• ,

Growing Pains: Running with American spirit

Marine Corps Marathon in Washington

Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.

As a New Orleans native, I often consider myself New Orleanian before anything else. Sometimes even before American. However, there are moments when the spirit of being an American really clicks. This past Sunday was one of them.

On Saturday, three friends from NOLA flew to Washington D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon. The evening was filled with dinner — carbs — and catching up before we hit the sack to be fresh for the 4:30 a.m. journey to the starting line at the Pentagon.

On Sunday, I did not race, but ran the last 10 miles with Kim, helping her keep pace to achieve a new personal record. It was the most meaningful run I’ve had in a long time.

The Marine Corps Marathon, dubbed The People’s Marathon, is a special race. Everywhere you turn, there are marines to help you or cheer you on. There is a sense of community, a feeling that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself. Especially this year.

This was the first marathon many of us had attended since the explosions at the Boston Marathon in April. And this one had, hands down, the most Boston attire I've ever seen at a race. The signature three-stripe Adidas jacket, shirt, and tank with the emblem of the Boston Athletic Association adorned probably a sixth of the 30,000 runners.

At about 7 a.m. the day of the race, paratroopers appeared in the sky above the start village, and three gigantic American flags accompanied them on the many-thousand foot ride through the sky. It was a chilling experience, in the best way.

Following the Boston explosions, one quote in particular struck me. I’m not sure where it originated, but it is so true: “If you're trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.”

On this day, at mile 21, a man a few meters ahead of us, running on the interstate from D.C. into Arlington, spotted a small American flag lying on the ground at the side of the course. He stopped, bent over — which is a big deal 21 miles into a marathon — and picked up the flag, raising it in the air as he finished the last 5 miles.

Marathoners have an indomitable spirit. In moments like that, Americans do, too.

Native New Orleanian Elizabeth Kukla is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She writes about being a NOLA girl from afar in “Growing Pains,” a weekly column at NolaVie.