By Senior Airman Naomi Griego, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 01, 2013
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
"He sure is a running fool," "Run Forrest Run," "Momma always said you have to put the past behind you to move on."
These were the words that played over and over in my head during my four months of training leading up to the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Sept. 21.
Can you tell I'm a Forrest Gump fanatic?
As silly as it sounds, these comical quotes helped me through every painstaking mile my body endured. I mean, I did need something to entertain me for nearly five hours.
Where do I begin? Well, I suppose any sane person who doesn't enjoy running 26 miles for "no particular reason" would ask, "What in the world would possess me to do it?"
The answer is simple; "Why not?"
I had no doubt in my mind it was going to be a difficult path, but I knew I was capable. The mind is a very powerful tool if used correctly. I convinced myself I was a marathon runner, so therefore I was. It seemed simple enough.
To me, running is the most liberating form of expression. However, marathon training altered that gratification. I used to run to think and problems solve, but now I had to run on a schedule to prepare myself.
Five miles was the most I've ever ran prior to marathon training. However, I went from 5 to 15 miles in just two months... talk about extreme.
It hurt... every mile, everyday.
Some days I ran so early it was pitch dark outside. The stars were my only companions. A headlamp awkwardly hugged my head and illuminated each step in front of me while I ran my little heart out.
I sought refuge in lyrics while listening to my MP3 player, with every step the battery lasted. There's nothing worse than having your music die when you're only 2 miles into a 9-mile run.
There were times during my training and marathon when I questioned my strength, will and motives.
I am a mom, college student and Airman, so believe me when I say my time is invaluable. However, I dedicated myself to running this marathon and I refused to quit. So, that meant I had to find time without losing my sanity.
Life happens of course. I didn't always follow my training plan. Events occurred which hindered me from completing scheduled runs. I had to adapt and remind myself I had a goal -- no excuses. I was accountable only to myself.
Luckily, I had plenty of support from my leadership and fellow Airmen. Plus, my supervisor was running the marathon with me, so we trained together as often as possible.
After four months of shin splints, back aches and sore legs, it was time to run a marathon.
I woke up at 3:15 a.m. Sept. 21 and realized I would be running in the pouring rain in just a few short hours. I left the hotel around 4 a.m. in a pink "Air Force" tank top and a pair of 5-year-old beaten black shorts.
When I was waiting for the race to start, I was wet and cold. My hands and my toes were numb, and I feared this was a bad start to a long day. Luckily, the rain subsided before the race began.
Before I knew it, I began running. Along with 15,000 other runners, walkers and people in wheel chairs, I passed through the starting line with enthusiasm and astonishment. I took a deep breathe in and thought, "And so it begins."
When I looked around to see the faces surrounding me, I realized I was among warriors.
Young children, men, women, and people old enough to be my great grandparents, were all there to put one foot in front of the other and complete their race.
I passed by "barefoot lady" and was passed by "sandal man." I couldn't even begin to imagine how much more painful running a marathon would be without foot support.
I remember seeing "patriotic lady" and "skirt lady." For one reason or another, these people stood out to me and made me happy to be running with them.
As I passed by volunteers and supporters, who were random strangers to me, mile by mile I was reminded that kindness goes a long way.
So many volunteers were needed to make the event possible. Whether they were holding out a cup of water, a banana, or caffeine gel, I couldn't help but smile and be grateful. What would I have done without them?
I was hungry before the first mile, so imagine how I felt on the 20th. I tried to show my appreciation with a tired, "Thank you" accompanied by the best grin my pain allowed me to show.
A few things stand out when I look back to the marathon.
People lined the streets with cowbells, funny hats, bright necklaces, encouragement and cheer, but most memorably: amusing signs. A few of them made me laugh while I was running, which helped take my mind off the blisters forming on my hurting feet.
Some of the best signs read, "Can't Stop, Won't Stop, but Miley should stop," "If it were easy, everyone would do it," "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon," and ironically, "Hurry up and finish, my legs hurt!"
It was such a comforting feeling knowing people made these signs just to make us smile; it was as if they knew it would keep us going.
The first few miles were not nearly as bad as the last four. I was able to run 17 miles without a restroom break. However, after I tried to get back into my running groove, I realized my momentum was halted. I dragged my legs for about a half a mile before I began running again.
I crossed the finish line sprinting like what I imagine a newborn horse feels like when it takes its first steps. My legs were wobbly like jello, my feet were so numb and heavy I felt like I needed to pick them up and move them with my hands. I crossed the finished line in 4 hours, 58 minutes. And, it was gruesome.
After I finished, a grinning two-star general politely placed a medal over my neck and congratulated me on completing the marathon.
In retrospect, I know I could have trained harder. I could have run faster. It could have been a smoother journey. However, I learned a lot about myself and proved I am physically and mentally strong.
I think sometimes we assume the task at hand is greater than our own will, but the reality is my marathon was mostly mental. Sure, I needed to be able to walk the next day in order to catch my flight, but I really needed to believe I could do it.
Would I run another marathon? Yes, in a heartbeat.
My still recovering legs and feet constantly remind me... it wasn't just a dream.