Making memories at the Marine Corps Marathon: Runners, volunteers share their stories

October 20, 2017 Arin Karimian

The 42nd Annual Marine Corps Marathon is this Sunday. Leidos is a presenting sponsor of the Marathon for the first time, but our employees are no strangers to this wonderful event. In fact, we'll have more than 100 employees participating in either the 10K, the Marathon or MCM Forward this weekend.

Click below to learn more about some of our past and present runners and volunteers: 

Kimberly Parker

Can you tell us a little bit about the Camaraderie Foundation and why you're supporting it this year?

Our military and their families give so much for us, I wanted to do something to give back. The Camaraderie Foundation provides much needed counseling and emotional support for our soldiers and their families. It is an excellent charity.

That's great. How did you learn about them?

Through a friend who is also running for the same organization.

And are you running the 10K or the Marathon?

I'm running the full marathon, and it’s actually going to be my first full marathon. But I do several half-marathons a year.

Congratulations! What are you expecting going into your first full marathon?

A lot of pain and falling down!

Have you been talking to people who've run the Marine Corps Marathon before? Have you been picking their brains?

I have friends who have ran it before. Some of them are running coaches and have sponsorships, so I’ve received a lot of free advice and I believe I know what to expect.

What was your favorite race from the past or your best running experience since you've been doing these events?

Some of my favorite races, I do for fun. I just finished the Army Ten-Miler and I typically do the Divas Half-Marathon with friends. It's sort of a team-building, friendship thing with other professional women that are seeking to ensure they maintain a healthy way of life. I’m also a big fan of some of the obstacle course races as well, like the Tough Mudder and the VA Super Spartan.

As far as a running goal or something you aspire to, it sounds like you run for a healthy lifestyle and the camaraderie it builds. Any other reasons?

Those are the big ones. It's just something that you're physically pushing yourself to do. You get different milestones and accomplishments, and each one of them kind of makes you a little more proud of yourself and encourages you to keep going. If we are sending our soldiers overseas to fight wars and putting their lives on the line for our way of life — putting myself through a race isn't the same thing, but at least it gives me a chance to support and recognize an organization that is helping those soldiers and their families.

Joe O'Connor

You actually ran in the very first Marine Corps Marathon?

Yes I did. I was an airman in the Air Force stationed at Bolling Air Force Base. And it was my very first marathon. I was on the Air Force track team at the time, which competed in the spring, but it was my first marathon and I ran 2:58.

And there was a lot of talk at the time around marathons, about hitting the wall. As a young guy, 20 years old, I was definitely afraid of hitting the wall. I heard about horror stories. I mean, to us runners who are old and know all about the wall, you had to push through the wall and disassociate yourself. But that was what I did. I ended up running in college and was a pretty successful runner. I ran other marathons. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon two years later and ran 2:38.

A 20-minute improvement?

Yeah. And I was just going in there for a training run, but when I came through 20 miles in under two hours, I said, "Eh, well maybe I'll keep going." So I was able to feed off the crowd, if you will.  One of my biggest impressions on that very first marathon was the amount of help and aid that was there. It was amazing. There were people at every road crossing, and they were all Marines.

But back in the ’70s, we were always looking for volunteers just to stop traffic for two minutes while runners ran through. The amount of people at the water stations was just phenomenal. They were all over the place. It was an impressive display.

It was a well-organized and the crowd was great. The Marines weren't just standing, they were clapping and cheering us on.

Did you have a chance to run the MCM on other occasions?

Unfortunately, no. I ended up leaving the area. I left the military and went to college out of state, and it's just within the last 10 years that I'm back in this area. And I don't do much running anymore. I ran an awful lot of miles. That was a time when it was 100-mile weeks for years on end. I didn’t miss a day of running for over four years, averaging 14-15 miles a day. We did high mileage. I ended up moving away, getting married and raising some kids.

It certainly sounds like you deserved a break after all that running! Are you doing anything with this year’s race?

I'm not. I'm going to be out of town for three weeks during that time. I have volunteered in the past — last year and then two years ago with a group of old friends where we stuffed and handed out bags. It was a two-weekend thing where we helped out, just friends that said, "Hey, let's relive some of our old glory."

What makes the Marine Corps Marathon so special?

You know, it was the monuments. Running around the monuments was just… All of a sudden I look up and we're running in front of the Supreme Court on one side and the Capitol on the other. It was overwhelming. I didn't have an appreciation — I was a snot nosed, little airman, enlisted guy!

That first time we ran around the Pentagon was the first time I had run around it. But hitting all the monuments from Haynes Point to the Jefferson Memorial to the Washington Monument to the Capitol, and on. You hit every one of them and it was fun and overwhelming. And, then the people also — the support that we got from the Marines was phenomenal.

You’ve run all your life. Where do your two Marine Corps Marathons rank?

Well, they rank in my top 10 races by far — being my first marathon and my first time under three hours. And I’ve raced against the Russians and in national championships and all. But the Marine Corps Marathon just because of the setting and I was wearing an Air Force jersey as a 20-year-old, holy cow. I look back on it fondly. I don't know if you’ve heard over the phone, but I'm almost choking up a couple times. It’s just overwhelming thinking about that stuff.

I can hear the emotion in your voice and I appreciate you sharing all of this. As somebody who ran in the very first one, you have a unique perspective and you've seen this marathon grow to where it’s now the ninth-largest in the world. More than 30,000 people, from all 50 states and more than 50 countries. Did you know in those early years that it was going to grow to this size?

Yes, I had a feeling that from the people standpoint it would, because New York [City Marathon] was right around the corner. And that got all the press, while this one gave and had the feel of a people's race. We didn’t have the big stars coming in to race from all around the world. It was truly a people's race, and we knew it then.

We liked it because we stood a chance. If I went to New York and ran in three hours, I'd be lucky if I'm in the top 1,000. Down here I'm in the top 100.

This is the third year that Leidos is sponsoring the race but the first year as presenting sponsor. How does it feel to work for the company that's the presenting sponsor for a race that's so special to you?

As soon as I saw the announcement, I posted something on our company intranet. I had an attachment obviously and thought, “Boy, I got two 'ins' here: I work for the company and I love this race.” I'm actually very proud because I was running back when running wasn't a people sport. Only lunatics ran that many miles! So, I think it's great we’re sponsoring. I walk with a bigger step when I put on the Leidos shirt. I'm just upset that I'm not going to be able to work it this year.

Laura Finney

I was told you’re unable to run the Marine Corps Marathon this year because of an injury. What happened?

Well, for many years now, I've been having knee problems. Last year, during the Marine Corps Marathon, it flared up pretty good and I hung up my marathon towel after that.

How many Marine Corps Marathons did you run before hanging up your laces?

I did the Marine Corps Marathon three times.

What do you think makes the Marine Corps Marathon so special?

I think it's the atmosphere — the support from both the spectators as well as the Marines. There's never a dull moment over those 26.2 miles. There's always somebody and something to keep you motivated and to keep you going, whether it be the crowd support, the Marines standing there cheering for you or just the sights of Washington D.C. and Arlington.

What advice would you give to somebody running the marathon for the first time?

Just be smart and trust your training. Don't do anything on race day that you didn't do during training and don't trust the donuts at mile 20 — although I believe they have now been replaced with animal crackers.

You’re volunteering for this year’s race for an organization called wear blue. Can you tell me more about it?

Yes, their full name is wear blue: run to remember. I became involved with wear blue back in 2012. They're a running organization that runs to honor the service and sacrifice of the American military. At the Marine Corps Marathon as well as 11 other races during the challenger year, they do the wear blue Mile. At this year's Marine Corps Marathon it'll be mile 12 of the course.

On the first half-mile on both sides of the road runners will see 250 posters with pictures of fallen service members. The posters go in chronological order from the oldest to the newest fallen service member. The next half-mile will have roughly 300 volunteers on both sides of the road holding full-sized American flags, each bearing the name of a fallen service member and cheering for the runners as they go through mile 12.

Very cool. Have you supported wear blue in the past?

Yes. Every year that I've ran the Marine Corps Marathon — in 2013, 2015, and 2016 — I've ran as a part of wear blue. My boyfriend was killed in Iraq in 2004 so every race I run, I run in his honor as part of wear blue.

I'm so sorry for your loss... The Marine Corps Marathon clearly means a lot to you. Are there any other races you’ve participated in that stand out for you?

Finishing my first Marine Corps Marathon was definitely a highlight but I'm also a big fan of the Army Ten Miler. I just love that race in general. I think finishing the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013 is definitely the highlight of my running career. All the training that went into it, I had a time that I was happy with, and I was just excited to finish a distance that I never thought I would do.

When did you start running races?

I did track in college. I was actually a pole vaulter. I started distance running when my son was two as a weight loss method and then I slowly started running 5Ks. Then my friend said we should try a half-marathon, and then from there I was just able to keep going further and further in distance.

That's terrific, good for you. What are your thoughts on Leidos being the presenting sponsor of the Marine Corps Marathon for the first time?

I think it's a great opportunity for the company. So many people run the Marine Corps Marathon and it's a great way for us to get our name seen and heard. I really look forward to hearing from my fellow runners what they think after the race.

It has nothing to do with the Marine Corps Marathon, but I took my son to his first D.C. United game recently and he was like, “Mom, there's your company name, there's your company name!” Some people may not quite know our name still, so I'm excited to hear from my friends later where they'll be like, “Hey, I saw your company name out on the course!” I can't wait for that recognition.


What's your job role and where are you based?

I’m a Senior Intelligence Analyst but I’m currently deployed overseas in support of a contract.

How did you hear about MCM Forward?

I first heard about the race from a flyer that was posted throughout my work location.

Have you ran MCM Forward before? Have you ran the Marathon itself or the 10K before?

This will be my first time running MCM in any capacity. I’ve run some other “shadow” races while in a deployed environment before. I ran the Peach Tree 10K Shadow Run in July and I completed the Boston Marathon Shadow run in 2014.

Why are you running the MCM Forward?

This is my third deployment with this contract and I like to have something to train for throughout. It gives me motivation and a goal.

What's race day going to look like at your location? Can you tell us some of the logistics involved?

The race is scheduled to begin early in the morning and has a strict cutoff time of 6 hours. Luckily, I only have to make a short walk to the starting area but the challenge will be the heat. I’ve been looking at the weather and it’s showing that the heat shouldn’t be too bad. But running 26.2 miles in 90 degrees will still be a challenge. 

You gave one reason earlier, but are there any other reasons you run?

I started running when I was deployed overseas in 2014. I’ve been very lucky with the fact that my wife also enjoys running, so we make plans for races throughout the year and it’s something that we both enjoy. 

What's your most memorable event or race, and why?

To date, my favorite race is the Apple Blossom 10K in Winchester, Va. The race occurs during the annual Apple Blossom Festival and the streets are lined with people cheering you on the entire way. It’s a great race. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share about MCM Forward or yourself?

This race, while it will be a challenge, is just a part of my overall training goal of running the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge in January. The Challenge encompasses a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon over four days. While I’m training for the Disney races, I’m also raising money for a charity called Sophie and Madigans Playground and I’d like to get the word out to please donate, big or small, to this great charity.

Megan Martine

How much experience do you have parachuting?

Well, actually, this will be my second jump! The first time I jumped was last year for my birthday. And it was wonderful. Great experience. Loved it. Fantastic. Definitely riveting. Nothing intimidating about it. It was a very good jump, and so when the opportunity presented itself, I felt comfortable enough to throw my hat in the ring for consideration.

Wow, that's awesome. You’re much braver than me! Is there any training that you're doing to prepare? Or, is it just kind of show up and they'll guide you on race day?

That's all it is. You show up and if you've done it once before, kind of like riding a bike, a little bit bigger of a deal, but same technicality where you remember what you were taught. And I'm sure everyone's got their own style of doing this.

I was training for the 10K because that's what I was going to do but I threw my name into consideration for the tandem parachute jump. The 10K is actually going to be parallel, the same time as the jump, so I can’t do both!

I work out five-to-six days a week, so I'm in good shape. But definitely, I see people of all shapes and sizes doing this. I think the max weight tends to be around the 200 range.

In my opinion, it’s more of a mental strength thing. You know, if you're mentally strong and comfortable with this kind of thing, it's a fantastic experience.

So how often do you run in events? Are there specific events you do? How did you get into running?

As far as running goes, I probably do a dozen 5Ks and a couple 10Ks each year. Definitely on Veteran's Day. They have runs in various cities that I participate in. And the Komen Race for the Cure, I do that every year as well. It kind of depends on what the event is, but I'll easily pick one or two that sound interesting to me. It's all for a good cause, whether it's military related or helping fight cancer or something else.

As far as running, it's definitely something I feel comfortable doing. Being a conditioned Marine, I didn't lose my physical fitness after I got out. I’ve done those Warrior runs, Spartan runs before too — things like that. Camp Pendleton Mud Run is another really fun one to do. I'm always running with the Marines and some civilians too, which is fantastic.

I’m not as avid as maybe some of the hardcore marathoners out there, but I definitely do enjoy it. I probably put in 45 minutes of cardio a day, whether it's running or biking or basketball.

Is anybody coming to cheer you on on Sunday?

Yes, my dad and my stepmom will be there, so that'll be a lot of fun. They're in North Carolina so they’re going to make a little mini trip out of it and scoot over there with me when it's time to check in and get started with the jump team.

What are your thoughts on Leidos being the Marine Corps Marathon sponsor? And, no pressure, but how does it feel to be representing 32,000 worldwide employees in doing this parachute jump? What does that mean to you?

I've been with the company going on 12 years, so it's pretty exciting. Just seeing how visible Leidos has been over here on the West Coast and now over in the D.C. area, I think it's amazing. The company is nothing but revered over here on the West Coast.

Every time I go to recruiting job fairs — I do military recruiting job fairs often — I hear nothing but wonderful praise about Leidos. This company is fantastic, it's cutting-edge, it’s all of those buzz words, really. So many different contracts and different people working on those contracts, all with fantastic experience. It's so nice to know our clients are very comfortable with our work.

And the quality of employees that we have is second-to-none in my opinion. Just the honor to be considered and then chosen for the tandem jump means so much to me and I’m so looking forward to representing all of us in a fantastic way!


Arin Karimian

Arin is the Corporate Content Lead at Leidos. He creates and curates content across a wide range of topics -- familiar territory for someone who's worked in banking, health care, media, and the non-profit space.

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