My unlikely personal best

October 23, 2013 at 4:30 pm 19 comments


My lungs tightened and I couldn’t catch my breath. Breathe…1…2…3…breathe. The sun radiated on my face and the sweat trickled down the nape of my neck. My shins ached and my fingers swelled. I didn’t even notice the hair pin I had slipped onto the hem of my shirt (just in case) had rubbed my skin raw. I pushed forward.

Slowly. Too slowly. I told my sisters and dad to go on ahead, leave me. I didn’t want to hold them back. After all, they had completed the Army 10 Miler before and would not struggle to do it again. But they wouldn’t go. They took turns running/walking with me. My dad would run up ahead to scout out where we were and he would run back with water and a plan. “Ok, you got this! It’s about half a mile to the next marker.”

Pre-race selfie

I was so relieved when I passed the five mile mark, that I didn’t get scooped up by the “sag wagon” they had threatened me with in registration. Plus I had mostly been doing 3-4 mile training sessions so the halfway point was a big deal. I was really, really happy.

lincoln memorial

I had memorized the course since I had done most of my training runs with a laminated map of the ten miles. I knew if I saw the Lincoln Memorial twice, all would be ok. But as we got to mile 6, a soldier working the race told us they were going to reopen the other side of Independence Avenue for traffic so we were directed to the bridge, which meant we missed one whole mile. I was stunned and confused. People behind us complained to the soldiers about how the waves of runners started late and it’s not fair and the official rules say we have until 10:45, blah blah, fade out.

I started to lose it. I could feel the tears coming and the lump in my throat growing. I felt like I let my family down. If I had been faster, even just minutes faster, we’d be fine. I apologized in between gulps for air. My sisters put their arms around me and my dad said, “We’re finishing this. It doesn’t matter. You will do nine miles and you will finish. One foot in front of the other.”

The last three miles were more difficult than I can say, trying to breathe and choke down tears. We ran them by counting lamp posts and road signs, and we ran them together. A soldier passed me and must have seen me on the verge of tears, being consoled by my sisters. He ran back to me and said, “You are doing great! Don’t worry! What’s your name?” Then he ran off into the distance and stopped about 20 meters from us. He started jumping up and down, cheering my name and clapping. A few people around him started cheering for me too.

We hadn’t seen Scott (who had surprised me by flying out to DC to be moral support at the race) or my mom yet. They were holding signs and cheering somewhere near the finish line. I imagined what it would be like to see a familiar face in the crowd and I had visions of collapsing at their feet and begging them to put me out of my misery.

Posters and signs for race

So imagine my surprise when we saw them–their arms holding the signs and their smiles wide–and my legs seemed to pick up the pace. We ran uphill in the last stretch of the race. Mile ten for many others and mile nine for us.

“Where is it?” I panted. My eyes searched for the finish line banner.

“I’m not sure,” Lisa replied. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I think I remember it being up there.”

As we followed the bend of road around the Pentagon, the girls started rallying with shouts of joy.

My dad circled around me and grabbed my hand. “See it? That’s the finish line. Let’s do this!”

With my dad calling out, “One two, one two, one two” all the way there in military cadence, we finished. We collected our commemorative finisher’s coins and made our way to the water stations. There was lots of hugging and praising, but I couldn’t remember ever feeling more disheartened.

A man approached us. I recognized him from the race. We had been taking turns passing each other throughout the course. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey, I gotta tell you. I was watching you and I kept going because you kept going.”

Before I could properly respond, the man disappeared into the crowd as quickly as he had appeared. In the distance, I saw Scott making his way towards us. I finally let go of the tears I had been holding on to for miles and miles.

Words cannot express how disappointed I was not to complete all ten miles. I felt like a cheat. I wished I had never told anyone I was doing this as my first race. I cursed myself for not trying a 5k fun run before taking on something like this.

And then I got angry.

I had just run more than I ever had. A year ago, even months ago, I would have never imagined I’d actually go through with something like this.

I may be slow right now, too slow for the Army 10 Miler, but if I let that affect me any more than it already has, I’ll never try anything again. And if I don’t share my story, if I am embarrassed of this, what does that say about me? And more importantly, what does it say to people who, like me, want to go after an ambitious goal but are afraid of what happens if they fall short?

The Army 10 Miler brings people together to run in support of soldiers and their families through the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs. Having grown up using these MWR programs as an army brat, this is a cause near and dear to me. While the race is open to the general public, there is a huge military presence with more than 600 soldiers working the race and many, many more running. People run in honor of loved ones serving overseas and thousands run in memory of fallen soldiers. Soldiers stationed overseas hold shadow runs and it’s especially heartwarming when you see someone wearing a shirt that says they are running “with” their brother, sister, dad, mom, or spouse in Afghanistan and the like. Wounded Warriors also take part in the race and when you see them running faster than you…well…how can I ever complain about shin splints?

Which brings me to the most important point I’m trying to keep in the forefront of my mind. Running is a privilege. Seven or nine or eleven miles…those are just numbers. The good stuff of life is knowing you have friends who are happy to support you, who are not keeping count or score. It’s being surrounded by people who love you, who are rooting for you by holding up posters for hours so you can see a glimpse of it as you pass. It’s knowing you are more important to others than a personal best. The good stuff of life is having someone who will hold up their hand to give you a high five when the going’s good and someone who will reach out that same hand to hold you, to pull you, when you feel you cannot go on anymore.

The best bit, even if it hurts or doesn’t exactly go your way, is putting your heart totally and completely into something. And then giving it all you’ve got, no matter if it’s not enough.

Just a few feet away from the finish line–with the balloon arch blowing in the autumnal wind, the music blaring, the applause surrounding us–my dad fell back behind me to cheer me on, to encourage me, and to let me beat him by crossing the finish line first.

We said we were running this for my dad. But the truth is, they did the race for me.

I did the race for me too.

Find your happy pace

Entry filed under: life. Tags: , , , , .

How to surprise your parents It’s nut all it’s cracked up to be (sorry, I had to)

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Busson  |  October 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Awesome work Caitlin! You go girl!


  • 2. Claire  |  October 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Caitlin – currently walking along the street crying at this as I read. Was just contemplating not going for the first time to a running club because I’m lazy. But you’re right….running is a privilege. So I’m going to make myself go now! You inspired me!

    Well done on the run. So proud of you. And live the blog!

    Clees xxx

  • 3. andrea  |  October 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Well, I don’t even know what to say because you are so awesome. And I am seriously crying reading this. I do a race every year with my dad because it was something he always has done, and while we don’t run it (because he can’t run anymore because of a bad knee and I can’t run because I don’t have the endurance to do 6 miles) I think your story may encourage me to train to run it next Summer, for him, and for me. You are awesome!

  • 4. Whitney  |  October 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Cait – I LOVE you and love your entire family. Truly, they were the reason that I found happiness in DC when I was frustrated with work, or people, or life in general. I feel like I’ve been in your shoes — part of the last group to finish while panting and worrying what everyone was thinking! But you are SPOT ON. Lisa, Baker, Jess, Genie and the entire Marvin clan were the reasons I continued on and was able to let go of the frustration that I wasn’t fast enough/good enough. The truth is, it didn’t matter how fast any of us ran – it was that we were doing it together. And I miss that so much! Your running journey is amazing, fantastic and truly inspiring… in fact it’s encouraging me right now to get in touch with the girls and plan to run again soon! XOXO, Whit

  • 5. Rebecca  |  October 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Caitlin – I am so impressed and inspired by you. So proud! What an amazing accomplishment in your life! And the way you described it was beautiful! You eloquently put into words how so many people feel when they do runs for a purpose. Thank you for writing this, I enjoyed reading about your experience :)

  • 6. Allison Bouley  |  October 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    ah. like your friends above, I’m reading this while choking back tears. “Running is a privilege” is so true – my running journey has so many similarities to yours – but I haven’t hit that 9mile point yet. You’re inspiration! (and also – can I go back to high school just to kick butt on ONE ticket run?)

    • 7. Amy Whipple  |  October 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      Totally tearful. Way to go!

  • 8. Jessica Wenger  |  October 23, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing this and congratulations on everything you accomplished! It sounds like your family was such a strong support for you. This is truly inspiring!

  • 9. katyhancock  |  October 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Wow this is such a wonderful and beautiful story. You should be so proud of yourself for making it that far, but I know if I was in the same position I would be just as angry that the race was shortened. Best of luck with your future races and never forget how lucky you are for your family and how talented you are with your actions!

  • 10. pherooz  |  October 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing this; like many of the commenters, I totally cried! You truly should be proud of what you accomplished (though I don’t blame you for being upset about the lost mile). I’m usually such a lurker but I just had to comment today because this was so inspiring. Reading this motivated me to get up and get in my workout, something I’d been contemplating skipping. I really appreciate you sharing your story!

  • 11. gmucheeky  |  October 24, 2013 at 1:29 am

    Crying. A lot. This is beautiful! Congrats on finishing your race!!!

  • 12. Adeline  |  October 24, 2013 at 8:46 am

    I’m sitting at my desk reading this and have had to shut the door because of the tears streaming down my face – what a totally amazing girl, you did yourself and your family proud, well done. x

  • 13. nolongernakedrunning  |  October 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Congrats on a most beautiful race.

  • 14. Ben day  |  October 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Wow – what an emotional read –
    Very very proud of u, what a journey what success , believe me u would of inspired many people in doing this ,
    To do this for a cause and to do it as a family in a philosophical term u have run 100 miles and in that u won ur race , can’t wait to see u in the gym
    Love Ben x

  • 15. Jessica {lovely jubbly london}  |  October 25, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Caitlin, you are amazing! Your family, the soldiers and others in the race are proud and thankful for you. You should be too. jxx

  • 16. Anne-Margaret  |  October 26, 2013 at 2:00 am

    Wow. So well written and so very very true. I completed my first half marathon over 5 years ago being well over 300 lbs. Now, 5 years and 180 less pounds later, I spent this past summer finishing 3 triathlons. I know all too well about pushing past your own self-created limitations and the amazing, wonderful, beautiful people who cheer you on when you don’t think you can possibly go anymore and somehow, some way, those cheers do get you to the finish line, no matter how messy or imperfect the journey was to get there.

    Thank you for sharing. :-)

  • 17. melissasedjo  |  October 26, 2013 at 4:10 am

    You are amazing! And yes, you made me cry, too. So proud of you. Love how much your family loves each other. Xx

  • 18. Sandy Oujiri  |  October 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Awww, Sweetie! What an awesome story! I’m currently volunteering in the USO lounge at National Airport ( your mom inspired us with all her hours at Dulles) TRYING not to snuffle and sob. You and your family are incredible! Thank you for sharing this story and keep up the wonderful work – both your blog and running marathons. WOW!

  • 19. Renée  |  November 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Sooo inspired! Thank you for sharing!!!


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