News: Commentary: My 26.2-mile journey
Story by Courtney Dock
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - For the last 10 months, people have been looking at me like I’m nuts. At the beginning of the year, I made a decision I was going to change my life; I was going to run the Marine Corps Marathon.
If you had met me in January, you would know that I couldn’t have run a mile. I was terribly embarrassed of that fact. I am a veteran. How in the world had I let myself get to the point that I couldn’t have run a PT test if I wanted to? Things needed to change. But a marathon?
My best friend, Ashleigh, works for Disabled American Veterans.
Through her, I had worked with DAV on a few small projects. I had also attended a few USA Warriors hockey games; DAV is a sponsor and the team is comprised of disabled veterans.
I was inspired by the Warriors playing such a physical sport. The team captain, Mark Little, is a double-leg amputee. He’s amazing to watch skate and lead on the ice. All the team members are amazing.
I was also moved by Ashleigh and other disabled veterans I had seen running the marathon in 2011. There was no reason I couldn’t do it. So I went from Team DAV cheerleader to Team DAV team member. I told my family and made the official announcement on Facebook. I was committed.
The first thing I did was start recruiting other people to the team. And by other people, I mean all my friends, all of whom are veterans. If I was doing this, I was going to drag them all into running too. Most came willingly. My selling point was, “If I can do it, you can, too.” So they signed up.
Through the team, I was given a tailor-made training schedule. My teammates and I found races to run in together to keep logging miles. I personally thought of every single excuse I could think of to get myself out of running. And then I found a reasonable solution so I could stop making excuses.
Before training for the marathon, I hated running. In the first couple months of training, I would make up songs in my head during my runs about how much I hated running. Then one day it finally all clicked. I got home, felt awesome and didn’t hate that I just spent 30 minutes pounding the pavement with my feet.
I was able to take advantage of a program through Installation Management Command called the Civilian Wellness Program, which allows participants up to one hour, three times a week to work out during their normal working hours. And while I wasn’t happy to be furloughed during the summer, I used the time off to get in longer training runs. Each week, I reached a new achievement.
It became intoxicating. It was exhilarating to see how much further I could go each week. Having teammates made a big difference too. They would hit new milestones and personal records, which encouraged me to keep striving for more. Turns out that my enthusiasm motivated them as well. The more they saw me achieve, the more they worked at making sure they would be ready to run Oct. 27.
I was in denial leading up to marathon day. On race day, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., got dressed and picked up my teammates to head off to the start line. I was still in denial when I crossed the start line. I couldn’t believe I was doing this, so I took a “selfie” to document the moment. The fact that I was going to be running a marathon didn’t actually hit me until about a quarter mile into the race.
I’m a slow runner, so I knew I needed to pace myself throughout the run. It’s very hard to do when you’re surrounded by thousands of people about to embark on the same insane life decision and thousands more spectators who came out to cheer on the insanity.
It’s nearly impossible to not to get emotional when you are out there. So many people are wearing team shirts in support of various veterans organizations, shirts in honor of fallen service members and spectators holding motivational signs telling runners how inspiring they are.
Emotions finally got the best of me near the half-way point on Haines Point. There are few spectators on this stretch of the run. You’re out there and realize you’re barely at the halfway point of the entire marathon, and you still have to get to the Mall and beat the bridge. It just sucks.
As motivation, someone put signs out every 20 feet on the point. Most were very funny. I laughed out loud at a lot of them. Some even made me stop for a picture. And then there was one that said, “Remember why you’re out here doing this.” And that’s when I stopped running and started crying.
I was out there for so many reasons. I was running for Team DAV. I was running for my friends. I was running for my fellow veterans, for those who couldn’t, for the service members deployed around the world. I was running to set a good example for my daughter so she’d have a role model to look up to. I was running to prove all the people wrong who looked at me like I was nuts.
I was running to prove to myself I could do it.
After hitting the official halfway point and taking another selfie, I collected myself and carried on. I was only halfway there and that meant I had a long way still to go.
A lot of people asked me what I think about while running for that long. I thought about a lot of stuff … my grocery list for the week, one-year and five-year life goals, cheeseburgers stacked high with bacon, how funny a spectator’s sign was, as many state capitals I could remember … weird stuff. I also spent a lot of time thanking spectators and volunteers for being out there. Without them it would have been terribly boring. When the route lapped back on itself I also looked for Team DAV members to cheer them on. I also took a lot more pictures. Hey, I am a public affairs specialist, I needed to document this for my scrapbook!
As I got closer to the end and after hitting the dreaded “wall,” I started texting my friends at the finish line who were waiting for me. I let them know how many miles from the end I was. I just wanted to get there. And though I did hit the wall, at no point in time did I ever think I couldn’t do it. I knew I was completing this thing no matter what.
When I got to the 26-mile mark I started crying again. I only had .2 miles left to go and my daughter was waiting for me at the finish line. I stormed the hill to the Marine Corps War Memorial. As I crossed the finish line I felt amazing. I couldn’t stop crying and smiling. I had truly achieved something I had once said I would never do in a million years.
In the last 10 months, I have logged more than 450 miles, lost almost 40 pounds, told countless people about an amazing veterans service organization, set a positive example for my daughter and accomplished an amazing feat that most people don’t even dream to achieve.
It has been an amazing journey.