Random Marine Corps Marathon

The Tactical Journey

I moved to Virginia in October, 2008, to work in Rosslyn. This was my initiation to the Marine Corps Marathon as I watched all the signage go up.  The “Family Link-Up” and letters of the alphabet would line the building where I worked.  From then on, I would count the number of years I had been in DC by the number of marathons that had transpired.  I always felt this odd connection to the event even though I wasn’t a runner and I had never participated.

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Well, the years went by, and I took up running.  A year of constant shin splints, another year where I popped something in one knee, another year when I damaged something in the other. I saw more than one doctor and got the “it could be running just isn’t the sport for you” speech and I of course ignored it and kept on running. Months of pain and patient recovery.  At one point I couldn’t do leg extensions or curls over 15 pounds.

My pace was (And is) slow, but I got my distance up to 2 or 3 miles and even went to the store to get real running shoes (Brooks Transcend 3). By 2017, I had a 5K on my New Year’s resolution list.  My wife had a half-marathon on hers, and we both hit our mark.  I think I came in 3rd to last place in my age group. But that didn’t matter to me. In 2018, I decided to go for a 10K resolution, and my wife went for a full marathon. We both signed up for the Marine Corp Marathon lottery – she got it, I didn’t. 

Day before yesterday, I woke up thinking I was going to chase my wife around, cheer and wag corny signage at her.  We went to the expo to pick up her bib, I walked up to the information counter, planning to ask about how to best accomplish my intended goal, but instead, at the last second, I blurted out,”Is it possible for me to run with my wife tomorrow?”

I really don’t know what plane of existence that question came from, but the freaky part was the answer I got back.  The gentlemen said, “Actually, we have some cancellations this year, and you can!”  Five minutes with another kind gentleman, and I was registered. 

That’s how it happened. I went from audience to participant in about 15 minutes, the day before the event. Up until yesterday, the longest run I had logged was 7.5 miles, and I walked about 2 miles of that.  I set two expectations for yesterday’s marathon: One was to hit at least 10K for my resolution, and second – try my best to make it to the finish line without getting kicked out for being too slow.

I hit both those targets. I actually ran over 10K without stopping, and I made it to the finish line in 6 hours and 20 minutes.  Sure, the winner ran this thing in 2 hours and 20minutes.  I think I was around mile marker 8 when he crossed the finish line.  Sure, I was passed up by people that were older than me – some of them were skipping rope and even juggling. But I wore my race t-shirt and medal to the office today. They were great conversation starters, and helped explain why I was walking like a turtle all day. All worth it!

The Sensory Journey

The tactical side of the journey had some more granular detail to share, and this is where the “experience” of a marathon really began to capture me.  First off, I have to say the experience was unbelievable because, at least at this event, there was so much energy. My wife and I felt the energy getting into the Uber – the driver had been a runner, and he knew exactly the route to avoid the traffic to the drop off point.  We got out of the car, and all the people walking to the vent were filled with energy.  We queued up, and before we could even get to the coral, the gun went off, so we just kept on walking with this positively charged mob of people who were setting out to accomplish a very individual goal, but as a united force.

When we hit the starting line, it didn’t let up, but the energy shifted. The runners stayed positive and focused, but then, something wild happened. It was the audience that started shoveling energy at the racers. Signs and clappers, marines, performers: it was almost constant for 26.2 straight miles. Everyone lining that road was there to support the runners. That was magical to me. I must have thanked two hundred people or more for their support and assorted snacks.

Another part of the experience to call out: I wasn’t in the front wave of people running this race. I was at the end, and yet, long after the pros had burned by…out there four, five, six hours later, people were there, marines were there, performers were there… high school drum lines, spirit teams, cheer squads, bands – the event really brought out the best in people.

Was there a little sarcasm by the time I got there? Sometimes, especially with the younger volunteers, you could hear it – “you are doing AWESOME [for being so slow]”, but heck… I was slow, and they were still there waiting for my slow ass so they could wave signs and cheer me on. If I was that age and hanging out that long, I would be a bit punch drunk, too. All in all, it was just mind-numbing how much support was present for the runners.

I remember, at mile marker 14, I had passed the half-marathon marker and my neck was killing me. I pulled over to a medical tent, and the staff was super friendly. They did a massage and taped my neck – that got me through to the finish line. I thought to myself – if this event had happened without all the people in attendance, without the husband and wife playing the Incredibles, without the “Power Button” I hit in Crystal City, without the music or encouragement… I am not sure I would’ve been able to finish that distance.  That energy was fantastic, and today when sometimes it feels like we feed on a constant diet of negative energy in our entertainment, news or elsewhere in life…experiencing this kind of positive outpouring really helped restore my belief in humanity.

The Contemplative Journey

Ultimately, the marathon itself stands as something much larger. The slogan is “Run with purpose.” I saw all kinds of people who were running for all kinds of different reasons – some where advertised bluntly, like “in memory of” signage, some was advertised symbolically and some we may never know.  The race literature is filled with stories of sacrifice and inspiration.  There is also the Blue Mile, which reflects on those who lost their lives in defense of our country.

Having started running later in my life – it has been this amazing personal journey that embodies this inward reflection: contemplation of myself and my purpose, hitting personal goals, or just existing in the moment with my surroundings.  That energy then expands outwards – I connect with my wife, with a growing number of runners and then recently with this grand event.  It’s an entire “runners” ecosystem from which we can learn and grow.

Think about the business side of it – the logistics, vendors, events, medical, just all the different parts that must be brought together in order to create this 26.2 mile world and everything leading up to it, during it and after it.  The amount of collaboration required. More businesses should examine and implement systems as cohesive for their customer experience and fulfillment processes.

Think about the model. When we go to rock concert, we pay to scream at the people on the stage. But I go to a marathon, and I pay to get screamed at LIKE I am a rock star. How cool is that? For 6.5 hours, it was all about me and my journey to the finish line.  More events should work this way.

Thinking about running the marathon – it is like a project.  There should be a plan, training, execution, monitoring, and close-out. I didn’t do ANY of that, and I crossed the line in 6 hours and 20 minutes. The person with the best regimen and skill set crossed the line in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Think about that… yes, a business CAN exist without planning and all the stuff that goes into shaping and refining the model, and that business CAN cross the finish line.  But meanwhile the business that develops its plan, that trains and executes and monitors itself, that recruits top resources and manages them effectively… their model is going to be superior, and they are going finish the race at a much better ranking.

There is this myriad of contemplations that spill over from having experienced this marathon.  Wonderful at all levels for me.

The Conclusion

As if there is only one conclusion here; however I was compelled to relate this experience for many reasons.  The top ones:

  • Go run a big marathon – come in last place, or even get picked up by the bus, if that’s what it takes, but just go experience it.  Go be that rock star for a little bit – you deserve it! It’s fun to flip our perspective on its head and just see life through a different lens.
  • Happy news doesn’t sell, and there is a big disconnect between the state of affairs in day to day life and what we see in our broadcasts. Next time the negativity of Entertainment/News is bringing you down, go waive a sign and cheer on the runners at a marathon.
  • Finally, marathons are ecosystems that demonstrate multiple business aspects. From literal logistics to metaphorical use cases applied in the product or service management space, go participate in a marathon WHILE contemplating your business… it’s illuminating!

Oh, and of course, I intend to train for my next one. Gee hee.

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