How I Got to the Marine Corps. Marathon.
MCM - The Prequel
As I approached mile 23, I had already been struggling! It had already become clear that my first attempt at qualifying for Boston had failed.
It was at that mile Heather passed me. She did an about face and was now running backwards, smiling and yelling to me.. “Fight for it, Shane!”
This was in September of 2015 at the Erie Marathon in PA.
At the time, I had no idea how significant these words were and what they would mean to me just a few short years later as I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. With Mets to my liver and lungs and other areas in my body.. “Fight for it, Shane” would become the life or death mantra I repeat to myself often. And I often see that moment in my mind of Heathers epic about face during that marathon! She was SO strong that year.
In March of this year, 2019 Heather jumped on the rush registration of the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) And had texted me at work to remind me as well to register.
By the time I got on, the limit of registrations had already been met.
I missed it. ☹️
I remember being so sad and disappointed about this. Not about missing the registration per se, but the fact that I wouldn’t be participating with Heather in the very Marathon she had always said I needed to experience. An experience I wanted to participate in with her.
That’s what Heather and I do. We share an amazing passion together. Having crossed the Boston Marathon finish line together, Two 100 mile races together and countless others..my heart had sunk that I would not be with her for this event.
Then Heather urged me to register in the lottery that would open up just a few days later. Skeptical.. I took her advice and that rejuvenated some hope within me.
Heather told me that if I got in she would be right there with me by my side... be it run, walk or crawl.. we’d finish the race together!
At this time I was still with the ostomy but was running again and feeling pretty good!
On the day MCM released the winners of the lottery I anxiously opened up my email.
I got in!
I was so happy!
Training began and I was running up to 35 miles a week or so and even peaked at a 43 mile week. It was great to be out there again. Running with Heather and other friends, feeling “almost” like my old self again!
The Setback 4 Months Later...
It was in July during one of my chemo sessions I found out that my colon tumor had shrunk from 14cm. to 2.5cm.
This was good news!
I immediately responded asking if I was now a candidate for a colon resection and a reversal of this god-awful ostomy I had been living with for almost 6 months!
My oncologist responded positively and the next thing I knew I was scheduled for surgery at UNC on August 6th.
The surgery took place and all seemed successful. I was home just 5 days later and really felt like recovery was going to be a breeze.
|Post Surgery - Aug.6. My Mom, Heather and Me.|
|Heather and Me Post Surgery in the hospital|
I was wrong.
About 5 days after returning home my pain increased, my body became overly fatigued and then the fevers came.
A 7 hour visit to the emergency room conducting multiple tests would reveal that I had bacteria in my blood.. and not only that, it had reached my heart valve.
To cure this it would require 6 weeks of push antibiotics through the picc line now installed in my right arm. The tube would travel through one of the large veins up my arm, across my chest and ending right above my heart. I had to manually treat myself every 8 hours, every day for six weeks.
|Meds that I had to take every 8 hours for six weeks.|
What a pain in the ass!!
But worth it as I finally finished and the bacteria on my heart valve was gone.
This was great news! Yet another mountain climbed! Another obstacle out of the way.
Problem is, it’s been well over two months now and o had not returned to running yet. Heck... I was hardly walking!! The Marathon was fast approaching and I was really starting to think I was going to be a spectator instead of a participant at this point.
Keeping Heather Safe & The Path Back to Movement.
Late September on a Friday we had an unexpected visitor. Our neighbor had come by.
“We have a concern!” He said, in a very serious manner. He then continued, “Someone’s been following you as you’re running back into the neighborhood!”
Our neighbor told us that twice that week he witnessed a man on a bike wearing all black with black gloves and he was hiding behind the wooden street sign at the entrance to our cul-de-sac.
This really freaked Heather out and it scared her.
So I began getting up and biking by her side for the next week as she ran.
Doing this for a week made me realize how much I missed being by Heather’s side, moving forward, running with my best friend and passion partner.
It was time to get myself running again or at least run walking to start!
|Out For A Run With My Best Friend!|
Running is good for my soul. It’s good for my mental health and it’s what truly defines me and who I am. It helps to strengthen my fight against this fucked up disease I have deal with everyday.
Running is a positive aspect in my life!
I didn’t know when I would start but Heather was telling me repeatedly, over and over, that if I wanted to to do MCM I needed to get moving pretty soon. Time was running out.
The weekend after my week of bike riding, a friend of mine from Maryland stopped by while he and his son were in town.
Aside from a great visit, he told us that he was running the MCM. It would be his 5th time and went on to say that if I decided to to it, he would do it with us.
The next morning (Monday) I headed out for 2 miles! It was only a walk/Run but it was a start.
I continued walk running the rest of the week and finished it out with over 25 miles!
The next week I completed 38 miles finishing with a 13 mile walk run on Saturday October 19th with our local running club!
|Me, Far Right. Heading out for my last "Long Run"!|
MCM was less than 10 days away on the 27th.
I lowered the mileage on my final week of “training”with just 16 miles, leaving two days for recovery! I was ready.. or as ready as I possible can be!
In the meantime, the team of three was growing!
My friend Mike, also from Maryland decided last minute to join us as well after a phone conversation. Then a fellow running club member and friend, Michelle said she wanted in!
Then I received a message from Chris... “Jessie and I just found out you’re doing MCM, we want to run with you!”
This was so awesome!
We were now at 7 total including me!
Excited about the event and what it’s going to stand for I had shirts made! I want to thank Island Xpertees of the Outer Banks for donating them for the cause! I certainly didn’t expect that!
The words “Fight For It, Shane!!” would be on the back of the shirt! Remember.. Heather’s words to me during our Erie marathon in 2015!
|"Fight For It, Shane!"|
MCM Race Weekend
We arrived to our Hotel in Arlington, VA around 2:30 or so on Friday afternoon.
Our intentions were to check in, settle in real quick and the head to the expo! MCM is expecting about 30k or do athletes and when you add the family members.... that’s a lot of people! So we wanted to get in and get out before Saturday for sure..
Our hotel was just around the block from the metro station and we took that to the location of the event shuttles where they then brought us to the expo!
About to enter the Expo
The place was beautiful! Besides the conference center that housed the expo, there were restaurants and shops inside as well.
Inside, we grabbed our packets and did some shopping in the Brooks area for MCM logo’d gear!
Inside the expo
Like the twinsies, Heather and I can be sometimes, we both settled on the MCM full zip hoodies and an awesome MCM trucker hat!
We are definitely runners with a trucker hat problem!
Before checking out out though, our friend Mike and his wife Nanci rolled in and we browsed the remainder of the expo together.
Upon leaving, we met my cancer compadre, Ed outside the exit and we headed off for some dinner!
On the way to one place we diverted into a restaurant named the Walrus Oyster & Ale House!
The place was packed, a little upscale and the menu was somewhat limited. We all ordered some drinks, eventually decided on what were ordering and had a really nice time visiting with some friends.
|Dinner with awesome friends!|
From there we decided to Uber home. Rather than grab the shuttle to the metro, this just seemed easier. It was getting dark too.
We awoke Saturday morning with breakfast on our mind and headed out to see what was around us. We were within walking distance of many restaurants and shops. Beautiful Murals decorated many walls of the city buildings. We snapped some photo and made our way to a 24 hour diner!
There was a 20 minute wait to be seated. Luckily for us there was a sports bar right next door serving breakfast with no wait.
We decided to eat there!
With several friends rolling into town we were trying to pull something together for Saturday afternoon, early.. just yo get to see everyone and pass out the shirts I had made!
After talking with everyone we ended up going back to the sports bar where we had breakfast earlier that morning.
We arrived first.
Not long after Mike and Nanci showed up with their two kids, Tommy arrived with Zach, his son. Rebecca and Shannon, who we met at the Yeti 50 were also there for runners support on Sunday! They arrived at the pub with their children and then Michelle and her husband made it.
It was a fun afternoon, catching up with everyone and talking race strategy, etc!
|Saturday Afternoon Fun!|
When it was all said and done, Heather and I slipped over to an Italian Restaurant and had our own prerace, date night dinner!
|Pre Race Dinner with Heather.|
We arrived back to the hotel and settled in. It was going to be a big day tomorrow and I needed to get some rest.
The alarm went off around 4 I think, maybe a little later! I made Heather and I coffee and we just talked for a while until we were awake and it was time to start getting ready!
We were to meet Chris and Jessie in lobby along with Michelle who’s husband would drop her off.
From there we all walked to the shuttles which were only around the corner.
At the shuttle we were going to meet Mike and Tommy but they were running just a tad behind us and we ended up boarding the shuttle before being able to connect with them.
|On The Shuttle Race Morning|
MCM is a huge event! With tens of thousands of people, logistics are always crazy! People were everywhere a we made our way to the athletes village. It was pouring rain at this point, still dark and we had two goals before the race started.
Find Mike and Tommy and stay as dry as possible!
We eventually were reunited with our missing friends and that was it! We were ready! The team was together and I was confident that I could finish this race.
|Reunited - Just before the start.|
The support up to this point had been amazing. They all believed in me, that I COULD finish this race. It meant a lot to me and I was pretty much ready for a challenging and emotional day! But a fun day as well!
The strategy was a 4/2 Run-Walk. This was the same strategy we used in the 100 milers both Heather and I as well as Mike used to complete them.
It was time to make our way to the corrals.
Unfortunately, the pre-race show was cancelled due to the weather being so bad. That’s the one thing Heather really remembered about her first MCM experience and wanted me to see too.
Each year they begin the event with marines jumping out of a plane high about the start with all them holding a huge American Flag. This with a few rounds of cannons being fired off typically served to give all the runners an extra boost of adrenaline as the race was about to begin.
So.. none of that this year.
We made it to the 5 hour corral, which was my estimated finish time based on my training.. or what little training I had.
3 weeks, roughly 77 miles, a little confidence and the support of my team was all I had and certainly enough to get me through!
We finally crossed the start line.
The first couple miles were like gridlock at rush hour!! So many people... we were all trying to stay together but you can’t help bit look for those holes in the crowd to advance up a little.
We kept track of the 4/2 with the GymBoss Interval Timer. I had forgot mine but Mike saved the day by bringing his. He had his set up so I could wear it like a watch.
When I yelled out “walk!” For our first walking break, everyone raised their hands! We were together but not necessarily side by side.. some of us were and some of just within shouting distance. I paired up at times with different team members.
I find it incredibly humbling that 5 individuals would come and run with me at my current level of fitness! It was a sacrifice if their own race and I very grateful for what they all did for me! Heather, especially... I wouldn’t even be here if it was wasn’t for her. She has a way of pushing me. In a good way and from a good place. She knows me. She know what I am capable of and she will NOT let me make excuses.
We were always pretty relentless in our own training before I got sick. She doesn’t let me bow out easy!
The first 10k went by pretty easy. We were working plan and the plan was working. Everyone was having fun despite the crazy rain.
Even 6 miles in we were still surrounded by so many runners. This would pretty much be the case the entire race.
Our shoes and socks had gotten soaked from puddles along the course as well but no one seemed to mind! We were on a mission!
I remember coming across the 13 mile marker and thinking okay.. just a half marathon from here! At this point we were moving along at a 12 minute pace roughly and had been on the course for about 2 and a half hours. The goal now was just to get to mile 20.
Right around mile 13 or so is what the event calls the “Blue Mile” - a full mile of pictures of fallen marines. Young men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It’s crazy how young some of them looked. They were babies!
That was a tough mile for me! I don’t have any real connection to the military in any way other than my Grandfather served In WWII, where he met my grandmother, a nurse, after being shot in the arm on the battlefield.
But I’ve always had respect for those who put their own lives second to ours. The ones who put their live at risk, served and even died protecting and standing up for what they believe!
I always make it a point to Thank a Veteran for their service.
Shortly after that approaching mile 15, we saw Shannon and Rebecca on the side of the course! We stopped and hugged and then they handed us shots of fireball!! Hey... first time for everything! Heather May have even through back a beer shot as well!
Rolling up on mile 16 or so I heard a voice call out my name. Heather said that it was Ed & Amy! Fortunately we were right by the turn around and they walked over to the other side to greet us.
Seeing Ed and Amy along the course!
When I saw I Ed.. I just lost it, emotionally! Ed and I met in 2008 due both having the same cancer. Yes.. if you didn’t know, this is my second go around with this disease!
Ed & Amy are like family to me! I love them both so much and I took a minute to embrace them both! Ed was getting teary eyed too!
We said a few last words and we were back on the move!
The course was beautiful. National monuments, museums and other points of interest were along the route! We saw and heard high school bands playing and the crowd participation despite the rain was pretty impressive! The fall colors on the leaves were beautiful. It’s not something we get to see much of on the Outer Banks.
As we rolled into mile 20 I was elated to have made it so far! I was getting tired though and our pace was now roughly a 12 minute mile. This was perfect though. The minimum pace requirement was 14
So we were doing great and had a lot of time buffer on our side still!
Heather made sure I was eating and fueling as we made our way back to Arlington.
We hit mile 25 and I told everyone that we were going to do a lot of walking for this mile. Well, we walked the entire mile right up until we were about a tenth from the finish line.
I couldn’t see the finish line just yet but I knew was close... we all started running.
Just before we crossed, Heather grabbed my hand and raised it up over our heads in victory!
We did it! I did it!
Crossing the finish line of MCM!
This would be my 18th Marathon! Finishing at 5:29:26, it would be my slowest and toughest finish. But it would also be my most proudest finish!
Standing in front of the Marine as he saluted me and proceeded to put the medal around my neck was an honor and a huge symbol of what this event meant to me.
That despite the hardships we’ve been through or are going through, we don’t have to let these situations run our lives, paralyze us and keep us thinking inside some box that we have to “feel” a certain way to do something.. or “train” a certain amount of time to be able to participate.
I didn’t know I would be able to do this or not. I really didn’t. I’m so far from where I was physically and my mental game can be all over the place at times, I just wasn’t sure...
Until I was.
When I went out for those early runs.. I thought, the only thing stopping me from doing this is me. I can tell myself every reason why I can’t do it...
Or.. I can find one reason I can do it.
And that’s what I did.
For the first time in my life I threw my competitive self to the side! I didn’t care about any of that! I just wanted to finish it.
That was the goal!
And it became so much more than that!
Thank you, Tommy, Mike, Michele, Chris, Jessie & Heather.
You’ll never know how much it meant to me to have all of you there with me!
Ed, Amy, Rebecca and Shannon... thank you so much for being out there on the course showing support!! You all gave me the power to get through!
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