Right now, more than 30,000 runners are preparing for the 38th Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), rightly nicknamed the “People’s Marathon” because it is the largest marathon in the United States without a prize purse. Runners of all different ages, creeds, services, and skill come together for this race with one certain commonality: we run for the competition, camaraderie, and pride in our country and sport.
As a Marine 1st Lieutenant and a life-long distance runner, this will be my first MCM and one of my greatest life achievements.
But earlier this week I received an email that said the MCM could be postponed if there is no progress on the government shutdown by October 19th. I thought hard on this during my run that evening: how many miles I put in; injuries I suffered from training; days I woke up at 4 a.m. and headed to the track to do 400 meter repeats, 800 meter repeats, mile repeats or 2-mile repeats.
“The postponing of the MCM is a moot point; the race will happen regardless,” I said to myself. “No worries.” But the truth is there are more than 30,000 runners like me who are now sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear the word, waiting to see if we should start tapering, if we need another tempo run, another track workout, another long run. I thought it didn’t matter if the MCM was delayed or cancelled, but I was wrong — it matters. Events like the MCM symbolize much of what runners, Marines, and Americans are all about: our physical perseverance, love of tradition, and Esprit-de-Corps.
Earlier this month, I broke from my normal training to run a 199-mile relay from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington D.C. in the popular Ragnar Relay. The team from the Center for American Progress — a District think thank and the parent organization of ThinkProgress — was down a runner, so I jumped in to cover 14 miles, somewhat nervous that as a conservative Marine from the Midwest, I’d have little in common with my teammates. But I knew that our love of running could transcend any differences.
Unexpectedly, the biggest hurdle came not from our individual politics, but from the government shutdown. Three legs were skipped and drastically rerouted because we were slated to run on federal trails that were closed a mere two days before Ragnar. Our race was cut short to around 170 miles.
24 hours after we started, I crossed the finish of my third, rerouted leg. I was as ecstatic as I was exhausted, but there was something missing. Because of rerouting, I wasn’t able to be picked up by my support van until after my team finished. For me and the two other runners on my team who also didn’t see their final leg finish, the race will never be complete.
I quickly shook off the mental defeat at Ragnar, and at the Beirut Memorial 10K last Saturday in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where I am stationed, I ran a personal record time of 35:40. The course was set up so the fourth mile marker and the finish were close together, so I cheered on the other runners as they ran through the finish.
I met up with two older gentlemen in their mid- to late-80’s who were still racing, wearing Marine Corps running singlets. They told me they got lost at mile three, so I offered to guide them through the rest of the race. They were both retired Sergeants Major who both served our great country for more than 30 years each, and as we ran, we shared stories of our service and our mutual love of running. I almost stopped in my tracks when I learned that Bob, 88-years old, had run every single MCM since its inception in 1976—a feat only four people have accomplished. Here I was prepping for the “Marathon of the Monuments” with a living monument to a life of service and love of running.
One of my Ragnar teammates, former Virginia Rep. (and current Center for American Progress Action Fund president) Tom Perriello, decorated the back of our Ragnar van with the words “Progress can be painful.” I’d like to think there’s a lesson there for runners and politicians alike. Running — like politics — requires a delicate mental, physical, and emotional balance, but also a special compassion and humility that can only come with complete dedication. So while I love the thrill of the competition, really I run to leave myself behind.
I’m a Marine and a runner, not a political man, so I encourage the leaders of our great nation to get out of the city and go on a long run themselves. That always seems to help me clear my head and remember what’s truly important. And if our leaders on Capitol Hill and the White House can’t sort out their differences in time for the MCM to be saved, I’ll have a whole day free on Sunday, October 27th. Meet me in Arlington, and let’s go for a run.
The author is a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.