26.2 Miles for James: Katie Groves Shares her Motivation for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon

I am somewhat new to the family, but I love wear blue already. Running was something my husband, James, and I did together. James loved the challenge of doing something different, and I went along for the ride because I loved him and it kept me in-shape. When he was killed in 2013, I lost my interest in running; I no longer wanted to do it without my partner.

James had done the Walt Disney Marathon Goofy Challenge three times. Not long after he died, a friend posted a new challenge called the Dopey Challenge. This re-sparked my interest in running, because I knew that if James were alive, he would do it. I ran four consecutive races in four days, earning a PR in the marathon, and crying when I crossed the finish line. The first thought was, what now? Running had new meaning, and I decided that the Marine Corps Marathon would have to be next.

James ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012, just weeks before he deployed for the last time. I now regret not taking an extra bib and running a few miles alongside James. The MCM was his to take, but he had back issues that day and struggled on his own.  My journey at the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon would be a chance to feel everything he felt that day; to follow in his footsteps. I wanted the excitement of the start, the capture of what he saw, the struggles he endured on his own, the highs and lows of 26.2 miles, and the feeling of completing the race. This race became a part of my search for a sense of peace.

I attended a pre-marathon wear blue: run to remember shakeout run, hosted by the Springfield, VA/DC chapter. I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone, but two wonderful women came right over and welcomed me. This was my first time attending a large wear blue group, and it was heartbreaking, but powerful. Hearing all the names read, especially the ones I recognized from over the years, gave me purpose.

On race day, my intentions were to finish under five hours, take in the wear blue Mile, and try to keep my head up, seeing everything around me. My first half felt great. I was scared to get to the wear blue Mile, because I didn’t know if I would cry or not. I found my husband’s poster and, with shaky hands, took a picture of it.  I couldn’t handle seeing it, though, so I kissed him and took off running. I had help finding James’ flag and wanted a picture with it and the person holding it. It meant a lot that someone stood for hours honoring a person he had never met. I’m not sure what Mr. Cyr thought when I came running up, but he was a good sport. I later learned that his son Brandon had died a little over a month after my James. A chance meeting, but a friend for life.

When I left his flag, I had to run. At this point, all the people holding the flags were cheering and motivating, but I was doing all I could not to cry. After the wear blue Mile, I mentally checked out. I was still running, but not nearly as fast; it became too easy to walk. I replayed James’ race in my head, and saw my race slipping away like his had. Around this time, I started to notice little things that reminded me of James. Things that were inside jokes between only us. There were too many coincidences for me not to believe he was there somewhere.

With my muscles seizing so tight all I could do was walk, I got to a point where I simply wanted to be done. I felt like I was letting myself down. Instead of stopping, I had a beer in a small Dixie cup, from someone on the sidelines. It’s not something I normally do, but when James did his Marine Corps Marathon, he came running up to us at mile eleven with a half-drunk beer can in hand! My goal was to follow in his footsteps, so I had one!

I needed the giant hug from a dear friend on the last straightaway to mentally complete the race. I ran up the hill and crossed the finish line.  James and I had crossed every finish line holding hands. Even though I finished in under five hours, the finish line became empty space.

A Marine gave me my medal, and I went to Arlington to spend some time alone at my husband’s grave. All the tears I had feared, finally came out.  I left my medal with him. I never wanted the medal. I wanted the experience of the race and to see the things he saw.  I honestly felt the highs and lows that James felt on that race course, and that was all I was looking for.

My races from now on will be for me, and I look forward to the next one in blue.