My running adventure started with getting off the couch, as they say, 18-months ago in May 2010.  I had just turned 51, and my wife Kate found a 5K race that fell on her 50th birthday – 9.11, poor girl.  She decided to train and run that 5K, her first, and I figured “what the hell – I’ll run too”.  Kate was getting fit at the gym, but I was getting heavier by the year, at that moment exceeding 200 pounds.

We started “running “ through the neighborhood in fits and starts that summer.  I couldn’t get more than about 350 feet without stopping to walk a bit and catch my breath.  It seemed impossible.  The first time I ran a mile continuously, I was elated!  Whew!!  It was hard work.

So the 5K arrived in a noisy fashion.  We enlisted other friends and family to run and spend the day with us, including our two grown daughters Elizabeth and Jacquelyn.  We had a blast.  The energy and excitement at the start and the finish, and a course full of people, was something I had forgotten from my cross-country days of high school.  I was not a good runner then – I did not have the head for it, the mental toughness one needs to run long.

Kate and I ran a couple more 5Ks that fall, and something strange happened:  I started to enjoy my training runs.  What the…?!  I actually started to look forward to getting on the road to run during my rest days.  Kate had really started a major shift in my life.  More exercise, eating better, losing weight – the whole thing.

My younger daughter Jacquelyn invited me to run the half-marathon with her in Charlottesville in April 2011.   I wasn’t too sure I could do it, but started reading up on running plans, techniques, gear, avoiding injury, etc. to really focus on the task.  I studied Runner’s World like it was a college course.

I trained for the half-marathon all through the winter.   Kate and I ran a 10K on New Year’s Day 2011 with a friend and his brother’s family.   It was a beautiful course in Leesburg through horse country.  Every uphill, I worked it hard, overtaking at least one runner.  Every downhill I tried to take advantage of gravity and fly a little.  When I got tired, I would focus on my stride and on my form.  This helped keep my mind fully engaged in the task and helped my body perform better.

A few days after the 10K race, my neighbor and friend Rob asked, “would you like to run the Marine Corps Marathon in the Fall?”  He was a Marine and said he could set it up.  I said I’d let him know after my half-marathon.  I may not be up for it – 26.2 miles?  It seemed huge.

I knew marathon runners were crazy, running like it’s a job – putting in the mileage, stretching, watching nutrition, suffering aches and pains.  Why do such a thing?  Five to six hours of running a week – where would I find the time, even if I liked it?  Jeff, a good friend of mine, is in the elite category of sub-3-hour marathon runners.   I would look at the time he put in to his running, and think “what a waste”.  What I was really thinking was “Oh my god – how does someone do that?   How could I do that?“

The day of the half-marathon it was grey and cool.  Standing in the start corral next to my daughter Jackie, dealing with our last-minute pre-race jitters, we turned and were on our way.  There is a lot of hard work in a long run.  But I could focus on my pace, the runners around me, listen in on their conversations, and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  I finished the half-marathon in under two-hours.  The feeling of accomplishment was huge, my body was doing OK, and I knew I would run a marathon this fall.

So, that is how I came to run the Marine Corps Marathon.  A new training schedule with longer miles, a two-week setback with wicked shin splints, some perseverance, a little doubt, focusing on executing the plan, all led to the start of the race.

My running friend Jeff’s wife Justine and her running partner Jessy came to town to run the race also – it would be the first for all three of us.  Jessy was on track to finish in about 3:45.  Her training was fairly uneventful, just pure dedication and increasing speed.  Justine however had suffered a tibia fracture from running, and lost about a month of training.  I was dealing with pain and weakness in my left leg from pinched nerves in my spine.  My orthopedic doc said I should stop running.  I said no way.  I was visiting a Physical Therapist to help with my leg also.  He saw the weakness and created a plan of action to get stronger, and reduce the discomfort.  Farouk is his name – a Egyptian man who runs a dozen marathons, 50-milers, and 100-milers a year.  (He is running the New York Marathon this weekend, as is my friend Jeff).  I knew I was in good hands

Marathon day dawned cold (28-degrees!) but clear.  The day before, we had a freakish snow shower, so the clear cold sky was a welcome change.  Wearing extra layers to keep warm, we arrived at the Runners Village (there were about 30,000 of us) next to the Pentagon in the dark.  About 45-minutes before the gun, we made our way to the start corral as the sky lightened from black to blue.  All around us, people were shivering in the cold, burning up valuable energy, but everyone looked happy.  Many people were dressed in costumes.  It was Halloween eve, but apparently running in some sort of costume is a part of most marathons.  As Drew Carey, the comedian/newbie runner, raised the gun to start the race, we peeled off our extra layers, and cast them aside.  They would be collected and donated to the homeless.

The gun went off as the sun was rising just above Capitol Hill, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  What a great day for an epic adventure.  I was limping a little as we ran the first couple of miles uphill through Rosslyn, but I knew my legs would even out in a few more miles.  Jessy bade us good luck and seemed to just float away ahead of us, smooth and effortless.  We never saw her again until after the race.  Justine and I were running together as we headed for the river, enjoying friendly banter with the runners in our pack while the sun dappled the road on Spout Run.

Up the ice-slicked ramp to Key Bridge, we crossed the Potomac and entered the District.  I lost Justine at a water station on the bridge, but she caught up with me about four-miles later, just as I saw Kate and Jackie in Georgetown shouting encouragement and waving signs and banners.  One of Kate’s banners read, “Pain feels better than Regret”.  So true, so true.

The crowds were fantastic all along the course, and five or six live rock bands and choral groups provided inspiration and entertainment along the way.  I lost track of Justine again at about mile 16.  I ran down the mall to the capitol and back looking for my family, hoping they had a chance to find us again.  On 19th Street at about mile 20, I found them.  This time, they brought even more energy.  I really needed that, as I was hurting and getting tired.

As Jeff says, “the race starts at mile 20”.  From there on, sheer will power is needed to keep moving at a decent pace.  People started walking and stretching a lot, and the temptation to stop is nearly overwhelming.  Not that there is anything wrong with that; I just didn’t want to stop.  Much faster runners than I walk along the course at certain intervals, but if I stopped, I knew it would be really tough for me to get going again.

At about mile 25, Jackie jumped out next to me and ran with me.  That was so fantastic, as the last couple of miles seemed really tough.  She was very encouraging and kept my mind off my aching hips and feet.  On the final turn up the last little hill near the finish, I heard Justine call my name – she had run hard to catch up to me, and I couldn’t believe she was there.  I reached back to grab her hand and pulled her up next to Jackie and me.  She had a little more gas left in her tank, so as she sprinted up to the finish line we just had to watch her go.  I finished 20-seconds behind her.

With the race done, we were all on a real high, despite aching joints and raging blisters.  We donned our foil blankets, shook hands solemnly with the marines who placed the medals over our heads, and had water and fruit to get some energy back.  Sitting on the curb in the midday sun, waiting for Kate to collect us and take us to lunch, I thought “I want to run New York.  Bring it.”

 – Geoff Lewis, AIA, LEED AP