Marine Corp Marathon


Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.”
(2 Tim 4:7)

Marine Corp Marathon

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the summer of 1987, Maryam and I spent about two weeks visiting relatives over the Fourth of July. Having successfully transitioned into Finance and Tax Branch, I found myself in the midst of a long research project in the office and busy with a pastoral nominating committee in my church. While not exactly bored, I needed inspiration to motor through the doldrums of a summer in the Washington heat.


I went to my supervisor in late July and proposed to alter my schedule so that I could have a two-hour break over the lunch hour to train for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is normally run the first week in November. He approved of the idea and even helped me get a key to the building to start work promptly at 6 a.m.

Stretching My Workout

Training for my first marathon was a heady move for me because I had never previously run over ten miles. Ten miles was a benchmark for me because I ran a 10 kilometer race while at Michigan State University and would often run ten miles in those days “just to clear my head”. But a marathon was 26 miles and I was already 34 years old—everyone that I talked to called marathon running a “young man’s sport”. I never met anyone else who had actually run one, but I had a bit more than three months to train and set my goal simply to finish. I figured that I could run ten-minute miles pretty much forever or “til the cows come home”, as we used to say down on the farm.

Lunchtime Fun

Training over the lunch hour turned out to be more fun than I had imagined. The Economic Research Service had a locker room in the New York Avenue office. From there, I could run down New York Avenue past the Treasury Department and the White House to the mall. Oftentimes, I would watch the president’s helicopter take off from the White House lawn and one day I just about ran over the FBI director as he ducked out of an office on 15th Street next to the

Oftentimes, I would watch the president’s helicopter take off from the White House lawn. On one occasion I just about ran over the FBI director as he ducked out of an office on 15th Street next to the Old Ebbitt Grill. Cutting across the mall, I was able to run across the 14th Street bridge into Virginia, run along the Potomac River, and back across Memorial Bridge—the route favored by military runners who were often supported by comrades dispensing water. As I got stronger, I could then proceed past the Lincoln Memorial, up the mall, and around Capital Hill before returning to the office, a run of about 8 miles. One could not imagine a more pleasant run.


As the race approached in October, I began taking longer runs on the weekends, especially Saturdays. In finishing a 20-mile run, I started having a lot of pain which I simply could not ignore. I had to finish up my run walking in pain like I had never previously experienced.

It was still bothering me on Tuesday when I tried running again over the noon hour. As I was suiting up in the locker room, I asked some of my friends if they had ever had this problem. In turn, they asked: “Did you drink any liquid? Your problem sounds like dehydration.” Opps. I had never trained drinking anything. “My coach in Junior High School told us that drinking water would lead to cramps.” Apparently, my coach was badly informed—there were no runners’ magazines or Internet back then. From that day, I began stopping to drink water as I trained.

Race Day

On race day, I drove to the Marine Corps Memorial which serves both as the starting and finishing point. As I lined up, I joined the more than seven thousand runners. They were packed so tight that it took several minutes after the gun went off to even begin the slow trot north up the route 110 to the Key Bridge, which crosses over the Potomac into Georgetown. In Georgetown, spectators lined the streets and it was clear that not everyone trained adequately or paced themselves properly. There I saw a former Secretary of Agriculture bent over and heaving along M Street.

Capital Hill

The run up to Capitol Hill was a breeze with runners chatting and waving at the television crews along the route. By the time we reached the Hain’s Point the runners began to “hit the wall”, where endurance becomes more challenging. At that point, I remember asking a handicapped runner in a tricycle vehicle for a ride (only half joking).

Back to Virginia

I reached a critical point on the 14th Street Bridge, when I wiped my forehead only to find salt crystals. I began freaking out, at which point a fellow runner talked me back into sanity. The final stretch on route 110 was labored enough that a fast walker could have bested me. Still, I made it to the finish line, had my photograph taken, and collected my metal. I too 4 hours and 15 minutes, meeting my goal of running ten-minute miles.

Follow up

The following year I began training earlier. I was on track to run eight-minute miles, but I over-trained, got sick, and never ran another marathon. My knees gave out in 1989 making such distance running too painful. In the years that followed, I began swimming laps instead.


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