MCM - Chas Henry

Broadcasting the Marine Corps Marathon

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For decades now, on the last Sunday of each October, tens of thousands of runners have lined up within sight of the Washington, D. C. statue depicting Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

Anxious and pumping adrenalin, they prepare to take on the challenge of the Marine Corps Marathon. Most crowd the start line to embark on a 26.2-mile journey; a smaller number queue up along the national mall to start a 10k (6.2-mile) course. Since 1989, I have had the privilege of serving on a volunteer committee formed by the event’s founders — working to make the MCM available to more Americans and people from around the world. While still an active-duty Marine, I worked as finish line public address announcer. Later, for WTOP Radio, I would produce features about remarkable runners, then broadcast live race-morning updates. In most recent years, I have had the privilege of co-hosting TV coverage bringing the race’s excitement and pageantry to viewers of NBC Sports Washington.

As dawn broke near the starting line of the 41st Marine Corps Marathon, Michael Jenkins and I asked General Robert Neller, then-commandant the Marine Corps, about the Marines’ reputation for providing runners an exceptionally well-organized race experience. (Photo/Angelique Que)

The Marine Corps Marathon stands out among similar events in ways that earned it the nickname “The People’s Marathon.” No prize money is offered. The event is not centered on world-class professional athletes. Rather, the Marine Corps, known for its ethos of physical fitness, provides ordinary individuals an opportunity to take on the personal challenge of completing a marathon.  Those crossing the MCM starting line are motivated by almost as many reasons as there are runners. Some are marking a milestone birthday, others celebrating recovery from a life-threatening illness or recalling the life of a loved one who has died. Many are running their first-ever marathon. All experience what many have described as the most well-organized such event in the world — on a generally flat course through the majestic historical scenery of the United States’ capital city.

Overlooking the MCM starting line with co-anchor Michael Jenkins during our coverage on the 41st Marine Corps Marathon on NBC Sports Washington.

Spectators play a key role in encouraging MCM runners toward the finish line — and through the arc of energy and pain experienced along the the way. Given the event’s location, it is not uncommon to find plenty of  nationally-familiar faces among crowds of cheering race spectators. Nor is it odd for runners to look over and see that well-known Americans have joined them in taking on the MCM challenge.

As thousands of runners made their way across the starting line of the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recalled his and other lawmakers’ work in 2001 to ensure the MCM was held that year — despite the date falling just weeks after the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks — one target of which was the Pentagon, which runners passed on the course that year. I was privileged to run the 26.2 miles on that meaningful Sunday.

Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame Induction

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When I was first posted as a Marine to the Washington, D. C. area, in 1989, a friend recommended I volunteer with a group that helped publicize the Marine Corps Marathon.

It was still a time in the event’s history when not all of the Corps’ top leaders thought the considerable effort required to put it on was worthwhile.

Chas Receiving MCM HOF Award 2

Colonel Joseph Murray — then-commander of Marine Corps Base, Quantico — passes along the etched Tiffany crystal pyramid that comes with Hall of Fame membership. (Photo/Cpl. Timothy Turner)

In those early years, I produced TV public service announcements to encourage spectators to come out and cheer on the field of runners. After retiring from military service in 1996, my work as a broadcast journalist kept me associated with the event.

Over the years, I have interviewed dozens and dozens of interesting participants — and broadcast live, from-the-course reports on radio stations WTOP and WNEW. Most recently, I’ve co-hosted NBC Sports Washington race day morning broadcasts from the starting line.  On October 23, 2015, the organizers of the event kindly inducted me as the 38th member of the Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame.

Enjoying a race day morning with co-anchor Jill Sorenson.

Marathon 2001 1

Memories of running the Marine Corps Marathon in 2001.  It was a poignant, as well as challenging experience. We ran past the Pentagon, which had been the target of a terrorist attack just weeks before.  As we passed it, we cheered — and were cheered on by — construction workers already rebuilding.