearfully apologized that he had to see me like that. “I didn’t see anything!” he said brightly. “You look great, by the way!” Some women get emotional when their husbands bring home flowers, or buy them jewelry. I was so overcome with love for him at that moment, I knew I could finish the race if he stayed by my side.

Feeling a little better after the race, smiling with my Mile 20 hero.

I ran the race with a lot of people in mind, but some people got specific miles. For every race from now on, I will dedicate each mile to a specific person, because when all else fails, you can simply repeat that person’s name.

My friend Kaveh had registered for this year’s MCM, but got hurt and couldn’t run. He was the most amazing and positive spectator! Not only was his overall demeanor encouraging and awesome to see on the race course, he brought The Stick with him. He tells me multiple runners actually stopped to use it. I ran the hills for him, because they hurt, but I knew he’d love to be lucky enough to feel that pain.

My friend Melissa, who is training for a half-marathon, recently wrote a blog post about how I inspired her in training. About how I inspired her! I was so touched by this, I dedicated mile 10 to her, as this was the distance of a long run she recently kicked butt on.

My friend Sarah is a super-fast marathoner, but that’s not what makes her inspiring. She races with guts, so I dedicated the middle miles around Hains Point to her. When I considered stopping during that part of the race, I thought: Sarah wouldn’t. Neither did I.

My friend Courtney has been an incredible supporter who I hoped to run a fast mile 17 for. Instead, to make myself keep going, I simply repeated: Courtney. Courtney. Courtney. I would not quit during her mile.

Most of all, I ran the last 10K for my dad, Ed Reinink, a lifelong outdoors enthusiast who’s been sidelined by Parkinson’s Disease, not to mention a host of other serious health complications. Activity is his default mode. Even while he was hospitalized a few months ago, he couldn’t stop talking about what he was going to do once he was back home, from tiling the bathroom to water skiing. At the 25-mile mark, I took a cup of water, and almost vomited. Once the episode passed, Steve said: “Let’s go finish this for Ed.” I almost lost it.

Finally, the finish line. I was so filled with disappointment that the race, which I expected to be so much fun, was the polar opposite. But I was so joyful that I had finished at all, challenging myself in ways I never dreamed of. The simultaneous burst of emotions overcame me, and I was already weepy when I got to the medals.

The Marine who presented my medal was ceremonial in the act, taking his time and looking at me solemnly as he slowly put it around my neck. Then, he smiled, and said: “Congratulations, ma’am.” I thanked him, then burst into tears.

I truly felt I had come full-circle, from the woman running through depression to cope with deployments to the one who understands that when we do things that feel impossible — deployments, rough marathons — we are forever better people for it.

I’m grateful I had this race experience for all the reasons above. Also, when it comes down to it, I don’t set time goals for the thrill of running fast, or to impress anyone. I set time goals to challenge myself to do, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “the thing you think you cannot do.” Today, I truly did the thing I thought I could not do. I couldn’t be prouder of myself for it.

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61 Comments

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61 responses to “Race report: Marine Corps Marathon (what motivated me to finish)

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, it had me teared up. I’m in awe of people like you. amazing job amy !

  2. Amazing story. and I am crying now. You should be very proud of your accomplishments today and of your endurance. Most people would have thrown in the towel. You are a very inspiring woman!

  3. I almost got teared up too!! Great job! So inspiring! I know you could have done the 4-hour limit, have you thought about signing up for Richmond to get the time all your training deserved?

    Again, you are amazing!

  4. michjoy61

    Amy I am so proud of you! I really love you and your strength. I shed tears reading this because I felt your accomplishment!! You have inspired me greatly today!!!!

  5. It was an amazing day to run a marathon. I’m sorry you had some pretty big obstacles to deal with. But, like all the signs & t-shirts said, “pain is temporary, pride is forever.” Not to be confused with the “run like a kenyan” sign, which I just laughed at, since I’m not 130 lbs and didn’t grow up running in the Rift Valley every day of my life to school. 😦

  6. Lindsey

    Very touching and inspiring! I love the idea of dedicating each mile to a different person. What great motivation! Congrats on finishing – and as one of my training coaches always says…we run for those who can’t!

    And I piggy back Brittany’s idea – come on down to Richmond and give it another go! You can hit that 4 hour mark for sure.

  7. You continue to motivate and inspire. I just started running a few months ago and have a long way to go before I’m marathon ready, but reading your posts makes me want to go run – harder and farther than ever. Thanks for sharing with us. Congratulations seems like such a little thing to say for such an amazing accomplishment. So thank you for teaching me (and others) not to give up, despite any adversity.

  8. Wow! You are incredible. Congratulations on your accomplishment. I can’t imagine how you must have been feeling but can say that now YOU are an inspiration! Way to go!

  9. You’ve got me crying again, Amy! I’m so proud of you for going out there and kicking butt despite tummy problems. I wish I could have been there to cheer you on, but you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers all weekend long. I’m honored to be your mile 10 peep 🙂

  10. Just read your race report. I was ready to say earlier, wow, what a great time – 4:40 is faster than the one and only marathon I’ve ever run. Then, to read how you did it with all of those problems on top of it, well, that’s just amazing. I really like your idea of dedicating a mile of each race to an individual. It’s a beautiful idea.

    I know from reading your tweets (I’m “middlepackgirl” on twitter), especially these past few weeks as you’ve been tapering, that you were so excited to run this race, and I’m so sorry that today was the day that your body rebelled against you. You showed real strength of character, and like your friend said, if you had been running faster, you would have missed out on seeing that gentleman with the battle scars. If I ever run a marathon again, I think you’ve helped me to choose which one.

    Sounds like you have a gem of a husband, too.

  11. All day while I was up in Jersey for a family event I was thinking about you non stop. I was so relieved when I saw the results and saw you made it to the finish line. You definitely showed alot of courage and strength today out there. Way to go Amy!

  12. Totally in tears reading this, Amy. You are so unbelievably inspiring–not just for finishing, but for finding the good in the experience when I’m sure it would be much easier to, you know, be incredibly negative. I was tracking you online today and when I saw you had slowed down, I started thinking about how this could be me next month at my marathon…and selfishly how sad I’d be if I couldn’t run the race I had trained for (and after reading this…sooo likely…I have a touchy stomach too!) But after hearing your take, I’m kind of not afraid of whatever will happen. If things get rough during my race, you can bet I’ll be thinking about you.

  13. Amy,

    I’m so impressed by you. Many people would have stopped running feeling like you did. Way to hold it together and still finish in a decent time.

    Glad to hear you are feeling better now and can’t wait to see pictures.

    MCM Mama

  14. MB

    Rock, Amy. You captured a lot of things that made my day (many of our days, I’m sure) fantastic. Thanks.

  15. trialsoftraining

    Wow, Amy….

    I can’t imagine having such a hard time through 26.2 miles. I’m so happy for you – to push past the obstacles and still find inspiration and hope in the people that motivate you and care about you! A marathon is an amazing accomplishment no matter how you finish!!! And 4:39?! sounds like a Great time to me!!! 🙂 xoxo

  16. Wow, Amy! You are an inspiration! Congratulations on finishing.

  17. You made it through what probably would have made most others pull out. I can’t even begin to know what it feels like to run in those conditions. That was brave and a test of character. They say after you run a marathon, you’re never the same person. I think in this case, the marathon proved what type of person you are. Congrats, marathoner.

  18. ok….I love your husband! I just want to say that out loud!! what a stud!

    But the biggest ROCKSTAR of the day must be YOU!!! Do you know what you did today?? has it hit you how absolutely inspiring your blog post and your marathon are to all of us!!! Woman, you were puking throughout the 26.2 miles that YOU COMPLETED!!!! You FINISHED 26.2 miles in a very good time and, I might add, faster than the 3 marathons I’ve run while visiting porta potties, running hunched over and in pain….WOW!!! You are a determined rockstar of a runner! I bow down to you!! You have inspired me!!

  19. Liz K.

    Amy, a beautiful piece about a really difficult run! I am even more impressed now to hear that you even finished. Love how you approached each mile. You go girl!

  20. Congrats on accomplishing your goal! I know it was tough with your injuries slowing down your training. Way to push through it. An inspiration to me for sure.

  21. Congrats on a fantastic race!!!

  22. aurora

    Amy,
    Congratulations! I love the way you’ve written your race report, and I hope you know that you’re inspiring runners through your story and determination. Congratulations once again to you and all the runners and servicemen out there yesterday.

  23. Amy,
    If you’re looking for an awesome spring marathon, consider Napa Valley! First Sunday in March. 26.2 miles from Calistoga to downtown Napa through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country. I’ve run it three years in a row now, and I’ll return as long as these aging knees let me!!

    -Paul-
    aka NoazDad

  24. Whitney

    Wow Amy! Congrats on finishing. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with such horrible stomach problems. You are so amazing for sticking it out. I completely agree with some of the other posts that you should run another one soon so you can reap the results of all your training. You deserve to kill that stupid 4 hour mark!!

    Whitney

  25. Sarah

    This was probably one of the most inspiring race reports that I have read in a long time. I am so impressed that you crossed the finish line, despite all the pain & bathroom stops. 26.2 miles alone is an incredible challenge, and race day issues make it even more difficult, but you totally overcame all of that and ran an awesome race.

    Thanks for sharing your story & good luck getting your 4hr 🙂

    Sarah (@worldrunner)

    http://sestafford.wordpress.com/

  26. Eissa

    way to go girl!!! sometimes the races that are our “worst” teach us the most. consider another in the next couple weeks if you can. I ran Chicago in ’07 (crazy heat year) with stomach infection (and undiagnosed mono) and had to walk 10 miles to finish. I was already signed up for NYC a month later and did it another HOUR faster. you are strong. and you’re attitude is out-of-this-world good. rest up.

  27. Well you got me. The big, bad ass punk rocker is in tears. Happy now?

    As runners, we all know that one day could be “that” day for us as we stand at that starting line. The best part about this is that if we’re honest with ourselves, the race was won in the weeks leading up to the marathon.

    You obviously had a sub 4-hour marathon in you but I must tell you that I am so much more impressed with your 4:39 (under the circumstances).

    You had a laundry list of reasons to stop but you continued on when most would have called it a day. Be proud of your performance, I know I am.

    All the best,

    Ron

    PS – If it makes you feel better, your 4:39 is still 6 minutes faster than by PR ( a fact that I hope to address on 12/6/09 at the California International Marathon).

  28. Amy,

    You are inspiring and a true athlete. Thanks for all you do and for your wonderful story.

    Blessings,
    Chito

  29. Sorry to hear about the Gastro event… I know you were so ready for this race. But, Hey – kudos to finishing, It must have been tough.
    I never, ever eat anything but my own prepared food before a race. I guess it’s because I’m vegetarian – I don’t trust restaurants.
    Take it easy now and just know there are plenty of more races in your future.

  30. swimmykimy

    Amazing post! I was very worried about stomach issues before the race so I decided to eat all of my meals in the kitchenette at my hotel room. I also had an extremely bad race, due to a strange and sudden tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing and then awful IT band knee problems (which was very strange because neither were an issue during training!) I also thought that the race would be one big party, but I was sadly mistaken. At least we are both lucky enough to have amazing support teams that help us through the toughest moments. Great job and I look forward to hearing about your next marathon adventure!

  31. Great race report! It had me tearing up too. Way to hang in there & finish!

  32. Congrats on finishing. Sounds like it was an amazing feat just to finish. Way to be a trooper, Amy!

  33. Congrats on finishing. I had a similar experience in my first marathon where I was spending a lot of time at part-a-potties and my legs were in excruciating pain and I thought about quitting.

    I finished in 5:27. It’s not my proudest moment running and I rarely think about it in terms of running anymore. I often revisit the painful memories when I’m going through a tough spot in life. I remember the pain I felt and how I pushed through that pain and finished the job. Then, I think about how far I’ve come since then and I know I can get myself through whatever it is I need to get through.

    Great runs are cool, but sometimes the trying ones are the experiences that really shape you in the long run.

  34. congrats amy! even though you didn’t fully go into details, i can’t imagine how hard it is to run and persevere with stomach cramps, puking, restroom emergencies… you are one tough cookie. i was tearing up reading your report! so moving and inspiring. friend jen’s comment about not-seeing that guy had you been running faster was awesome – i wish i had that perspective all the time!

    while your stomach and all was not cooperating, it sounds like the rest of your body was – so this was still a successful marathon at training smart and racing well (as best as you could, with your other issues). no injuries = success! another marathon done = success! now if only you could knock out those internal bugs… 🙂

  35. You GO, girl!!!! Seriously. Wow!

  36. Wow, it was quite a day in Washington DC. So many stories to tell. I definitely felt your passion in your entry. October 25, 2009 wasn’t your day but you’ll be back – and when you do come back, 26.2 better watch out!! Stay positive – good things are coming your way:)

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  38. Lisa

    What an amazing story–glad you’re feeling better in the end. I’m shocked at your determination to finish–and proud of you!

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  40. Wow, what a courageous finish. I had a golden day at MCM, but we all know that a bad day can happen to even the most prepared runner. Surviving the worst really makes us appreciate the best. Congrats to you.

  41. Sarah S.

    Beautiful! You have such a gift, Amy. Congratulations on your accomplishments — both completing the race and surrounding yourself with such inspiring people.

  42. Congrats to you! It was an amazing race! I found so much inspiration from those who were running, walking and wheeling around me. And, who didn’t burst into tears when the Marine put the medal around their neck?

  43. Great race report, Amy! I’m sorry you didn’t make your goal time and that you had to struggle with the stomach issues, but what an experience!

    Congratulations on your finish.

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  46. Congrats Amy! Great race report and finish. You always surprise and never disappoint. Anyone can run when it’s easy. Take guts to finish when it’s hard.

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