The Marine Corps Marathon,
happening Oct. 30, is one of the biggest events held all year in Washington. Tens of thousands flood into the city hoping to PR in the race, and thousands more crowd the 26-mile route to cheer them on. But what happens to all the hopefuls who don’t finish for one reason or another? Writer Mike Gruss and photographer Andrew Propp went to the 2015 marathon to find out. Have a look.
The start of the Marine Corps Marathon, near the Pentagon on Route 110, is a mash-up of adrenaline, anticipation, and nerves. Waves of runners—about 30,000 registered for the race in 2015—move closer and closer to the starting line, as a final step before their months of training are put to the test.
The question of finishing a marathon is not strictly about putting in enough work, but will each runner be a little bit lucky as well?
The four straggler buses that pick up the unlucky ones—those too slow to finish—wait at 15th Street and Crystal Drive in the Crystal City section of Arlington around mile 22.
Runners have to maintain a 14-minute per mile pace, and “beat the bridge,” to stay on the course. This means they need to run a 14-minute pace for the first 20 miles, which is right around the 14th Street Bridge. Other racers who are injured or struggling can climb aboard earlier along the course.
By this point, at the end of the race, some of the last people on the course are by themselves for blocks.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Mark Bender is the guy who explained to runners gently, but firmly, their options for the rest of the afternoon: finishing along sidewalks after the roads open or riding the bus.
Not everyone follows the rules; some try to ignore Bender and keep running. But many relent.
Jen Pucci, 37, a third-grade teacher in Rochester, New York, started running after a divorce, realized she was faster than many of her neighbors, and qualified for the Boston Marathon, the most prestigious US marathon. “Running was therapy for me,” she said. Employees at her school put money in a pool and bet on what time she’ll finish each long race. They call it “The Pucci Sweepstakes.” But during the 2015 Marine Corps marathon Pucci felt a pinch in her right leg about nine miles in. The marathon would have been her seventh.
Runners who board the bus receive a care package of sorts to help replenish their lost calories. In 2015, the first runner climbed aboard at the second mile, meaning some participants were on the bus for as many as seven or eight hours.
“It can get lonely when there’s no crowd around,” says Kath Sturgeon of Monmouth, Illinois (maroon shirt). Sturgeon is part of a foursome of marathon runners who met online years ago and became friends. On race day in 2015, the group waited in Crystal City to cheer on the last of the runners—including those on the bus.
Gerald Lewis-Azayear (at right), 67, realized about seven miles into the 2015 marathon that he wasn’t going fast enough to meet the time requirements. While he said he’s run 11 marathons and an ultra-marathon, he boarded without regret and started chatting with other runners. “This is the greatest thing about this marathon,” he said. “You can start up a conversation.”
The end—trash is picked up, roads are re-opened, and the buses are back in Arlington between the Pentagon and Crystal City.