Over 20,000 Steps Later…Reflections on the Army Ten Miler, 2014

Army 10-Miler Finishers Coin
Army 10-Miler Finishers Coin

As I sit here thinking about (and healing from) the Army Ten Miler I ran on Sunday, I can say that I am thankful for the opportunity to have participated. I was only one of 35,000 participants who came out to take part in a 30 year tradition – a tradition that brings together Wounded Warriors, active duty and retired service members, and civilians from all over the country, to include “shadow races” taking place on military installations all over the world.

My teammates and I met at the Metro Station in Greenbelt, MD and rode together into Arlington, VA. For the hour or so ride, many more racers from other stops piled onto the train – all of us with the same destination. As time progressed, I could see sunlight gradually break through the darkness and welcome us to a new day.

This was the first race that I’d ever run, and admittedly, the first time I that had even run 10 miles. I consider myself a runner, but I’ve never had the desire to push past seven miles. Upon arriving to the race at around 0630, I could see that my team and I were “late to the party”. It seemed as though all 35,000 people were already there socializing and stretching and making their to their starting areas.

As my team and I parted ways to get to our respective starting waves, I maneuvered the crowd, encouraged by the people of all ages, sizes, and shapes whom were gathered together in one location for the same purpose. Maybe this is what it like to join fellow running enthusiasts to take part in what many people would deem “crazy”. I mean, really – who in their right mind would volunteer to do something like this – to pay to wake up at 0430 on a chilly Sunday morning, wait around hours on end to run 10 miles, non-stop, for upwards of a hour or so?

Well, last Sunday morning, you could find 35,000 people gathered together in the Pentagon parking lot to do that very thing.

The race was set to begin at 0800, depending on the wave in which you were starting; however, the Wounded Warriors had a start time of 0750. The Chaplain gave the invocation as we all stood with our heads bowed, giving thanks to the Lord for, not only a good day to run, but for another day of life. As the announcer counted down to the start time for the Wounded Warriors and eventually gave the coveted command of “go”, the entire crowd – 35,000 participants – yelled and cheered as these men and women, injured in various tours of combat, took off to tackle their 10-mile trek through Washington D.C. By the time my wave arrived to the start point, a few of them were already on their way back.

Inspiring.
Humbling.

Once we started our race, everyone enthusiastically set off to *embrace the suck together. It was so awesome. As my team mate and I progressed through the miles, it was hard to see anyone not trying their best to make it through. Strangers were giving encouragement to other strangers they passed along the course…

“There you go!”
“Atta boy!”
“Keep going!”
“You can do it!”

…was the battle cry of everyone there. Above all of this, the greatest encouragement for me happened at mile seven.

As I passed the marker pressing me to keep the pace for three more miles, I heard a steady round of applause coming from runners as well as the people gathered along the sides of the route cheering us on. As I got closer to the clapping, I saw a small group of people walking ahead of me. In the center of the group was a gentlemen who had lost both of his legs. He was a double-amputee. He was one of the Wounded Warriors who had started at 0750 – almost two hours prior. He was still going. He purposed in his mind and heart that he was going to finish the race.

As I passed him, in his face, I felt like I could see pain and frustration. Maybe he had recently been in the accident that claimed both of his legs. If so, maybe he was still getting used to walking in prosthetic legs. If that was the case, one thing the accident didn’t take from him was his will. The most important thing I know I saw in his face was determination. Determination to get to the end. Determination to finish the race. Determination to accomplish the mission before him.

Then, I understood the clapping – from participants and observers – including myself.

Then, I understood why runners with impressive race paces were purposely slowing down, no longer worried about their finishing times – including myself.

Then, I understood – even more than before – the will and determination our Wounded Warriors have despite, what the world sees, as a limitation.

I don’t know his name. I had never seen him before, and I might not ever see him again; but, whoever he was – I sincerely thank him for his service and his sacrifice!

My teammate and I continued the race and three miles later, we were done, were were tired, and were grateful. Prior to starting the race, my teammates and I jokingly admitted that we hadn’t trained as well as we should have. We all trained individually, so we probably did a run here or there, but nothing that could be credibly called a “training plan”. In situations like that, the only thing that keeps you motivated to continue a race is the support and encouragement you get from fellow runners.

I’ve always heard how being a runner was like being part of a club, but I’ve never felt it as strongly as I did during the Army Ten Miler. When I see the occasional runner during my morning runs, I give a cordial wave…maybe even a head nod and it’s often reciprocated. But this run was something different – something more than that. There aren’t too many events (that I can think of) in which there is an instant bond and camaraderie formed among strangers. It’s as though everyone knows and agrees about how much the miles before them are gonna suck, but they also know that everyone will be enduring those miles together – so let’s go!

Now, over 20,000 steps later and many hours of resting, I look back and I can say that I truly enjoyed the run – much more than I thought I would. And although I was happy I ran it, my knees and ankles were pretty upset with me. I know because they were complaining to me shortly after the run and even later into the night. But, it’s all good. I did some stretching and I took it easy today. So, I can tell that they aren’t too mad at me anymore. Hopefully, things will get better between us in the next day or so – at least before our next race.

Grace and Peace,
John

*The term “embrace the suck” is something service members say when the task/event before them has the potential to not be enjoyable, but since it can’t be avoided – it might as well be accepted and “embraced”.

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