This is printed by permission from Amy Lane, a combat Marine in the U.S. Armed Forces who hopes to run Boston this coming spring. I won’t bore you with the details of how I came in touch with her. Just read.
My running life began when I was 19. I had joined the Marines during my senior year of high school after 9/11, and shipped right off to boot camp once the cap and gown were put away. I was the fastest girl in my section in boot camp, though I still wasn’t a runner. I just ran fast because people were yelling at me, and the faster I ran the further behind they fell.
When I was sent to Monterey, CA for language training to become an Arabic linguist, my father died unexpectedly in a skiing accident on the Chilean Alps. I was young and scared, and far away from my family in Florida. When I wasn’t sobbing hysterically, I was crying quietly. My father and I were very close. After a couple of weeks with no sleep, I got out of bed around midnight one night and went running along the edge of Monterey Bay. I ran with no recollection of how I got there or where I was going. I ran through the tears, sweat, and blood (yes, blood…I have a propensity for tripping on large objects in the dark), and ended up back at my room hours later. I was exhausted, and I slept. I started running early in the morning and again late at night if my emotions dictated it. I was battling the depression and I was winning, at last.
After a few weeks of running I saw a blurb about the Big Sur marathon and promptly signed up. My dad’s company sponsored my registration, as they knew he sponsored every sporting event I ever did as a child. I ran every day with no idea of how far I went or how fast I ran, but I came back feeling strong and stable. I somehow made it to the starting line at Big Sur without injury and huge expectations for pain and discomfort. All I wanted to do was finish in one piece. That day I learned that I was a runner. I felt so strong and in control, both of my pace and my life. I remember running up the hills passing those who were walking, and never slowing down. I crossed the finish line in 3:47 and couldn’t believe that I had broken 4 hours, and that I wasn’t even tired (don’t worry, I never had that feeling again after a marathon…turns out I am normal).
Fast forward 2 years and 2 marathons later…
I was deployed to Iraq in 2006. I looked at the pitiful base and thought “well, this is no Monterrey…but it will have to work”. There was a 6 mile perimeter around the base, and I would soon learn every square inch of sand inside of it. The base put on a half marathon the week after I landed there. I wasn’t in terrific shape, and have absolutely no recollection of my time, but I met a very important person that day. A woman, Megan Mcclung, who soon became my mentor and role model. She was a Captain, soon promoted to Major, and she could out run almost every Marine on the base. I hated her and loved her for it. Whatever she had, I wanted. We started doing longer runs together on the weekends, and I listened in amazement as she recalled her racing experiences at all of the various Iron mans she had competed (and placed) in. She was on the Marine Tri-Team, and occasionally ran for the Marine Run Team when they needed someone to fill in. She had the most spirited, rambunctious, infectious personality of anyone I had ever met. I always thought it funny that she could have been a cheerleader, but she joined the Marines. She organized a satellite marathon of the Marine Corps Marathon to take place in Al-Asad, Iraq on the same date as the MCM stateside. I told her that I wanted to qualify for Boston, and she said she’d help me get there. We ate lunch together whenever we couldn’t meet up for a run, and she patiently listened while I hammered her with questions about training. This was the first time that I actually cared about distance and pace, and wanted to get it right.
We made it to the race where 200 Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines had registered to run the marathon. Unfortunately, of those 200, only 96 actually made it to the race as the sandstorms were so bad the night before that no helicopters were able to transport troops to the race. Standing on the starting line I recall seeing Major McClung stand up on a table and yell for the crowd to listen up. “The chow hall was just burned down. Sadly, the Gatorade went with it. We’re just getting water on the race today folks!”. Ahh, that explains the luring scent of smoke in the air. “Oh, one more thing….most of the port-o-pottys blew over in the sand storm last night. You might have to get help tipping them back up”. Now I’m getting worried.
The gun went off, and I stuck to my pace. Everything was going great for the first half. At mile 17 I caught up to Major McClung, and thought something was terribly wrong. She started walking, and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t imagine leaving her behind, she was my training partner! She told me to “Hurry up and finish, stupid. Don’t worry about me!”. As she shooed me away from her I looked back over my shoulder and felt remorseful as I saw her sit down. It turns out that her plantar fasciitus has gotten so bad that a bone actually snapped in her foot.
I came up to the finish line and realized I was definitely the first female to cross. The clock said 3:33:52. Really? That was way faster than the 3:40 I had been praying for. I waited until I could see Major McClung struggling up the road. I ran in with her, not saying anything. I could feel her pain, and it was as emotionally stressful as it was physical. She crossed in 3:45 (yeah, with a broken foot) and we embraced. I told her my time and she was ecstatic. We were running Boston together when we got home from Iraq! We started making plans then and there for our weekend in Beantown. She had qualified for Boston in a race previously, so there were no issues with her less than perfect race.
For the next 2 months after that memorable race, she was transferred to a different base in Iraq so we exchanged emails often. She showed up in the middle of the night at my trailer, banging on the door. I grumpily opened the door to find Megan standing there, ready to run. She told me to throw some shoes on and meet her in 5. “Boston won’t run itself!”. Little did I know that would be my last memory with her. Not long after that middle of the night run, someone came to inform me that Major McClung had been killed by an I.E.D. My world fell out from underneath me yet again. When you’re deployed, your fellow Marines are your family. Some are closer than others, and I felt very close with Megan. There was a nurturing relationship between us, as she helped me grow as a runner and I think I helped her grow in other ways. I was back to being an angry runner. I pounded the sand that gave generously to me and so cruelly took away.
I got home from deployment about a month before the Boston marathon in 2007. I had been deployed for 13 months, and everything felt so strange to me. I went to Boston and was dismayed to find that the weather was entirely worse than anything I had ever run through. It was in the 40s, terribly windy, and raining constantly. I’m pretty certain there was actually a monsoon passing through, but no meteorologist had the heart to admit it. I stood in the pouring rain at Hopkinton and cried quietly as I thought about Megan, and that it didn’t feel right to be there without her. I wore a shirt with her picture on it as a small dedication, and refused to wear layers over it once the gun went off. I wanted her face to be on the course with me. That was probably a stupid idea as I’m pretty sure I had some level of hypothermia. I could imagine her rolling her eyes at my stubbornness. I somehow managed to finish in 3:33, which was the same time I had run in Iraq. How I did that under those conditions I’ll never know…it was probably Megan pushing me along.
After that chapter of running, post-military separation, and over 2 years later, I did 6 more marathons (most recently Philly) and continue to try and get faster. It’s rather addicting. I met a rowdy group of runners online (including our mutual friend, Ron) and finally felt like I had a place that I fit in with. A bunch of loons who do as many crazy things, if not more, as I do. Ron presented the idea of running Boston 2 Big Sur as a way to raise money for the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation. My best memory from my racing was of Big Sur, and my worst was from Boston. I felt good about combining the two and creating a new adventure that I could reflect upon. Big Sur was my dedication race to my father, and Boston was my dedication race to Megan. Combining the two felt significant to me, especially if I could do it for a worthy cause.
I happen to make a ridiculously good loaf of banana bread. Sinfully good, many have said. I started selling it a couple of months ago and sold $1500 worth in no time at all. Of course that meant I was staying up until 1am baking many nights, but it was raising money fast.
So that brings us to the current predicament–I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t be left out of the Boston portion of the Boston 2 Big Sur challenge.
Anyways, if there’s anything you can do I would be eternally thankful. I can also send a persuasive loaf of banana bread to anyone who may need to think about it for a while ;-)
Oh yes, Ron also mentioned that he told you about my random appearances on Jay Leno and the Rachael Ray show- neither of which have anything to do with running :) I’ll still explain that if there’s a level of curiosity there.