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.
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.
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.