Active National Guard Soldier and “Unleashed at Stadium Bowl” race director, MAJ Brian Nelson reflects on his first marathon experience at the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon:
I’ve been trying to write this for nearly two weeks now. The impact of completing my first marathon, with my brother Naval Officer, Commander Alan Nelson, in DC, in the Marine Corps Marathon, and then to do it while representing wear blue has been difficult to quantify, understand, and internalize.
In many ways, I think I could write a book or at least a chapter about the significance of running a marathon. There are so many different components and insights and they all interweave into this significant bucket list item.
My experience of running a marathon: 2.5 hours of pride, humility, joy, and inspiration followed by 1.5 hours of utter suffering. For the last 5-6 miles I was in a knife fight with myself, not wanting to quit—then wanting nothing more in the world than to quit—then not wanting to let myself down, my brother, the wear blue community—then being only focused on not falling. I knew if I fell that I would not finish. I felt like I could trip on a nickel.
It occurred to me that after about 20 miles, the least rational decision available is to continue to run. My body was screaming at me to quit, my mind was spinning the most creative justifications to quit, and my higher self was battling these two impostors with everything in my arsenal.
Many, many racers, if not most, wore a name, photo, or small epitaph of a service member on their shirts. The meaning of this race began to dawn on me. This was our tribe’s race: the race for the warrior. As this understanding began to unfold, the importance of running with and for wear blue began to take on new meaning. I, too, was running for something sacred.
Clad in a wear blue shirt and representing this phenomenal organization added an element of humility and appropriateness that I did not expect. I was not prepared for the wells of emotion that crashed into me throughout this 4 hour effort. It surprised me how energized I was when I saw another wear blue shirt. “Looking good wear blue!” When someone from the crowd shouted “Go wear blue!” I could feel my pace quicken—even if only for a few moments. It proved a common exchange throughout the course.
When we came upon the 12th mile, both Alan and I were still feeling very strong. Almost too strong, I think, because we stepped it out to slap everyone’s hand and enjoy the camaraderie. It was a strange sense of sadness at seeing all the photos, and yet exhilarating to see all our friends and compatriots on this march.
A marathon is a solitary effort. It is the most solitary thing I’ve ever done in a crowd. That said, I think the impact of completing one would have left me feeling a bit empty within a day or two afterwards. I frequently feel this way after achieving a long term goal…hmmm, this is nice…now what?
The difference? I ran not just for myself. I ran not just for my brother. I ran for the fallen, for the fighting, and for the families. I did not quit on myself, my brother, nor the thousands of Fallen, their families, nor those still fighting. That difference is significant. The joy of accomplishment has not waned since 26 October.
I’ll do it again.