Once it was clear that I was no longer running the Marine Corps Marathon, I knew I wanted to do something special on the day besides just spectate. (I should put “just” in quotes because crowd support is so important and motivating and is part of what makes races so much fun, but still.)
When I heard from the mama runners at Springfield MRTT that wear blue: run to remember still needed lots of volunteers for the blue mile, I knew it was what I wanted to do. wear blue sponsors the blue mile at many major races and all of the big military ones, and it packs a powerful emotional punch. wear blue chapters also sponsor group runs that begin with a circle of remembrance, in which people call out the names of servicemen and women they’re remembering and running for. I’ve been to two wear blue events and both were large, and still, every name was heard.
One of the goals of wear blue is to “bridge the gap between military and civilian communities.” I guess I’m symbolic of that bridge because I didn’t grow up in a military family. My brother spent four years in the Marines (and ran MCM this year!) but he’s really the only one. When I moved to Northern Virginia and began serving a church with a large population of military folks, that was my first experience in that community and understanding what they go through.
I’ve run in races that had a blue mile. Many people I know find the courage to continue a tough race when they see those photos and those flags. At Rock n Roll DC, the blue mile goes up the hardest hill, and many friends say that inspiration pushes them up. They run for the fallen who can’t.
For me it’s the opposite. The blue mile takes my breath away. It wrecks me. Such a loss of honor and youth and talent. I stop short of being an all-out pacifist, but I’m a bleeding heart down deep.
But guess what? So are many military families I know. And few people can understand the full cost of war like a family member who’s holding a flag with the name of their lost loved one on it.
Caroline volunteered early in the week to join me, but Margaret stayed on the fence until the day before, when she signed on too. Even so, at the 4:30 a.m. wakeup call she was just too tired… “but I might as well go to the bathroom since I’m awake.” I said that was fine, but I knew she’d decide to go for it and sure enough, she came downstairs soon after, dressed and ready to go.
We reported to the volunteer site, mile 12 on Hains Point. After a checkin and brief instructions we received our flags:
After the circle of remembrance, we lined up. The blue mile consists of a series of photos of the fallen:
And then a series of flags, each bearing a black ribbon with a servicemember’s name. I heard someone say they keep the photos separate from the flags because the photos are so somber. It is a reflective way to enter the mile. People can be seen looking for a specific photo or touching each picture, often with tears on their faces.
After the photos is the line of flags. It’s good these are separated from the photos because this part manages to be reverent and raucous at the same time, as flag-bearers cheer loudly for the runners as they come through.
And boy did they come through, 30,000 of them over several hours, beginning with the hand-cyclists. Amazing:
And here comes the first runner through the mile, though he ended up not being the one who won.
One of the hidden benefits of being at the blue mile is that you see everyone pass by, from the fastest runners to the most determined walkers, who are eyeing the sweep buses and often nursing injuries. But also, friends who were running knew exactly where to look to find me. I gave lots of hugs and high fives to friends who were giving their best on those streets.
The girls and I also had Jolly Ranchers in case people needed a little something for parched throats, but we ended up eating most of them:
Blue tongue aside, every time we passed the photos Margaret would say “There are so many of them.” I think she was glad she participated, but she was one-and-done. The earliness of the hour was hard, but really I think it touched her emotionally.
I’m happy I volunteered. It was humbling to be thanked for it, which many runners did. It was an honor to be there.
This post is dedicated to my local chapter of Moms RUN This Town. 100 days to Marine Corps Marathon!
One of the things that inspires me about my MRTT group is the number of mamas who get up for 5 a.m. runs. A year ago I couldn’t imagine doing that. Now it’s something I do 3-4 times a week. (I take naps in the afternoon–a benefit of working from home.) Some of us meet even earlier, at 4:30 or 4:40 for some extra miles. Yikes!
I used to think people who ran that early were crazy, or way more accomplished runners than I was. Some of them are the latter, to be sure. (And maybe the former!) But now I realize, running early is usually out of simple necessity: the workday doesn’t allow running at other times, or we have little kids we’re taking care of at home, or we’re just trying to beat the heat. There are times when I don’t absolutely need to run that early, but the prospect of meeting a bunch of funny, fierce gals is enough to set my alarm.
Back in June, a friend of mine ran mid-morning, and when she stopped by Starbucks later, she got lots of concern from fellow customers about how hot and flushed she looked. “You need to run earlier!” one man chided. Because my friend is nicer than me, she didn’t say “Are you going to come over and get my kids ready for school for me?” We run when we need to run.
On our group’s Facebook page, we share inspiration and encouragement. This commercial came across the page recently:
Whether you’re a runner or not, the message is spot on—it’s the little choices, often when nobody’s looking, that make us who we are.
If I had skills in video editing, I’d put together a spinoff of this commercial, in honor of the MRTT 5 a.m. crews. But I’d want it to show the awkward side of running so early… such as stumbling downstairs and stepping on an Iron Man toy that starts talking to you. Or putting on your running clothes in the dark and later realizing they don’t match. Or stopping by the grocery store after a run and being puzzled that it’s closed, then realizing it’s not even 6 a.m. Or being the first one out on a trail, which means you get a face full of cobwebs.
In that spirit, I posted the following on our MRTT Facebook page a year ago when I first started running at 5 a.m. Thanks, you guys, for inspiring me every day.
Top 10 Reasons Why Running at 5 a.m. is Awesome
10. You’ve officially accomplished something, even if you sit around in your pajamas the rest of the day.
9. If you puke, no one sees it.
8. It’s good for the environment: only one shower per day.
7. If you go with [one of our chapter leaders] you’ll get a muffin.
6. The sense of adventure that comes from wondering whether that hulking object in the shadows is a serial killer… and realizing it’s a trash can.
5. If you use MyFitnessPal, running first thing means you know how many calories you have for the entire day. This is known as The Donut Rule.
4. People’s head lamps and glowing phones look like little fireflies dancing in the night.
3. Sunrise and moonset.
2. Saves you money: no need for silly things like sunscreen, hats, visors, sunglasses.
And the number 1 reason why running at 5 a.m. is awesome:
1. When it’s dark, everyone looks like a badass.
Whether you run early, late, or not at all—go make one good small choice today.
Along with copious amounts of sweat, dirt, hunger, fatigue, occasional gasping tears, and muscles wondering what they’d done to deserve such punishment… Haven’t we been good to you for lo these 42 years?
Yes, the Disney Marathon: worst parade ever to hit Main Street USA.
Saturday night I got very little sleep. I was up until 11:00 working on my costume with my brother Luke. Costumes are abundant at Disney races, but I’d gone back and forth about whether to wear one. Early weather reports had highs in the 80s, and I was not going to wear anything that added to my discomfort. But I had an old Brooks tank top that’s a fine mesh, cool and comfortable, and an old white running hat a friend gave me that she used when training for the Marine Corps Marathon several years ago. I decided we could work with those and some Sharpies:
After I went to bed I had a hard time falling asleep… not unusual before a big race, but disconcerting when you know the alarm will be going off at 3 a.m. Disney races start early, and they put the fear of Cruella into you, what with traffic snarls, lines at the portapotties, and the congested 20-minute walk from the gathering area to the corrals.
But my alarm didn’t go off at 3 after all, because by 2:10 I was wide awake and decided to get up and get ready. Don’t I look rarin’ to race? ~Yawn~
My brother Matthew and I were out the door by 3:30 and in place in the Epcot parking lot by 4:00:
I was in corral K, the middle of the pack, based on my time for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon. Matthew was in corral P. Because this was my first marathon, my goal was to finish, but I also hoped I could do it in less than 6 hours. The corral behind mine had the 5:30 pace group in it, so my plan was to run a manageable pace and at some point, that group would catch up to me. Then I hoped to run with them for a while, which is exactly what happened. More on that later.
This being Disney, everything was well run. People were in a great mood, even in the portapotty lines. Typically there were 12-20 in a row, with multiple lines feeding to them. While waiting in one line, two women behind me in dalmatian costumes got fake-upset that at some point we had lost a portapotty to the line next to us, so our line was only feeding to three of them. With the clock ticking down to race time, every time someone would exit PP#4 they would say to the person in our line, “Reclaim the portapotty! Go! Go!” We never did. But I guess that’s why we’re not in corral A, huh? No killer instinct.
Mickey himself did the countdown for each corral to start, and there were fireworks for each one. (I think I got this video uploaded right? You have to listen hard for Mickey. 30 seconds of video)
The first several miles are in the dark—my corral got going around 6:10 and sunrise was an hour later. Here’s the first photo I took during the race:
I don’t know, it made me laugh at 6:20 in the morning, realizing I would have to hit every one of these landmarks and more over the next several hours.
Immediately after this photo, I stepped onto an uneven patch of ground. I caught myself before rolling my ankle, but this misstep would haunt me a bit later.
There are tons of character stops along the way—toward the beginning of the race, I estimated about three stops for every two miles. And each mile marker had a Disney character pictured on it. Getting photographed with characters is one of my least favorite things to do at Disney—big time investment, minimal payoff—so I didn’t stop for these photo ops. But I loved looking at each one as I went by; it was a great way to pass the time. Many of the stops had lines, some of them long—-Royal Mickey and Minnie at Magic Kingdom was the longest I saw.
But here are some photos.
The gate at Magic Kingdom:
Main Street USA
(You may be thinking, “Wow, MaryAnn is smiling pretty big to be running 26.2!” What can I say. If I’ve learned anything about running, it’s how to look happy for the yellow vests.)
They’d brought out some animals as we approached Animal Kingdom. Couldn’t resist this photo op. That’s a vulture:
The race itself was long, and fun, and long some more.
Mile 8 was the “Sweet Caroline” mile—they played the song and we all sang/panted along. Just as I was leaving earshot we heard it repeat, which made everyone laugh.
The 5:30 pace group caught up to me around mile 10, aka the long and boring part between Speedway and Animal Kingdom. Disney does their best during this straight non-shady stretch, with informative signs explaining about all the reclaimed water they use, and their efforts at composting. Yes, this is the water-treatment part of the route. It was fun to run with the pace team. My training was so solitary—I could see the appeal of running with a group.
The weather turned out to be cooler than expected, and running in the sunny 60s is better than the sunny 70s, but still, you get hot. I had read that in the latter miles of a race, you should put as much water on you as in you. So as we entered ESPN Zone, mile 17-ish, I starting taking three cups at each aid station: one Powerade, one water to drink, and one water to pour. (Protip: do not get the first and the last confused.)
I’d also read not to douse your front, otherwise the water drips into your shoes and you get blisters. So I poured it down my back, which felt great, until mile 18 when… how to put this… there began to be chafing in an uncomfortable place. I lost the 5:30 pace group when I ducked into a portapotty to try and dry off.
The marathon, she ain’t pretty.
And my daughters can’t get enough of that story.
Chafing problems aside, the weather actually got better as the race went on, because even though the temperature was rising, the humidity was dropping. That was a huge help in the latter miles. I remember learning about evaporative cooling in some science class as a kid, but I never understood it, growing up in Houston where sweat doesn’t evaporate due to humidity that rivals Calcutta’s. But on Sunday, I got it. Kudos to the Intelligent Designer for that one.
It’s time to see what I can do To test the limits and break through No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!
Let it go, let it go I am one with the wind and sky…
Twenty miles is when I knew that, unless something very unexpected happened, I would finish. But it was a tough 10K left. Remember the weird pothole I stepped in at mile 3? I began to feel it at 20+. Those latter miles involve several on-ramps and turn-offs, some of which are at an angle. That’s tough stuff. I felt it in the ankle, but also in the other foot since I was trying to compensate. Well, everything was in pain at that point. I was still running, though slower than before. I’m proud to say that aside from water stops and a few other times, I ran the whole 26.2. That’s big for me. Three years ago, running for 30 seconds was a new and excruciating experience.
I was tired and ready to be done. But I kept going, in part because I knew my family was watching and waiting for me up ahead.
That’s a peculiar thing about a Disney race, by the way: a lot of the people cheering us on were Disney cast members. There are limited places where spectators can cheer. I have no doubts about the cast members’ sincerity, but it felt kinda corporate rather than communal to have staff people encouraging us. It’s so different from a typical road race, in which people line the sidewalks for miles, sit on their porches as you run by, hold up hilarious hand-made signs, and hand out candy (and beer).
There were spectators along the route, but they were clustered in 7-8 specific spots. Those spots were often in the parks, which are already motivating enough—where we needed spectators was in the middle of nowhere, but it’s impossible for them to get there because of how Disney closes the roads. It’s not a complaint per se, just a difference in the personality of the race.
Anyway, my brother Luke, his girlfriend and her family, and my niece and nephew were along the route at mile 23-ish, which is in Hollywood Studios. Here I am going by!
Robert, my mother, the kids, and several other family members were at mile 24, the Disney Boardwalk. That worked out perfectly—they had gone to a character breakfast at the Beach Club and finished just in time to come out and see me. Except Robert missed me as I ran by! I could’ve sworn he saw me—everyone else did, and as you can see, I got some high fives in—but now I wished I’d stopped. But I just wanted to be done.
Matthew had the good sense to stop when he ran by, and I love this picture of him and Mamala more than anything:
Mile 25 is in the Epcot World Showcase. This had become a family joke because we all know just how freakin’ huge that place is. (My sister, who lives in Orlando, said, “I’ll never complain about having to walk from World Showcase to the parking lot again.”)
Remember this scene from Holy Grail?
But I finished, with “Eye of the Tiger” playing at the finish line. There was woohooing and fist pumping and a little crying and gasping too.
I finished in 5:47. Under 6 hours, just as I’d hoped…
Soon after I finished, I got a text from a member of Tiny, who’d snapped a picture of the folks at church giving me cheers and thumbs-up. I’d completed the race just as worship was ending.
(Actually, the social media part of this was strange, but wonderful. Pastor friends were tracking me via text and praying for me during their church services. Every few miles my iPhone dinged with supportive text messages. I didn’t read them immediately, but each ding felt like a high five.)
I waited in the finish area for my family to arrive and for Matthew to finish. By the way, the kingdom of heaven is like the massage tent at a marathon.
Matthew crossed the finish line about an hour after me. I’m very proud of him. He hasn’t been running for nearly as long as I have. As he got in the car he posted to Facebook: “Never again.” But by the time he got home he was already thinking about the next one.
As for me, I was very sore for 2 days, but the soreness is gone, except for some aches in my feet and a weird butt muscle thing. (Again, the marathon ain’t pretty.)
As to whether I will do another…
There is no doubt.
Like what you see here? I write other stuff too… entire posts in which the word “chafing” never appears.
My first race was two years ago: the Hot Chocolate 5K at the National Harbor. Hundreds of people had parking problems, the race started late as a result, and I’m told the 15K course was a disaster. But once we got started and my feet thawed, it all went beautifully for me and the friends I was with:
Me, Erin and Leslie
As you can see, the Hot Chocolate 5K ended with hot cocoa and this… still the finest post-race party I’ve ever experienced:
There have been other races, including two 10Ks and two half marathons.
DC Rock and Roll Half, March 2013
Annapolis Half with Linda!
By the way.
To all you tiresome bores who drone on about how “everyone gets a trophy” is the downfall of society as we know it, and how we should give prizes to the fastest and the best and let all the mediocre people be content with the experience of playing: JUST TRY AND TAKE MY FINISHERS’ MEDALS, you alpha-wannabe jerks.
Cough. As I was saying. Races:
And the girls ran a 3K this spring!
I got to run a 10K with a handsome friend!
Along the way, there have been equipment fails:
During your times of trial and suffering, when you see one red line, it is then that I carried you. -RunKeeper Jesus
There have been trail fails:
And there have been user errors, like when I forgot to turn off RunKeeper while walking the labyrinth at Mo-Ranch:
And for the last four months, there have been about 400 miles, as I get ready for this:
Here I am post-15 miles. There was woohooing.
Post-17 miles, when I fumble-fingered the picture. Epic:
Post-18 miles, when I was a cold, wet, triumphant mess, and I got the dang picture right:
Post-20 miles. It was 48 degrees and rainy the entire time.
How beautiful are the feet of those who just get the dang run done already. -Isaiah, sort of.
I started the Couch to 5K program three years ago. Before that, I had not run since sixth grade softball, and even then, I ran in short reluctant bursts. I took on C25K not because I wanted to run, or even because I wanted to lose weight or improve general fitness, but because I wanted to hike Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with family and I didn’t know how else to train for it in flat suburban Northern Virginia. I made it up the mountain, barely. I made it up despite both of my boots failing and being woefully out of shape. (Running 5K and hiking for several hours aren’t the same, go figure.)
I made it up the mountain…
…because the other options were to inconvenience a lot of people by requiring them to rescue me, and lying down to die. I’m enough of a good girl that the former was as unsavory an option as the latter.
I haven’t done a hike like that since then. But I still run.
I remember attending Rice University’s commencement at the end of my sophomore year, when lots of friends were graduating. I was captivated by the PhD hooding ceremony—all those relieved, resolute scholars, turning to face the audience as a professor draped the doctoral hood over their shoulders.
I knew that would be me someday. I remember thinking about the great human achievements, listing them in my head: Getting a PhD is one. Writing a book. Inventing something. Oh, and running a marathon, I suppose.
Now, getting a PhD is a multi-year process, which makes it much more a test of stamina than a marathon. Still, if you’d told me five years ago that someone would be hanging a marathon medal around my neck rather than an academic hood, I would have been shocked.
But with a little luck, a lot of tunes, proper hydration and no injuries, that will happen on Sunday.
Legend has it that mapmakers used to mark unexplored territories with HC SVNT DRACONES: here be dragons. Fourteen miles feels a little like that. But for a brainy type like me, whose major sport in school was Academic Decathlon, it also feels like this:
Go find some magic this weekend, friends.
And for those of you running the MCM—you have my great admiration. Go Roy. Go Sean. And Go Shelly.