Mission: Accomplished A Marine Corps Marathon Story

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A couple of years ago I had the pleaseure of sharing Valerie’s Marine Corps Marathon story. Every year in October I’m reminded just how wonderful runners can be to each other. If you are running this year: Ooorah! 


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Tuesdays on the run is featuring your remaining goals for 2017. Tell us what you plan to smash and what you want to accomplish!

Link up with ErikaMarcia and me this week. We want to hear what’s on your plate.

If this one looks familiar, it’s because I shared this story last year. It’s one of my favorite running stories EVER.

Since the Marine Corps Marathon is just around the corner, I wanted to remind everyone about the spirit of the marathon.


Mission Accomplished: Valerie’s Marine Corps Marathon Story


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.

Photo: John Robel, retired Marine, and MCM finisher


I’m going to share a race recap that’s a little different from the norm.  It’s going to be long, but I promise you it’s worth reading. This one comes from Valerie, a friend I know from one of my Facebook running groups.

Something you should know about this story:  it’s her story, so it matters.  Not that I expect you guys to be jerks, but there are jerks on the internet.

Don’t be a tool until you read the whole thing.  And then if you are going to be a tool, take that ish somewhere else.  I ain’t having it.

Because this is a story of heart, of perseverance, of doing what she thought was right.  A story of honoring a commitment.  A story of completing her mission.


Valerie cheer 2

Running friends are the BEST friends. After 7 hours on the course, these ladies came back to cheer their friend home.


This is a story about friendships new and old.  A story about runners supporting each other.  A story about celebrating an accomplishment.

It’s not about being an official finisher (she’s not claiming that title THIS year, but she is a 5-time marathon finisher- including the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon).

It’s not about earning a medal (though she does have one- before you freak out, read the story).

It’s not about the race—- yet, it’s ALL about this race.

It was about completing the mission.

And Valerie’s mission was to complete 26.2 miles during the Marine Corps Marathon.

Valerie’s story in her words as shared in her Facebook group:

Race recap, and I don’t even know where to begin. And haters can keep their comments to themselves because what happened to me yesterday was so much bigger than a race. Those of you who believed in me, that I could beat the bridge – thank you for believing in me. I hope I didn’t disappoint you too much. I didn’t beat the bridge, but I did do the distance, and I finished, and I did not give up.

I tried so very hard. I ran more than I’ve run in ages. Was feeling pretty good for a long time. I ran quite a lot. I high fived every Marine, had a good time with other runners… I had a good time.


Screen shot of Valerie, in blue, captured by a friend at home.

Screen shot of Valerie, in blue, captured by a friend at home.


And the runners coming at me on Rock Creek were so encouraging; I wonder if they were cheering me knowing that I was going down, I was so far at the back how could they not have known it. What also stunned me in these first 8 miles was, over 30,000 runners and how many of them I saw that I knew. I mean, that many people, what kind of serendipity is it that I see dozens of people I know?!

At the turnaround at mile 8 was the point where *I* realized how far back I was – there were maybe a dozen people behind me scattered over a mile, and that was it. And about mile 9 was the leapfrogging with the trailers and buses when they began breaking down the water stops and picking up the portapotties.

That was discouraging because I had been feeling strong. But then it went to hell pretty much. I think when I got to the Kennedy Center, and there were no oranges left, was when I knew. I had been looking forward to those. I was really dehydrated and needed the sugar. I had Gu, but that makes me thirsty. I had plenty of my own fuel but wanted liquid.

And there were no oranges left.

I’ve been DFL many many times, but it’s pretty rare that I’m in the way of everyone cleaning up and packing out. And I wasn’t even last.

I was NOT going to let them take me.

I had a plan. I committed to doing 26.2 miles.

That’s what I was going to do, no matter what. I came there to do 26.2 miles and end at the Marine Corps Memorial, and I was geared up to tell them NO and have them make me move to the sidewalk.

But no one ever swept me. It was like they just… neglected us, forgot about us. They were pulling up all the aid stations, put away porta potties, no oranges left, no timing mats, no water, etc.  Even the Marathonfoto photographers left, so there are no pictures of me on the course after maybe the beginning mile.


Mile 7

Not true- a friend grabbed this one around Mile 7


So I was in rough shape at Hains Point at Blue Mile, Mile 12 – those are the people I was also affiliated with, the Wear Blue: Run to Remember people. And I really wanted to see the Blue Mile, because I didn’t spend time on it last year and it is the most meaningful part of the course… well they were packed up this year.

Apparently, someone said they should leave, but it wasn’t the time for them to according to the instructions, and there were still runners on the course, but they were packing up to leave. There were at least 4-5 just before me, and another 5-6 after me. There was no one after me once I hit the Blue Mile, so I don’t know what happened to all those people. Or any of those before me either because I didn’t see them on the course on the later parts that looped up and back.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.

Photo: John Robel. The MCM Blue Mile


Anyhow, I was dehydrated and really hurting. And I may have been in tears because I really wanted to see the Blue Mile and here I was missing it again. I asked for some water, and they gave me a bottle which I drank.

People were really good to me there; I think part of it was because I was in Wear Blue, and one of their own. But I felt so badly that I was representing so badly. So slowly, lagging behind. I was ashamed.

And then this one woman, I later learned her name was Jenny, from Wear Blue, she started walking with me.

She was my relief when they pulled up all the aid on Hains Point – there’s nothing there (on the Mall at least you can go buy water). She realized I was dehydrated and got me some of the orange juice and water from their broken down station, and told me I needed salt and gave me a chocolate nut bar, and began walking with me – because while I had been running a lot before mile 12, after that it was a lot, of walking and after about 14, all walking til the end.

We talked a lot, and she stuck with me. She committed to sticking with me until the end.

Jenny signed up to volunteer to hold a flag at a sign that day, and to support two friends of hers that were running. She has her own amazing stories from that day, of which mine is just one. But I can tell you she did not plan on walking a half marathon yesterday. (Otherwise, she would have worn different running shoes.)

I cried some, and she wouldn’t let me.

I told her my plan and showed her how I had the turn by turn directions for the course, and we figured out for ourselves when we needed to go on the sidewalks. We saw the signs at the mile markers (at least they left those up!), so we knew we were right as far as the course.

She carried a quart of orange juice the whole time for me when I needed liquid sugar. She ran to Marines breaking down the 10k course on the Mall and got water from them and caught up to me. She offered me her arm each curb we climbed down from and up onto (which I didn’t accept because I needed to do it on my own).

We told stories of our lives and talked about races and life and a little bit of everything. And we did the whole course, and when we got to Mile 20 and the bridge was too late, she and I went and did the route I had plotted on Google maps. So we pressed on…. I gave her a little DC tour too.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.

Photo: John Robel


At that point, we stopped and went to the bathroom because we could. And I took an XLERATOR selfie because I could (***this is an inside joke kind of thing- Patty***).

I was hurting pretty badly – part of it was that my tendinitis came back, and part of it was I think the flat surfaces for so long. I don’t love hills, but they do really help give your feet and legs something else to do and stretch them in different ways.

And on the Mall, on Rock Creek Trail, Jenny went around telling random people we were still out there, that I was still getting it done.

She was my distraction and my friend, keeping my mind occupied and me laughing as we talked about everything under the sun.

She was my fiercest champion on the course – I had the plans and intentions to do “my” 26.2 alone, and I anticipated feeling lonely, so so alone, ashamed, embarrassed.

I never told her how paralyzing my fear of that feeling was, that I considered DNS because I anticipated feeling so ashamed and humiliated.

I had my moments, but on the whole, she wouldn’t let me be. She told random people all over what I was doing and chastised me for saying I felt embarrassed. And I asked her to please not… I told her I was embarrassed and ashamed and she yelled at me for that.

She said if I had stopped or quit that would have been shameful, but that I was going on, still moving forward, still fighting, she said that was the whole point of the Marines and that no one embodied it more than I did and she wouldn’t let me feel bad about it.

***Oh.  My Gosh.  WHO LOVES JENNY?  THIS GIRL! If you know Jenny, please make sure she READS THIS STORY!- Patty***

Later she said that mission was 26.2 and mission accomplished counted because it was Marine-like if presented with an obstacle to completing the mission, to figure out a way around the obstacle to complete the mission and that’s what I did.

I didn’t think of it that way.

I texted the couple of people I said I would to let them know where I was, but I figured on a 50-50 shot at best that they’d meet me.

People have other things to do, and it was getting late.

And here’s where other people can fill in the other part of the story, because I don’t know what miracles happened on the other end. I didn’t know, though, that Eve was going to coordinate something from afar, or that Sparkle Sisters (I don’t want to leave anyone out… Jill, Sara whom I can’t tag, and her daughter, Heidi… and see there I am leaving people out…. sorry and shoot!!) were going to amass hugely for me and wait for me.

And meanwhile, while I made my way to the finish line, the Sparkle Sisters had apparently been telling other people at Iwo Jima, including runners from Dallas who had done the Marathon and some other people.

They told them, there’s still a runner out there, she’s still coming and we’re waiting for her. They told them what I was doing. So when Jenny and I got there….two of the cheer squad (and I’m sorry, my mind is mush and I can’t remember who) came and ran us in. And there were still Marines there, packing up.

All I had wanted at the end, was to be able to take my finisher photo in front of Iwo Jima, and I was pleased that it wouldn’t be a selfie.

But when I saw the Marines I thought, well, I could get a hug from the Marines too, just like a normal finisher.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.


So I went to the Marines who were still there and hugged a couple of them.

Then we went to the memorial so I could take my finisher photo… and they followed me.

The half-dozen or so Marines who were still there escorted me to the memorial – I didn’t realize they were following me until someone told me to turn around – and I was so moved that they would do that.

For me.

And we took pics together.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.


Then one of the people from Dallas gave me his medal.

He said I earned it and no one deserved it more than I did.

I tried to give it back to him, it was HIS, and he earned it, and whatever you say about what I did, yes I was true to myself, and I finished, but he finished the right way and did it by the rules and earned it, more.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.


I felt bad accepting it but he refused to accept it back and then someone gave me a lecture about accepting things gracefully.

And then the Marines gave him a new medal, so he got his back, which was good.

I don’t feel like I earned it. I didn’t as far as the race requirements. But I can see how some would say I did as far as the spirit of the Marines.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.

Texans: you make me proud.


What this was… this was so much more than a race.

Looking back on it now, it maybe wasn’t about a race at all.

It was about people… people who just because they are good people, there’s nothing in it for them, wanted to help and to see a comrade succeed.


Photographer who happened upon the moment and needed to give Valerie a hug. A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.

A photographer who happened upon the moment and needed to hug Valerie.


And it was about a mission. And it was one that I would have done alone, yes, but I was so much stronger and happier (I know those who were there won’t believe that from the number of tears shed and the amount of wailing I did) because they were there.

A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.

The ladies pictured above are part of a group of runners who love each other and love their running skirts.  One running friend from this group carried her along the full course as a “flat runner” so Valerie would complete the course in spirit.

Just in case she wasn’t able to beat that bridge, at least Flat Valerie would.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.


Valerie shared the story on our collective Facebook group. My understanding is that it’s been shared many more times in many other running groups.

I wanted to share it here because: it’s awesome.

It sums up what running means to me.  I am not fast; I don’t even really like doing it all the time.  But I DO like the people I’ve met through running.  I love them.

Side note:  I’m proud to say the support from Valerie’s story has been positive.  As a reminder: nowhere did she ask for the course to remain open or expect to be given a medal.  This is an extraordinary story about a personal mission to finish 26.2 miles.

If you don’t “get it” then maybe you should go kick rocks.


A Marine Corps Marathon story from the back of the pack runner.


Valerie, Mission Accomplished.

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  • Marcia says:

    This IS awesome. It’s the sweetest thing. The goodness of people. This is why I keep running and keep blogging. Because runners make the best friends. Rock on Valerie!

  • Elaine says:

    What an inspiration. Valerie. Jenny. The Texan. The Marines. All of them — just fabulous. As a fellow back-of-the-packer, I’m so glad Valerie shared her experience.

  • Coco says:

    Oh my gosh, I am in tears! What a great story – of Valerie’s strength and perseverance, Jenny’s kindness and selflessness, and all the others who rallied for her at the end!

  • Such a great story of perseverance! I can’t say I would have ever had that determination to finish the race.

  • Awww, thank you for sharing Valerie’s story. Valerie, you rock & you totally deserve that medal. It would have been so simple to give up.

    Jenny,whoever you are, wherever you are, you rock too.

  • Rachel says:

    OMG I’m sitting here weeping in front of my computer at 8:30 am… sigh… Good for her. I’m so happy for her. She truly does have the spirit of the Marines in her. xoxo

  • Dana Ayers says:

    GAH! TEARS! I couldn’t keep from tearing up at this. I’ve written an entire book about why I love back of the pack’ers and this story was the perfect example! Thanks for sharing on the MCM page, that’s the first place I’ve seen it!

  • Kris says:

    Thank you for sharing. What an amazing story!
    Valerie -you are amazing and have amazing people by your side.
    Jenny – you are a special person!

    Keep Running 🙂

  • diane says:

    Oh my goodness gracious! What an amazing story! Tears. It is so nice to see that there are still good people out there. (PS Patty, I am the one you met in the bathroom at the Disneyland Half Expo).

  • Okichabbii says:

    For Ms Valerie:
    OMGosh!!! “Semper Fi, Do or Die!!!”
    Was just reading & was inspired & such & all them good feelings & admired you. But this picture brought me to tears & speaks volumes of the human heart. There are many heroes in the world but this pictures 9 of the best heroes there can be [not taking away from any other heroic woes] & your friends like the one with the flat Valerie, how amazing they are. You were truly blessed Sunday, when you made it to the start line, Ms Jenny & all the people that came in your path till the finish.
    You TOOK the Iwo!!!
    Joel Osteen posted this yesterday & I related to it after my Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday, but I think Ms Valerie’s story is perfect proof:
    “Even when you don’t feel like you can go on on your own, God will have somebody there to carry you. Somebody to help you do what you couldn’t do by yourself. He’s looking for you. God is not going to give up on you until you get back to your rightful place. He doesn’t just try once or twice, He’ll keep pursuing you, keep calling you, keep nudging you. He loves you too much to leave you alone. He knows who you are. He breathed His life into you.”

  • Kayla says:

    This is a beautiful, amazing story! I hope Valerie gets to read the comments here! YOU EARNED THIS! Rock that medal proudly because you earned every bit of it! You accomplished your mission – course limits be damned! It is amazing that you had such great support – and from two great running communities!

  • patty says:

    Here’s an update to the story from one of her cheer squad members, Jill. I loved learning what happened behind the scenes!

    Once all our runners were done, we went back to Yanni’s hotel to regroup. At that point, we caught up on Facebook and found out from Eve that Valerie was STILL OUT THERE!!

    We quickly went into action. Sara, Katie & I gathered some supplies for Valerie (chocolate milk, snacks, water, Coke) for when she finished, and we headed over to the Iwo Jima monument to wait for her. She was about 3 miles out, so we had about an hour to wait. The problem? They were completely dismantling the finish area. EVERYTHING was packed up and nearly gone, and we didn’t know which direction she’d be coming from.

    I flagged down a volunteer driving a mini cart and told her that we still had a runner out there, she was DETERMINED to finish on her own terms and asked if there were any race officials around to help us figure out where she might be coming from since none of us were very familiar with the area. They were shocked to find out there was still a runner there, and we talked for a few minutes about the route she was taking.

    Valerie had texted me the turn by turn route, and we tried to determine which way she would be entering the monument area from since ALL of the markings/signs from the race were gone by now. It’s about 5:30 pm when I was talking to this volunteer, and I told her we were going to wait up at the Monument itself and IF they had any way to contact a race official, that that was where we would be.

    A few minutes later, Sara, Katie & I were joined by Heidi, Leslie & Clare. We milled around looking in all directions for her, taking a few photos in front of the monument and just hanging out until it was time to celebrate Valerie’s arrival. There was a group of 8-10 MCM finishers touring the monument, and I went to them and said, “Hey, you guys wanna help us do something really awesome? We still have a runner out there. She didn’t beat the bridge, and she knows she’s not an official finisher but she is DETERMINED to finish her 26.2, and she’s on her way. We think she’s about 20 minutes out. We’re going to cheer her in like all the other finishers, will you help us?” They were all amazed and quickly agreed to wait for Valerie with us and add to our cheer squad. There were other tourists around as well, and they caught wind of what we were doing. Soon, we had a bunch of people all looking to see what direction she’d come from.

    At this point, we found out she had a Wear Blue volunteer with her as well, and we finally spotted the two women entering the area. Katie & Heidi ran out to help run them in. A group of 6 or so Marines were still cleaning up, and they followed them in as well. Soon Valerie reached the monument, we rang all our cowbells and screamed and cheered her. She was crying, we were crying, it was such an amazingly emotional moment. And then she turned around and saw that there were Marines behind her, and she just lost it. We hugged Valerie and started taking photos.

    She posed with her Marines and her Wear Blue Angel, Jenny. As she was doing so, one of the MCM Finishers who stayed to cheer with us, came over and gave her HIS medal. She tried to refuse, multiple times until she was reminded to “accept gracefully”. The finishers who were from the Dallas Running Club repeatedly told her that her determination and commitment were what made her a finisher, and she earned the medal they gave her.

    At some point, while we were all taking photos with our cell phones, an official photographer from the MCM team came over and took some photos. That was when we realized there were 5 or 6 marathon officials who had arrived. They had brought a medal with them to present to Valerie but since she had been given one from one of the finishers, they presented it to him. The MCM officials were amazed and again told all of us that Valerie’s finish was in the true spirit of the race. Did she finish within the official time? No. Did she “beat the bridge”? No. Did she earn that medal with 26.2 miles of grit, determination, and commitment? You better freaking believe it.

    She didn’t want accolades, she just wanted to finish HER committed race. She wasn’t expecting anyone to be there when she started out. Days before when I messaged with her, I asked her to send me photos so that I could make a Flat Valerie to be carried by Yanni. She said she felt like a loser and I reminded her that the fact that she was even starting the Marathon was incredible to me.

    I am PROUD of her and PROUD to have been able to see her finish and thrilled to call her a friend and sparkle sister.

    • Okichabbii says:

      As if I needed to cry again today. Well, actually it’s a new day but gee whizz, I can’t read it without crying. More heroes have been added by your account of the story, the MCM officials too, especially since they are getting so much flack.
      All of you are amazing!!! Inspirational.
      Please pass the love & respect that hundreds, if not thousands have for all of you, the gentleman from the Dallas running club, I mean, that guy SO amazing!!! I have such respect for him, please somehow pass this to him too. Oh & that Ms Jenny, my goodness another hero of this story.
      I don’t think the words to describe how I feel about all of you have been invented yet.
      Please, keep us posted on all other races you ladies do, it would be an honor to once again share the asphalt with you again & hopefully shake your hands.

  • This story is blowing up on the MCM facebook page. The entire community “gets it” and what this race is all about. Valerie – it is your story that will give me the courage to run a marathon some day, not the person who can finish it in 2.5 hours.

  • Jessica S says:

    Now I have all the feels and all the tears at work!! LOVE THIS!

  • What an awesome inspiring story, she rocks!!!

  • Charlotte says:

    This is an amazing story, I’ve come back to it several times today. The pictures at the end are just sheer raw emotion! Congrats to her!

  • One of the best race recaps ever read. Truly the best of runners and humans displayed. What perseverance also. Great post, thanks for sharing. A story needing to be told!

  • MG says:

    A great story of Valerie’s perseverance and the goodness of the people who make up the Marine Corps Marathon experience. Congratulations!

  • Sandi says:

    Jenny and I have been friends since grade school in California. She has a huge heart and it is so wonderful to read this story and your accomplishment! Congratulations on pushing through to the end!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this story, Patty, on behalf of Valerie. The spirit of the marathon knows no bounds and the spirit of a marathoner doesn’t either. Incredible perseverance and determination. xo

  • Melanie says:

    This is such a beautiful story. Thanks for the happy tears!

  • What an amazing story. THIS is exactly why I love running and truly believe it’s a sport that can embrace everyone and help everyone feel like they belong. It’s people like Valerie and those that helped her that make our sport so special.

  • This makes me think of the quote If you are losing faith in the human spirit, then go out and watch a marathon! Just love this even more the second time I have read it!

  • What an amazing story! She totally earned that medal. It’s definitely all about the people!!!! To bad the race organizations dont see it that way.

  • This made me cry, and really I’ve needed a good cry recently. I will be running MCM this year and it is my biggest fear to not “beat the bridge”. I know, no matter what, I will finish the race. As an official finisher or not. Thank you so much for sharing your story, it means so much to me as I will have you as inspiration in a week and a half.

  • I still love this story…so inspiring!!

  • Jessica S says:

    I love this story (and the update in the comments!)

  • Tracy Martin says:

    Great story! Thank you so much for sharing. In a world that can be mean and nasty – it is very wonderful to hear of so many strangers reaching out to help another reach their goal.

  • Oh my gosh. The tears!!!! What a beautiful, gorgeous story. Thank you so much for sharing this, Valerie and Patty!! Just what I needed to read this morning. 🙂

  • Shawn says:

    I don’t think any men commented on this post and I’m happy to be the first. I would be very sad to find anyone who would not find this Val’s story anything but awesome. I was in the Marine Corps infantry and am very proud of the Marines at the end of the race that supported her. Ooh-Rah!

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Patty Holliday

If she isn’t chasing her four kids around Northern Virginia, Patty is chasing four bars on her phone to share her authentic and fun stories on social media and her blog, My No-Guilt Life. She’s also one half of the Marvel Moms, an online community for discussing the Marvel fandom. You can catch up on her runDisney fun at No-Guilt Disney.

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