Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sean Astin's Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

Submitted by Sean Astin @SeanAstin
October 26, 2014

Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Reese hung the #USMC “Eagle Globe & Anchor” Marine Corps Marathon Medal around my neck. It was a great day running 26.2 miles through our Nation's Capital. My official finish time is: 4:29:11.

It's way slower than I trained for, but the Sun & Wind needed to show me who was boss. I was the Official Starter for the race, an incredible honor.

The shirt I wore was given to me the day before by an Army Green Beret, Travis Myers. We were visiting at the RunDisney booth during the Marathon Expo. When I mentioned that I had read in the program about his group, he literally pulled the shirt off of his back and handed it to me. It's called Wear Blue: Run to Remember. Halfway through mile 12 the Wear Blue team came into focus. On the left side of the street, there were signs, like a realtor would use, planted in the grass. On the cardboard signs were the faces and names of the fallen. Sometimes the pictures had the Marine's or Soldier's children in their arms, or their families, or their pets.

They just kept coming, one after another after another after another. It went from beautiful, to poignant, to sorrowful, to deeply moving. At the end of the endless row of portable memorials, a gorgeous woman, Lisa Hallett, looking fitter than all of the runners jumped onto the "track" to jog a ways. She explained that her husband had died overseas and that she had three children, the youngest of whom he had never met. She kept thanking me for wearing blue and supporting the service members.

It's hard be incredulous at the halfway mark of a marathon when conditions are starting to turn, but I tried to muster some reciprocal thought. I said that it's hard for people to remember when talking about politics or international affairs and what we should do or shouldn't do, it's hard to remember that it's people, real people who wind up implementing the decisions made. I said that it was the least that we (speaking on behalf of our citizenry) should do, that "we" should acknowledge with some regularity the sacrifices that those people and their families make. And then she said something that really hit me.

Just before peeling off that "anyway, we make choices, and you make choices and it means a lot to us (she and a host of others who lost loved ones in battle did this living memorial to keep sane) that you do what you do." And as she faded to the side she called out, "keep making those choices."

The friend I was running with, Jonathan needed to throttle back at that point to protect an injury. I put in my music, tilted my head back and dropped the hammer. That lasted for 5 miles after which, I was forced to remember that I am a small in the face of nature and that this was an actual big kid marathon. When my legs felt fragile, I thought of the 500+ dedications (#Run3rd Dreams, Hopes, Wishes) that I carried in my pocket, of the Prayers and Stories of so many people and the outpouring of love they shared with me and the world, or the FB & Twitter spheres which is a start in that direction anyway. I kept remembering the wheel chair riders and the wounded warriors. My buddy Todd's social network, matching up returning vets with sports and activities they love really works ( As for me, I never had to walk, which I was grateful for and consider a blessing and an accomplishment.

There's a thing in the Marine Corps Marathon called, "Beat the Bridge." I think it's the 14th street bridge (or something) that you reach at mile 20. Apparently, if you don't meet the time requirement, they "sweep" you, meaning, they open the road to the traffic and the runners left behind are picked up in tears and shuttles. Well, I reached the bridge with great gobs of time to spare, hours in fact. But, after all of the hoopla, no one had a sign that said, this is the bridge, or hey you beat it... And then it just kept going. It wasn't just one bridge, it was a succession of bridges that never seemed to end. In fact, as I type this, I'm looking around to see if per chance I'm still on the darned thing. The sun beat down hard on that endless mile. The bridge was beating me and my comrades to the left and right. Good news, a big wind kicked up, cooling things off a bit. The good, maybe not as much, news, the big wind kicked up. Sure, as we had skirted Capital hill, the wind was at our backs, so it seemed like a good idea. But, that was way back there and now I'm traversing the Potomac river and thinking this is what George Washington dreaded when planning his crossing.

Through the dog day miles, 22 through 25, winding our way through Crystal City and the Pentagon, the ole gams were feeling like cracked pottery, but if I felt a sting in my legs, I smiled, I remembered, I reminded myself, that I wanted this, that I trained for this, that it would be over in a blink, and most importantly that I liked the pain. Most people couldn't handle this pain, I'd brag to myself, but I crave it. That thought always took the edge off and I could trundle on a bit further. My heart was strong (ya know) but I wisely didn't strain the legs, no reason to tempt the marathon gods. I passed more than a few folks whose ambition may have gotten the better of them.

Then, for the last two miles, there was this guy who looked like a yeti. I kept thinking, this dude, this teen-wolf, is drafting off of me. This was like a snail drafting off of a turtle at this point, but if I sped up, there he was, if I slowed down, there he was. I stopped for a second just to let him get ahead. I started back up and then he stopped. Naturally, I passed him, and then as if by design, he would appear two feet beside me, huffing and puffing with a thought bubble above his head that read, "boy are we tired, boy did we run out of steam, boy is it going to be impossible to accelerate these last few miles, at least I'm rolling next to this poor slob, I think I'll be his side-car." It was like something out of a movie. I wanted no part of his Sasquatch heaving and sweating and panting. It was comical. I kept thinking, I love all people, why not love this barnacle, leech, drag on my hull. This was the least generous moment I've had as a runner and I tried to clear my head. At 25.5 I made my move. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him stop. At last, I thought (ashamed then and now at my pettiness), I'm rid of the clingy, abominable albatross. Truth be told, I have no idea if the gent dropped out of the race or beat me by 3 minutes. Regardless, I will always remember my sleestak hanger-on. He held a mirror up to my self righteous face and I didn't like what I saw. Thank you my Neanderthal Alter Ego, my Simian talisman, farewell.

There is much more to share. I'm really proud of what I got to say right before the start to the 20,000+ people ready to run. I woke up at 3:30am, the words and ideas had to be put on paper. Throughout the race, people, always as they passed me, kept saying thank you very much. They kept saying how much my words meant to them. I know that pride goeth before the fall, but it means so much to ME, to have the opportunity to address any group, but these race participants, these marines and coast guard members, these volunteers and spectators, it felt so moving and important. If you have never participated in an organized running event, I urge you to. The feeling before the start is electric.

Medal of Honor Recipient Corporal Kyle Carpenter
Today, two Ospree war machines, 12 jumpers (sky-divers) with massive flags, my new friend, Medal of Honor Recipient Corporal Kyle Carpenter, who jumped on a grenade to protect his friend, this morning parachuted in and then ran his 1st Marathon. 20,000 fellow runners, 10's and 10's of thousands of people cheering the runners on, beautiful fall colors, hot sun, gusting wind, monuments, memorials, bridges, and tons of Marines handing out water... Getting to address this noble and worthy group, gave me a deepening sense of purpose. So, USMC Marathon folks (Tami that's you), thank you for having me. Thank you for giving me an experience for a lifetime.

Marine's are trained to be war fighters. Today, they were peacemakers. Today, they turned their attention from the art of combat to the science of community outreach. Their leadership and hospitality is second to none. Marines, Thank you for your time, Thank you for your support and most importantly, Thank you for your service.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, bravely run. Thank you for putting yourself out there for my family and everyone who asked you to run for them.