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!
Tuesdays on the run is featuring your remaining goals for 2017. Tell us what you plan to smash and what you want to accomplish!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And we took pics together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Valerie, Mission Accomplished.
Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)