Putting to Rest the Ghosts of 1983 Marine Corps Marathon

As I get older, I am taking the time to look back, exploring the different events, people, and things that changed the direction of my life for good or ill. At times doing so hasn’t been an easy journey, and many of the things I have and am looking at were things I would not wish upon anyone else. 

However, it is remarkable how our sense of reality or at least our perceptions of things that happened in our lives changes over time. Especially as we look back on an event that was an important part of who we became.

For me, as a runner, one of those events was finishing the 1983 Marine Corps Marathon.

1983 MCM Photo

You can read a lot more about the events of that day here or at least what was my perspective for several years. I turned something that should have been a positive experience, into a thing of darkness that brought more pain and misery into my life than anything else.

After the ’83 MCM, I allowed myself to devolve into a major league pity party and got sucked down into a maelstrom of negativity towards running and many other aspects of my life and ended up: drinking too much, hanging with the wrong people, and just being a jerk.  

While I have gone on with life and done much better, hell I have even run reasonably well a few times since then. I never was the same runner that I had been and never let go of what happened that day. Physically, I healed completely, but the mental side of being able to dig deep inside myself to run hard when things got tough – was gone. 

From that point on, whenever I would catch glimpses of the runner I could be again or attempted to train for another marathon, I would come up with: inexplicable injuries, excuses, defeatist thinking, why bother, “I can’t,” I don’t have the time, and all those other negative thoughts to not to run well or run another marathon. I call them demons, but mostly they were me sabotaging myself, to not to have to live through yet another running-related “failure” like my marathon experience.

Changing the Narrative

The other part of this exploring my past, is that I also get to look at what happened through a different lens than I did when it happened. I now see many things differently than I did back in 1983, and coming to grips with what happened that day is something that I have to do.

I have always thought of the 1983 Marine Corps Marathon from the perspective of it being yet another failure in my life. Something that I had high hopes of doing well, punching my ticket to Boston, keeping a promise I made to my grandfather all those years ago and proving to others that I could do it.

I didn’t.

As a result, I focus on what should or could have been if I hadn’t stepped in that pothole just after mile 20. The runner I could have become, running Boston and achieving that goal while my Grandfather was still alive, to defeat the naysayers in my family who said “You are doing what?” and all the negative commentary from my first wife about my running.

No, I didn’t qualify for Boston or break 3:00:00 hours for the marathon that day, both things I badly wanted to accomplish. However, despite the pain and suffering that happened over those last 6.0 or so miles and more than an hour and a half it took to complete them – I finished and am a marathoner.

I kept my promise to myself after the DNF at mile 13 of the 1982 Marine Corps Marathon while riding back in the “meat wagon,” that I would finish no matter what in 1983, and I did. Finishing, under the circumstances that I did in 1983, was a huge accomplishment and one that I am damned proud of doing. Unfortunately, I let all the other shit in my mind, and more than a few negative comments from others distract me from that accomplishment.

The facts are that I did step in that pothole that day and messed up my knee – I couldn’t change that then and cannot change what happened now. However, I didn’t quit, instead I dug deep inside myself to keep going despite the pain and damage I was doing to my hip by gimping along. When I collapsed after crossing the finish line, there was nothing left to give. How they got me to the medical tent, I don’t have a clue, other than I came to, there with a corpsman shining a light in my eye, checking to see how badly I had messed myself up.

Looking back, that should have been, and now when I look at it from my current perspective it is – finishing the 1983 Marine Corps Marathon as one of my toughest and proudest moments as a runner. I learned that day that I could push my limits far beyond what I thought I could do. Unfortunately, I took the wrong lesson from that race and squandered the great experience I had gained.

That is the first time I have ever said that. 

I will never add the caveat of, “if only I hadn’t stepped in the pothole,” to downplay the results of that race again. 

The reality is that

Time, maturity, and learning more about the mental aspects of running have given me a different perspective of what happened on November 6, 1983, at the Marine Corps Marathon.

The demons that I created were false ones, and I have allowed them to negatively affect my running for far too long. I can now see them for what they were – nothing. While I can’t re-write or change all the crap, I put myself through due to my ignorance, and yes, arrogance at the time, I can change how I will view, talk, or write about my experiences that day from now on. 

Moving forward, I will put this chapter of my life into the perspective it should have been in all along. 

The 1983 Marine Corps Marathon was a damned tough race, and while I didn’t achieve all the goals that I wanted to that day, but I accomplished the one goal that I promised myself the year before – to finish, and I did.

1983 Marine Corps Marathon t-shirt

Yes, I still have my race shirt from that day (a little worse for wear), and who knows maybe someday I will wear it proudly at a future MCM pre-race expo. Then go out and run another good marathon, where I will learn something more about myself.

This is one of the more difficult posts I have written – ever, but at the same time, one of the most meaningful to me.

Putting to rest ghosts of the past is a part of the journey we all have. It isn’t the most pleasant or easy part of our journey, but it is one of the most important.

Thank you for sharing this part of my journey.

One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on putting to rest the ghost in your life. Like you said, it’s a difficult post to write – and you made it. Yay!

    Liked by 1 person

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