Each branch of the U.S. military has its signature running event: the U.S. Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, The Navy Ten Nautical Miler at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South, and the Army 10-Miler in Arlington, Va.
And then there’s the grandaddy of them all, the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va. Established in 1976, it is currently the fourth largest marathon in the United States and ninth largest in the world. And it’s the challenge former Army Specialist Miguel Ramirez decided to take on.
Ramirez, an airport operations assistant at Houston Airport System, finished the uphill 26.2-mile course in 4 hours and 39 minutes Oct. 30. This was his second marathon, as he finished the Chevron Houston Marathon earlier this year with a time of 3 hours and 59 minutes.
He admits he didn’t train for the Marine Corps Marathon, but said he felt he was in good shape to compete in it.
Ramirez also was fortunate to have support from his HAS team. “My work schedule did not affect my marathon training plans. Liliana Rambo and John Pankey have been some of my biggest supporters at HAS. They also share a passion for running like I do,” he said.
“The opportunity for me to run in the Marine Corps Marathon came through networking with other military veterans at a City of Houston Veterans Affairs function,” he said. “Dr. LaShondra Jones who works for the Mayor’s Office of Veterans & Military Affairs found out about my passion for running and connected me with a fellow veteran who shared the same passion for running.”
“Then fellow veteran, Lupita Hernandez, an ultra-marathoner who founded a non-profit organization called “Run for Their Lives,” assembled a team of runners to run on behalf of her organization. She invited me to be part of her team for this event, which I gladly accepted,” Ramirez said.
“It was an honor for me to meet active duty servicemembers and other military veterans who ran in our team. The young Marines on the Run for Their Lives team exemplified not only the Marine Corps values, but also a brotherhood among veterans,” he said.
Running is not something new to Ramirez. He joined the U.S. Army in August of 2001 on the Delayed Entry Program, reporting to basic training in October. He served on active duty as a chemical operations specialist for three years and spent two additional years in the Army Reserve.
Ramirez deployed tom Kuwait in September 2002 in support of Operation Desert Spring, and from there deployed to Iraq in March 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Marine Corps Marathon course varies from year to year, but what never changes is the uphill finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial. Ramirez said he decided to run it at a comfortable pace and enjoy the scenery.
“I had researched the Marine Corps Marathon Course and discovered that it is a challenging course to run on due to higher elevation than I am accustomed to,” he said.
Ramirez described the first three miles of the marathon as “significantly uphill.”
“I had to remind myself to run my own race and to follow my own plan,” he explained.
He also admitted finishing the course uphill was challenging, but the crowds cheering him and others on continued to motivate him to finish.
“The Marine Corps Marathon crowds were amazing in cheering us on. I was inspired by those running around me as well,” he said. “Throughout my marathon race I thought about U.S. Marine Veteran Dakota Meyer and his courage to keep fighting even while outnumbered during the Battle of Ganjgal.”
The 12-mile mark of the marathon is known as “The Blue Mile,” which is highlighted with more than 200 photos of fallen servicemembers and information about them. Ramirez described the experience of running by as emotional.
“I didn’t just think of the servicemember for their service, but I also thought of them as a person,” he said. “I recall gathering with other servicemembers while deployed, only to know that not all of us made it back.”
“Then and there I found out more about who these servicemembers left behind and what dreams they didn’t get to fulfill. Our nation will be forever in debt to these Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said some runners he met on the course had dedicated their run to a fallen servicemember. “Looking at the pictures of their fallen loved ones reminded me of the ultimate sacrifice not only the servicemember gave but their families as well,” he said.
Ramirez has the finisher’s medal to prove he completed it.
“Having run the Marine Corps Marathon on behalf of Run for Their Lives was an honor for me. I hope others consider running to honor what is important in their lives,” he said.