By David Mays
Before Marine Staff Sgt. Reina Barnett could begin getting nervous about attempting her first marathon, she had to complete a work assignment. Barnett is a television reporter for the Pentagon Channel, and she had arranged to interview 60-year-old runner Will Brown before Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon here. Brown is a former Marine and one of only a handful people who have completed each of the 31 Marine Corps Marathons since the race's inception in 1976.Barnett is featuring Brown in a series of special reports leading up to the Marine Corps' 231st birthday Nov. 10.
But when Barnett arrived at the VIP starting area, her plans changed a bit. "I saw Mr. Brown warming up and taking off his sweats and getting ready, so I decided not to interrupt him with an interview and just get some 'b-roll' of him starting the race," she said.
Knowing that stories can change in an instant, Barnett had already arranged to travel to Brown's home in Raleigh, N.C., to conduct interviews and get the scoop on his training regimen, which includes runs of up to 100 miles.
Brown went on to finish Sunday's 26.2-mile race in 4:39:58, faster than many runners half his age.
After introducing herself to Brown, Barnett made her way through the record crowd of 32,000 runners to her staging area midway in the pack based on her projected pace. Now the fear could really set in.
Barnett had reason to be nervous. She and her husband, Bobby, also a Marine, had logged only 15 miles on their longest training run over the summer. Most experienced runners run at least 20 miles in preparation for a marathon. Barnett knew she wasn't completely ready. In fact, just days before the event, she considered backing out.
"I wrote down a list of pros and cons, and in the end, the pros outweighed the cons," she said. "I decided I was going to go for it."
Barnett and her fellow runners left the starting line at the Marine Corps War Memorial at exactly 8:35:02 on the first day of Eastern Standard Time. Crystal-clear blue skies, temperatures in the low 50s and a cool northwest breeze made for perfect marathon running conditions. Their journey would take them along the National Mall and its famous memorials, past the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, then up a steep hill back at the Marine Memorial to finish in the shadows of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Mexican Cpl. Ruben Garcia, who at one point in the race was behind the leaders by 2 minutes, pulled ahead at mile 23 to win by more than 3 minutes in 2:21:21. Laura Thompson, from Boise, Idaho, running her first marathon, won the women's division in 3:00:23. The race was marred by the death of a 56-year-old Maryland man who collapsed near mile 17 after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was airlifted to a Washington hospital, but medical personnel were unable to revive him.
Meanwhile, 6,000 miles from the nation's capital, 109 servicemembers took part in a sanctioned "satellite" marathon in Al Asad, Iraq. All who crossed the finish line there will be considered official Marine Corps Marathon finishers.
Experienced marathon runners are familiar with "the wall" -- the point in the race, usually around mile 20, when the body runs out of carbohydrates and desperately wants to stop. Barnett hit her wall at mile 19, when runners head uphill to cross the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge. This stretch of highway is devoid of spectator support.
"Nobody was running; everybody was walking," Barnett said.
But at mile 23, with cheering crowds in abundant supply, Barnett had a huge smile on her face, and she was definitely running. "My legs are hurting so bad," she said as she picked up the pace on a slight downhill. "But I feel so happy. It must be the endorphins."
After passing the final aid station staffed by dozens of Marines, Barnett took on the final straightaway past the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.
Then she faced the final test. "That last .2 was probably the toughest hill I've ever climbed," she said.