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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The 2011 Memorial 100

Behind the Scenes:

Last year a small group of Marines I had served with in Iraq, spearheaded by Nathan Huffman, came together to create an event to honor our fallen brothers that would appropriately take place over Memorial Day Weekend.

The goal of the event we created (Memorial 100) is to reclaim the meaning of Memorial Day and interrupt what the holiday has become... just another 3-day weekend filled with barbecues, mini-vacations, and trips to the beach. I personally don't have any issue with those things in and of themselves, what I do (what we do) have an issue with, is that for a growing percentage of the population that's all Memorial Day is. Many don't realize or appreciate the sacrifices that people have made to secure the freedom to do all of the things we enjoy in our country. Most of the people involved with this run remember where they were on Memorial Day in 2005, and though it was sandy, it was about as far from a beach as you can imagine. At that point in the year we had already lost several Marines and before we would get back home we would lose many many more. For us and for the families and friends that our fallen brothers left behind, Memorial Day became sacred. We believe that it should be a somber day of reflection where we honor the men and women who fought and died to protect our rights and privileges throughout every generation.

Together in 2010 we had pulled off an amazing event that not only brought us back into the much needed brotherhood that exists among veterans, but we also raised nearly $12,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project and also raised a significant amount of awareness in the community for the unmet needs of wounded warriors. The logistics and planning were difficult and at times extremely frustrating, but at the conclusion we had decided that it was well worth all the effort we put into it and that we had to do it again.

This year wasn't any easier on Huffman, who again took on the brunt of the work, but key people stepped in to make the event a reality for the second year in a row. We had decided to switch charities, partnering with Hope For The Warriors, who were more accommodating and helpful to us than I can relate through words, being directly involved from the very beginning of planning to the conclusion of the actual event. The Richmond Police Department again provided key support as well, helping secure permits, permissions, and an escort for the entire length of the route. Tim Beck and Bill Sukitch, teaming up with Beckleys Camping Center essentially took care of all of our support vehicles, without which the run would have been absolutely impossible. Armand Grez and his wife who are Gold Star parents (those that have lost a child in combat)  provided our t-shirts, a huge expense, free of charge. Larry Tremblay, the father of one of our own fallen, Cpl. Joseph Tremblay, was with us again the entire way too. The staff at the Virginia War Memorial also played a huge role for us, making their facility completely available for our needs at the start of the run. Fleet Feet Pittsburgh, via Kyle Ferkett provided a huge amount of nutritional products to fuel us during the one-hundred and six miles of running. All these people and many more came together to make our second outing a staggering success.

This year I ended up taking on a much smaller role than I had planned, regrettably getting distracted by various other pursuits. My fundraising leads weren't nearly as fruitful and I had failed to secure much in the way of logistical support or sponsorship. Despite the existence of my shortcomings, they had no impact on the end result due to various other people filling in the gaps. With everything behind us now, this years run was actually better supplied, better organized, and even more successful than the last. We managed to raise over $17K, shattering last years total and also exceeding our personal goal by over $2,000.

I don't know what to say to thank everyone who donated their time, money, and other resources other than that we are extremely grateful to every single one of you. To everyone who participated directly in the event over this past weekend, I don't think I need to make you aware of anything, because you saw the impact, you felt the fellowship, and you know what an honor it was to be a part of something so incredible... but thank you so much again for being a part of it.

The Details:

I set off from C-bus accompanied by my girlfriend Kayla and her 3-year old son Braxton, headed South through rural Ohio and then East towards Richmond. A late start, traveling with a child, and torrential downpour delayed our arrival a bit. Braxton's good behavior was to be rewarded with a trip to the hotel pool (he thought that was the sole purpose of the entire journey) so instead of going straight to Grandpa Eddie's for the kickoff event, I made good on the promise. I quickly found out that Braxton shares my fear of water, which made me wonder why in the world he would be so psyched about the pool beforehand, but I entertained him by carrying him through the pool (he calls that swimming). After getting wet for 30-minutes or so, we headed over for the official start the long weekend ahead.

When I arrived an hour late I was still among the first to get there, I guess we all assumed because Marines were involved, that it would be the standard "hurry up and wait". Huffman of course was on site, so was Segrist, Larry Tremblay, and the Grez family. Segrist and I spent so many nights together in Iraq on post and on patrol that you would have thought we would have run out of stuff to talk about, but the reunion was still epic.

After Kayla and I ate our portabella mushroom based dinners (the only items friendly to our vegetarianism) and I finished my superstitious routine of consuming a gin and tonic, Leo showed up, whom neither Segrist or I had seen since deployment. Even during deployment Leo wasn't around much because he had been reassigned from our platoon to a STA team. This long gap in face time in addition to the fact that I now look like a dirty hippie resulted in him not fully remembering who I was until I reminded him that I threw up all over him and his gear on the way back from Vegas 6-years ago. I don't recall any of that particular incident, but I was reminded of it by everyone else so often that I figured he hadn't forgot it either... and that was his lightbulb moment, "Oh yeah... Shearer. (insert dirty look here)" Bored Marines with alcohol in the vicinity typically results in heavy drinking, so without any of our other Marines on site yet, Segrist proposed that we all do a shot of Wild Turkey.  This is something Segrist has been doing to me since pretty much the first time I met him. I distantly recall he and our fire team leader essentially ordering me to drink the first night I was with the unit, which because I had never drank before that time, it resulted in me being a hot mess and getting an undeserved reputation with alcohol (though some time later on, I definitely earned that association). Segrist is also the guy who kept anonymously sending rounds of Wild Turkey to our platoon commander anytime they happened to be in a bar together, making Captain (now Major) Darling go on a umm wild goose chase to find out who the hell was always trying to get him wasted whenever he went out to the bar.

When we sat down at the counter, I bypassed Segrist's tradition to get it out of the way since I knew it was coming anyhow and ordered three shots of the nasty stuff myself. The bartender knew we were Marines and also knew we were there for an event his establishment was hosting, so to say he was heavy handed with his pour would be a gross understatement. The single shot came in a tumbler and was way closer to being three shots than just one. I'm not the man I used to be when it comes to liquor, so I had to chase it with a beer, which almost wasn't enough to keep the whiskey from coming right back up. I thought that would be the end, or at least I was hoping it would be, but then there was another one right in front of me, this time courtesy of Leo, which may or may not have been payback for Vegas. I complained as we did the second and then immediately closed out my tab. I was well aware of where this kind of drinking was headed and I wasn't about to partake. Segrist stepped outside with me as some of the other Marines arrived whom we quickly greeted. With a bit of magic in us, our conversation turned taboo in topic as we contemplated politics and theology. For a moment it reminded we of the long hours sitting in a sandbag bunker together having similar conversations at the B/U split in Iraq. The weird thing was that the memory was nostalgic in nature and just for a minute I really missed being a Marine... and I missed being in Iraq. Kayla and Braxton were tired from the long drive, so after Segrist and I finished our talk, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest before the run.

I didn't sleep well and certainly not for as long as I would have liked, but when I went down to the hotel lobby, I was certainly in better shape than most. I apparently left just in the nick of time the night before, because half the runners didn't look so great... particularly Leo who had to be put on an IV before the run even started.

He looked just as bad before the run, minus the bloody nips.

Everyone had a solid hour or so to sweat out their indulgences because we were headed to the Virginia War Memorial for a special presentation of a new virtual reality film they just opened. The staff gave our crew a private tour of the facilities, most of which had been built since last year's run, before viewing the film. The whole tour and the film were really neat to see, it was a great privilege that the staff there extended to us and we all enjoyed it.

By the time we were finished inside, it was time to hit the road. When we went outside we were greeted by several TV new crews. Mike Kinnery took the brunt of the media attention, but Huffman threw me as a bone too. Segrist and myself were set to do the first leg, running behind a police vehicle, then our support vehicles and ambulance were in the rear. One of the news stories they ran locally in Richmond can be viewed here, my moto calf tattoo makes a cameo at the end:

"Marines Run From Richmond to Washington"

Then we went. The sun and humidity made us instantly regret this year's later start time, I was losing water like a leaky faucet in less than 5 minutes. After about 15, Segrist started to slow up his pace, which I was more than willing to follow. At about 4 miles he decided to drop to avoid hurting himself and save the juice for later sections.

And so it began.

Boyko hopped out of the van as a relief runner and took his guidon to finish the section with me. At the end of the section Finnerty and Thomas came out to relieve both of us, but I decided to stay out as a third runner for a bit. Not too far into the second section the sun abated and it began to pour rain down on us. The rain was welcomed but it brought on one of my least favorite running ailments... the dreaded bloody nipple! At 9 miles I decided to check out for the time being, not wanting to waste energy I didn't need to in case we were short runners later into the day and on into the night. I hopped into the support vehicle until we met up with the RV that was leapfrogging us to let runners recharge.

The thing about the RV was that after a good number of miles you were glad to see it, but then you'd be there so long waiting for your turn to come around again that all you wanted to do was get back into the van of fresh runners. While on this particular break, I decided to deal with my nipple issue and simultaneously attract female donors to our roadside table by doing some yoga poses. As such, any donations we received during the actual event, which I'm certain amounted in the thousands, I would like to personally take credit for.

Next time I'll shave my chest before applying duct tape.
My time at the RV was spent refueling, rehydrating, having conversations with old friends as well as some new ones, and of course hanging out with Braxton and Kayla who were following along the route in my car. At each stop the RV made we set up tables and manned them for anyone that might be passing by and be interested in what we were doing, so I also spent a little bit of time telling some folks about what we were doing and more importantly, why. The response to our event was almost all positive, with people yelling encouragement out of their windows, beeping their horns, and occasionally gathering alongside the road to cheer us on.

Once the rotation came around, I was more than ready to put in some more miles. I had decided to switch from my Brooks Green Silence to my newer Racer ST5's so that the former could dry out a little more. I was going to be running the next leg with Ferkett who outside of myself was the most experienced runner in our group. Our plan was to knock out two sections at once, keeping our pace a little faster than what had been done up until that point. A few miles into the second half of our distance I began to develop a nagging pain in the arch of my foot. Changing my strike to make it feel better only made my legs tired and the pain still began to worsen. I started to have a growing concern about it and eventually decided to bow out, despite my hurt pride. I went back to the RV and began to doing some self maintenance, massaging my foot, icing it, and doing some basic exercises. The pain didn't improve much, so I took some anti-inflammatory meds knowing I had a good bit of time before my next section.

At this point night was coming upon us and it was nearly time for Kayla and Braxton to go to the hotel for the night. I figured since I didn't have to run for a while that I would drive them up to DC and check them in during the break. After braving the DC traffic to the Iwo Jima Hotel, Kayla drove me back to the RV where I still had some downtime. I had determined that the Racer ST5's offer a little more support than I needed, and that they were sadly the cause of my calamity. In light of this realization, I switched back to the Green Silence, but also kept my foot taped up. I did some strides back and forth across the lot where we were staged and felt a marked improvement. Most of my companions were asleep, except a few hard chargers like myself who chose to forgo z-time. Last year I tried to sleep between my running shifts and it made me feel like a $5 whore in Jacksonville, NC on the 1st of the month. For those who didn't get that joke... Jacksonville is where Camp Lejeune is located and the military gets paid on the 1st and 15th of every month. Get it now? Ok, good. Funny, right?

When the support vehicles came back to pick new runners up, I joined them for my 3rd outing. Myself and Beck did the standard shift of running, but this time we were well into the middle of the night. The temperature was now perfect and the humidity disappeared as we ran up Route 1 toward our final destination. We decided that next year if we can't get an RV that we would be using 7-Eleven as our flagship sponsor and use their ridiculous number of stores along that road as aid stations. Living 200ft from one of their stores, I picture this scenario being a 106 mile run completely fueled on Brazilian Bold coffee, blueberry cheese danishes, and Grizzly Wintergreen.

Only the best for me! Grizzly a 2012 Memorial 100 sponsor? Yes please!

Shortly after our section the whole group went firm in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart so that everyone (the drivers in particular) could get some rest and that we would arrive at the correct time in DC. I again chose not to sleep. I spent the time in conversation with one of Chongo's brothers (by blood) who was running with us, and catching up on some reading. The down time was much shorter than we had originally figured in, just an hour and some change, but not a single person in our group was upset about about being tired, we were all just glad to be a part of something like this.

I initially wasn't sure if I would be doing any more sections before the 3-mile group finale, but I was the most willing to join Ferkett in the final push, so when we were up and rolling again, I got into the Hope for the Warriors support van. The sun came up as the last set of runners to precede us finished up their leg. Ferkett and I jumped into action for a longer section that would take us the whole way to the Pentagon, where we would all stop and get into formation. I was pretty exhausted at this point, which worked into the plan because Huffman was worried that Ferkett and I would be pulling 6 minute miles out of our ass and get us off schedule. Ferkett was probably exhausted too, but his Scott Jurek-like stature allows him to bound down the road like a freaking gazelle and I had to ask him to slow up on several occasions. Less than a mile from the Pentagon we saw a great irony in the placement choice of an Afghan restaurant. I'm sure the proprietors are lovely people and have delicious food, but I couldn't help but laugh that they would choose to operate the only Afghan business I have ever seen in my life, so close to a location that some of their countrymen are so grimly associated with.

Seriously... it was that close. The food on their website looks great though!
As we crested our final hill of the journey the Pentagon came into view and our caravan pulled off to the berm to assemble in squad formation. Ferkett and I traded out our soaked event shirts for our overly patriotic Hope for the Warriors shirts to look like the rest of our crew. Apparently our partners in crime were over-hydrating because this happened:

Yeah... right in front of the Pentagon. 

After a quick briefing, some adjustments, and things of the like, we formed up for the final 3-miles in a platoon sized group being led in cadence by Gunny Fowler who instantly regressed back into his days as a Marine Drill Instructor. As we ran, we passed huge staging areas for another Memorial Day event, Rolling Thunder, where close to a half million bikers ride across DC in recognition for for prisoners of war and those missing in action. Their support and encouragement was awesomely epic as they cheered us on. Huffman briefly took over cadence calling because Gunny Fowler lost his voice, but retook command of us as we came near Iwo. As we ran up the road that leads to Arlington National Cemetery we did a loop around the monument before being called into mark time march, which I completely botched. I was the nasty ass recruit in boot camp that the DI's would intentionally leave on fire watch duty for drill competitions, so it was no big surprise. I think even the civilians that were running with us figured out what was going on, despite it not being pre-planned. Oh well, I was a crack shot on the rifle range and a PT rock star, which I always thought was more relevant to my job anyhow. After some ceremonial commands, we presented the colors to the Grez family and Larry Tremblay, before the Hope for the Warriors staff presented some awards to our more significant contributers. The whole ordeal was very emotional for all of us, many not being able to resist the urge to cry. The reason many of us were there participating in the event was rooted in the loss of some of the best men we have ever had the privilege of knowing, so it was very appropriate.

106 Miles Complete
After finishing up we said our goodbyes and made our exit. Some spent the day in DC, others like myself headed back home. The conclusion was bittersweet, we had pulled it off, but the whole event brought old memories of loss to the surface. We are forever united by our experiences together and the brothers we lost. I can't imagine a better way to remember our fallen than the way we have done it for the last two years and that will be the driving force of the event in years to come. Not a day goes by that I don't think back to 2005, but every Memorial Day you can be sure that whatever I am doing and wherever I am, that I will be celebrating the lives and mourning the loss of those I served with.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog! Thanks for your service to our country. :)