I said it, but I wasn’t sure I believed it:  “I’m running the Marine Corps Marathon.”


I’m not an impulsive person, so when I shared this news with
my father, a former marathoner himself, he probably thought I was as unsure as
I sounded to myself.  It wasn’t so much
the fact that I had never run a marathon before or even expressed a desire to
run one.  I had four half-marathons and
countless other shorter races logged in my running book.  Under normal circumstances, I could get
myself in marathon condition in the 7 months between registration day and race
The problem wasn’t my fitness capabilities. The problem was
that those 7 months weren’t going to fall under the category of “normal
circumstances.”  During that time I had
another marathon to get through – one that would require most of the focus,
energy, and mental strength I possessed to ensure I’d still be standing at the
finish line.
That marathon was my divorce.
When I decided to run the race my husband and I had been
legally separated for several months.  We
still had a long road ahead before the divorce would be final. I hadn’t shared
the news with most of my friends and even some of my family. I had no idea
where I was going to live or if I’d be able to support myself.  Just hearing the word “divorce” was enough to
bring me to tears.  I probably didn’t
need to add marathon training to my to-do list.
While my father the runner told me to go for it, my mother
suggested that maybe I already had more than enough on my plate. Torn between
my dad’s endorsement and my mom’s trepidation, I decided to leave it in the
hands of the gods of registration.
The Marine Corps Marathon is the third largest marathon in
the country, and in 2012 the race filled its 30,000 runner limit on
registration day in less than 3 hours. The chances that I’d be one of those
lucky runners to get in were slim.
Thirty minutes after the online registration opened, I had
yet to make it past anything other than a “try again later” message. By the
hour mark, other hopeful runners were voicing angry complaints on the marathon Facebook
page about the website crashing and how technical difficulties were ruining
their running dreams. I had managed to get through to the registration form a
half a dozen times, but each time I was knocked off before I could fill in my
I had been clicking the refresh button for an hour and six minutes
on two different computers when, finally, my registration form was accepted. In
a record 2 hours and 27 minutes, the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon reached its
30,000 registrant limit, and I was one of them.
The marathon took place at the end of October, a month after
my divorce was supposed to be final. The timing felt poetic. Completing the
marathon would be my closure, the official celebration of my new independence
and my hard-fought journey to a sense of self, happiness, and forward movement.
It would also serve as my graceful exit from my life as a military spouse, a
way to show my pride and gratitude to the military community I deeply
My seven months of marathon training were time consuming and
physically demanding, even punishing at times. 
For all of my running experience, I’d never logged as many miles week
after week.  I started the process
relatively out of shape, thanks to the stresses that led to the separation
agreement. My mental and emotional endurance were lacking. As the weeks passed,
I struggled with physical aches as well as emotional beatings rendered by major
life transitions like losing the familiarity of my home by moving out and adjusting
to a co-parenting schedule that accommodated the new reality of two households
as well as my husband’s latest military assignment that took him out of town
during the work week.
There were days I flew through 12-mile runs, finishing with
a bursting feeling of invincibility that I could conquer anything. Other days I
barely managed 6 miles, relieved to press the stop button on my Garmin as I
fought collapsing after an hour of being trapped inside my own head.
Some days I relied on my training partner, who understood the stress I was under but also pushed me to bank
on the good days and muddle through the bad. I couldn’t hide under my pillow on
long run days because I knew he would be banging on my front door until I laced
up my running shoes. Other days I ran alone, leaning on the playlists on my
iPod for the support it took to keep going.
Race day finally arrived (in spite of a government shutdown
that a threatened to cancel it because the course went through several national
parks). I was no stranger to running races, but standing at the start line of
the Marine Corps Marathon was unlike anything I had experienced before.
The crowd buzzed with nervous anticipation as strangers told
tales of past accomplishments, wished each other luck, and attempted last-minute
stretching. Uniformed Marines were everywhere, double checking race bibs,
collecting runners’ “throw-away” clothes in trash bags, and offering
high-fives. I soaked in the energy that surrounded me, and just when I thought
I couldn’t wait one more second to start moving, I heard the howitzer fire,
signaling the start of the race.
The crowd collectively inched toward the arch that marked
the official start line. I took my first marathon steps walking, then jogging.
Soon I was off and running, weaving my way into a space of my own and finding
my rhythm, not unlike the path I had traveled from day one of my separation to
these last days leading up to the divorce.
I ran past monuments and national landmarks. I posted photos
on Facebook to share my progress with friends and gather virtual support. When
I needed an extra push, I took out my earbuds and let the cheering bystanders
carry me until I fell into my groove again. When I hit a mental wall at mile
17, I called a friend. And as I thanked the Marines who handed me cups of water
throughout the race and cheered me on as I climbed that last hill before
rounding the bend to the final stretch, I realized that I would truly miss
being a part of the military world, but the lessons I learned and the
experiences I gained will always be a part of me.
I finished after 4 hours, 48 minutes and 59 seconds.  At the finish line, I was embraced by
co-workers, friends, and family – my support team, the people who had both made
the effort to watch me race and answered every late night phone call, weathering
my tears and rants, listening when appropriate and giving advice and tough love
when required.
Twenty-six days after the race my divorce was final. As I
stood watching a judge sign the document that ended my marriage I was reminded
of how I felt at the end of the Marine Corps Marathon.  I was grateful that moment felt
familiar.  If it hadn’t I’m sure I would
have lost my composure, something I’d later regret.
The Marine Corps Marathon kept me from indulging those inner
voices who nagged at me to yield to the stress of divorce in non-productive
ways. Running prevented me from succumbing to depression. It got me out of bed
in the morning. It improved my mental tenacity. It kept me from drowning my
sorrows in cartons of Ben and Jerry’s and glasses of wine. It gave me something
from which to draw strength and confidence. It reminded me I have a lot of life
left to live and that I might just be able to live it happily if I try.
My divorce challenges aren’t over and I
don’t expect they will be for quite awhile.  But on more challenging days, I’ll remind
myself that I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.
And that should keep me standing.

8 Comments on How a Marathon Got Me through My Divorce

  1. I love this… you strength and courage, your tenacity and bravery. All of it. You have been faced with some of the hardest trials life has to offer, and have continued to persevere and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I admire your heart.

  2. Congratulations on the marathon! That is such a special race. It is amazing how much running can do for you both physically and mentally.

  3. Congratulations!! You should be incredibly proud of your self for sticking to your guns and perservering through the storm. I'm so glad to hear that you did something constructive to help with the healing process. Keep it up!

  4. Yet another great article by Roller Coaster Wife. It is obvious that when one door closes for this very positive young lady, several more open and she will take advantage of all of them and hopefully include us in her journey. She is a positive role model and a product of loving parents who continue to guide and support her. Way to go girl…..

  5. I'm not a crier but I completely teared up reading "I realized that I would truly miss being a part of the military world". I don't think you'll ever be an "outsider". I think the military community is something you'll always be apart of in terms of support and friendship. Congratulations on an amazing run and best of luck in all of your endeavors.

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