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Photo of Kristen during the run.

26.2 Miles and So Much More

At Mile 11: Joyful heart, happy feet, and already feeling so proud of myself

It had been a long time coming, but I finally did it! On October 29, I ran and finished my second marathon, the 48th Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in our nation’s capital — a finish that was nine years in the making. I hope my story will inspire you to chase your goals, no matter the circumstances or how long it may take.

I come from a pretty competitive and silly family. My Grandpa Bob ran the Columbus Marathon five times — his running hobby and other interests inspired an annual family competition called Bobathon. I ran my first marathon, also the Columbus Marathon, back in 2010 as a personal challenge and to gain coveted Bobathon points (we all earn points for different activities throughout the year, and I ended up winning Bobathon that year!). All that aside, I caught the running bug (even though I’m super slow) and continued to run various shorter races. I knew I wanted to run another full marathon one day.

Kristen and Grandpa Bob

Me and Grandpa Bob after the 2010 Columbus Marathon

In early 2014, I was in great physical shape and determined it was time. I registered for the 39th MCM knowing it was a large, well-respected, and honorable marathon right in my city. But my story doesn’t start, or end, there — that’d be too easy. This is supposed to be a comeback story, so you need more of the backstory.

Plot Twist

Run, run, run, and run some more … I started preliminary training for the 39th MCM right after I registered. Suddenly some wild, unexplainable health issues arose, and after seeing specialists and doing various tests, I was shockingly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) on May 1, 2014. MS is a neurological disease signified by lesions on your brain and there’s no cure. This life-altering news was not part of my life plan. I had just finished the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in D.C. a couple months prior, started training for that second marathon, and was otherwise feeling completely healthy.

I was determined to continue my training that summer, but my symptoms at the onset of this disease were unforgiving. I ultimately had to bow out while I adjusted to a new normal and got my treatment plan sorted. I was crushed and felt like I’d been robbed of a dream and robbed of part of my identity in a way.

Kristen receiving an infusion treatment for MS

Receiving an infusion treatment for MS, lovingly called Magic Juice, in 2016

But MS is not a death sentence and life goes on. And it did go on for me in amazing ways. I got on a good medication, got married, had children, and eventually began to run again. While learning how to manage my symptoms, I ran a few half marathons since my diagnosis and collected those Bobathon points over the years, but my stubborn heart was still set on the MCM and finishing what I started for that second marathon goal. It just had to happen someday.

Meant To Be

It was in the middle of the night this past January 2023, when I was rocking my baby and aimlessly scrolling social media on my phone in the dark, that I happened upon a post in my local Buy Nothing Facebook group. Lo and behold, a neighbor who has a reputation for giving some unique and generous gifts had done it again. Up for grabs was a race bib for this year’s 48th MCM. I thought to myself, Is this a sign?! I commented I was interested. I figured if I was chosen as the recipient, then it was meant to be.

After all, my MS was seemingly under control and even though I’m a tired mommy of two and now in my late thirties, that MCM dream had been on my heart for nearly a decade. I had better get around to it at some point. Before the 10-year anniversary of my diagnosis seemed as good a time as ever.

The following week, to my utter surprise and delight, I was chosen by the kind neighbor to have his race bib transferred to my name.

That’s me message image

Ahhh — that’s ME!

With my husband’s full support and encouragement, I started early morning training runs four days a week. It would take a lot of dedication from both of us to achieve this goal — he’d have extra kiddo duty while Mommy went for her runs. We were all in! I even did a 13-mile training run on our family vacation in beautiful Hilton Head, SC.

Instagram post

Post-training run Instagram post

Oh No, Not Again…

While I was training and minding my own business, a routine brain MRI over the summer showed “disease progression” — not results you want to hear. This explained why my right foot had recently gone numb — just an MS thing you learn to deal with. Is MS going to make me stop marathon training again?

Given all this, my neurologist determined I should start a new infusion therapy. Call it luck or something else, but my body took well to the new meds, and I was able to continue my training amid this health hiccup, numb foot and all. Phew!

Juicing up with my new meds in September image

Juicing up with my new meds in September

Redefining MS

One of the sweetest things that’s happened recently, amid my health concerns and all the marathon training, is that my four-year-old daughter has started calling me Mommy Superhero. When I realized that the initials for Mommy Superhero are MS, it was the most perfect thing that could have happened for me. That’s it! I’m redefining what MS means to me! I want to show my kids that you can do anything you set your heart to.

Image of "Mommy Superhero" written on an arm.

Race day marker tattoo, compliments of my daughter

Proud Day

Race day finally arrived after a grueling summer of endurance training. The race itself was fun and electric — there is no booing during a marathon! In addition to trusting your training, the human spirit of both fellow runners and the spectators — and hundreds of Marines at the MCM — carries you through. I was ready to go and was so proud and so honored in so many ways to be a participant.

“REMEMBER YOUR WHY.” I saw these black painted words on a neon orange sign held up by a stranger as I approached Mile 3, and they hit me hard. It wasn’t about Bobathon points this time, but to triumph over MS and have my comeback moment. To finish what I started all those years ago.

Another sign I saw around Mile 14 read: “YOU’RE NOT RUNNING BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO. YOU’RE RUNNING BECAUSE YOU CAN.” Talk about another tearjerker. This one doesn’t need explaining.

Image of Kristen with her family after the race.

All smiles with my cheer squad after the race

My family cheered me on at Miles 17 and 19 and right before the finish line. My official race time was 5:47:31 — respectable enough given everything I’ve been through, the unseasonably warm conditions that day, and stopping to hug my kiddos along the way. What a dream it was to cross that finish line, nine years later. Determined and done!

Hat Tip to DCG

The incredible work-life balance at DCG was the cherry on top of it all. While working at a virtual company, I was able to fit marathon training into my schedule, and if needed, could unapologetically hop onto a call with running clothes and sweaty hair. My teammates cheered me on throughout all my training and on race day — well wishes and running emojis being texted my way. Part of my annual “Wellness Benefit” stipend even went toward two new pairs of running shoes! We are full, whole people outside of DCG and truly celebrated for that.

26.2 Miles and So Much More was originally published in DCG Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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