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.
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.
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.