By Deb Drummond
A week ago, I ran the 40th Marine Corps Marathon, my first. I’d pretty much given up running when I got out of the Corps in 1980 because I didn’t have to anymore. Then 3 years ago after being divorced, I signed up for a half marathon, unsure at age 57 if I could do it but willing to give it the old Marine Corps spirit try. I signed up for the Leukemina & Lymphoma Foundation’s Team In Training (TNT) knowing the only way I could pull it off was to take advantage of the great support & training resources they offered. After my first Saturday TNT training run, I went to the MI-2 Motor City Chapter of the Women Marines Association where we celebrated Marine Lori Howard’s achievement of finishing the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon. Holding her marathon finisher’s EGA medal, I was hooked and my running plan changed.
My goal was to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati with Team in Training, then continue training and raising money for the Semper Fi Fund to run the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon. I was on a mission. The highlight of my training in early 2012 was running 33 miles on Parris Island, SC during the celebration of the 69th Anniversary of the founding of the United States Women Marines Corps Reserves (USWMCR). Hard to believe but it had been 36 years since I had stepped off the bus and onto those yellow footprints. Between the organized run, touring our old squad bay with an eerie feeling of déjà vu, training runs in the early morning hours while DIs were calling cadence during recruit training, and an outstanding banquet, it was a wonderful celebration of where it all began. I couldn’t wait to finish my running journey at the Marine Corps Marathon in October.
One month later I injured myself, badly bruising the bones in my left knee. Thankfully it wasn’t more serious but since I couldn’t run for 2 months, running the marathon was out of the question but thankfully Team in Training switched me to the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon. In the end, I’m so happy I ran the Free Press as my first half because my daughter & friends were able to see me cross the finish line. I took some time off to let my knee heal…time turned into years and I thought my marathon dream was over.Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 when I met my fiancée, who was pursuing a childhood dream of going to the Arctic. That reignited my dream of running the 40th Marine Corps Marathon, I signed on with the Semper Fi Fund (an awesome charity that raises money for our wounded Warriors), and my own training began in earnest. Training was hard and relentless, but I vowed to savor the journey and the sights along the way. There were training ups and downs, doubts and insecurities through the 9 months of training but after my longest run of 18 miles, I could feel and see the MCM starting line becoming a reality. Then I had a stress fracture scare that turned out to be a bad case of shin splints (which ironically I also had in boot camp). Then after my 19 mile training run, I came down with a bad bout of bronchitis…I think my body just said enough, we need rest. Besides walking 25.5 miles one Saturday, I only did one training run before leaving for DC, my confidence was shaken.
Once arriving in DC, we enjoyed the Expo, listened to and met Jeff Galloway, my run-walk mentor, and at the finish line Runner’s Brunch on Saturday enjoyed hearing Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer of Running World. Bart related his most memorable Marine Corps Marathon held six weeks after 9/11. When the runners turned the corner to the Pentagon, he said you could see the gaping hole and all you could hear was breathing and the footfalls, a powerful time he’ll always remember. He signed off with “Never limit where running can take you.”
After the Runner’s Brunch, my fiancée and I walked through Arlington Cemetery so I could pay my respects at the gravesite of Major Megan McClung, the first female Marine Officer killed in Iraq who was a triathlete and accomplished marathoner. As a Life Member of WMA, I was very familiar with Megan’s sacrifice and legacy so I asked her to be with me during the marathon because as a 1st time marathoner, I didn’t think I could do it alone. I was unprepared for the emotions that overwhelmed me, breaking down in my fiancee’s arms thinking that Megan was the marathoner, not me, and that she should be there running instead of me…and my fiancée said she will be wIth you and you can do it.
Marathon day dawned and was magical from beginning to end. I awoke with the quiet confidence that I had done my homework, if I ran my race by starting slowly, I would finish. Although the day started rainy, spirits were high with 30,000 runners lined up at the starting line. The Marines lining the course were amazing and supportive, there was a great Semper Fi spirit in the crowd, and it was inspirational and humbling to see many wounded warriors running in prosthetic legs & operating adaptive hand cycles, which always made me think “I have nothing to complain about!”
Amazingly, at mile 3, a runner named Meagan Mead, a Marine Wife & 1st time marathoner, ran up to me and asked me if she could run with me because she needed to pace herself with my intervals. At first the name didn’t register, but when it did, I was blown away. I told Meagan the story of Megan McClung and we were amazed that she had chosen me to run with out of the 30,000 runners, especially since she started 13 minutes later than I did. At the Blue Mile (Mile 12) where photos of Fallen Warriors are posted along with flags lining the course, Meagan pointed out Megan’s photo so we paused for a picture, and to pay our respects.
From mile 3 to 26.2, we ran, walked, talked, ate, drank, laughed, shared the joys of seeing our loved ones, & kicked it to the finish line together. It was truly divine providence because Meagan made it SO much easier for me to finish strong. Clearly, there were three of us crossing the finish line of the 40th Marine Corps Marathon.Major Megan McClung’s gravestone bears her signature phrase she used to sign off with as a Public Affairs Officer “Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.” Gone, but Never Forgotten Megan…thank you for your inspiration and Semper Fi Sister!!