13 Runners, 13 Marathons and 13 Memories

Jennifer Purdie
by Jennifer Purdie
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13 Runners, 13 Marathons and 13 Memories

You take away at least a few memories from every race. Whether it’s a recollection of hitting the proverbial wall or running through a downpour or happier remembrances like meeting new friends or stunning course scenery, every race leaves, at minimum, a small impression on you. But sometimes, something powerful happens at a race, and you know you will never forget it.  

Here’s a compilation of 13 runners’ most memorable racing experiences. What’s yours?   


“At mile 18 of the Marine Corps Marathon, I needed to walk for a while. So I decided to hug any of the spectators that had on military veteran hats for the rest of the way. I got to a family of six with the patriarch wearing a Korean War vet hat on. I asked him if I could give him a hug since my dad was a Korean War vet. As we were hugging, his family got off their chairs and gave us a standing ovation. It was a life-changing moment. … I cried then, and I tear up even now.”

— Lisa Grippe


“As I approached the finish line [of the New York Marathon], feeling both the glory and the intense pain of the 26 miles behind me, I saw Tom Cruise, holding his daughter, Suri, aviators on and his iconic smile flashing, standing at the finish line, on the runners’ side, as if he were waiting for us. It was a funny, surreal moment, and for a moment I thought I was hallucinating that the biggest movie star of our time was waiting at the finish line for my friend and me to finish our marathon. Of course, Katie Holmes, his wife at the time, also happened to be running that day, so perhaps he was just waiting for her.”

— Rebecca Horan


“I am overall a pretty healthy person; so when an x-ray showed that I was, as the doctor put it, “filled with kidney stones,” I was shocked. They counted eight. Fast forward to November 2016 and I was getting ready to run New York City Marathon. On Wednesday, I found myself feeling funny and I immediately scheduled a visit with my urologist for Thursday. She confirmed it’s very likely I had a kidney stone trying to pass. I asked her what I should do: Do I cancel this once-in-a-lifetime marathon? She handed me a urine screen to catch the stone and said, “You should go. It will either come in a day or two on its own or the running will make it come out, but either way you should go.” It was the last thing on my mind on race day until about mile 11. I had to slow down. The pressure on my bladder was excruciatingly intense. I know I had passed the stone because I felt instant release of the pressure in my bladder. I don’t recall it hurting, but I think that’s in part due to my overall body pain. My time was awful but at least I had finished the New York City Marathon.”

— Tara Lewis

“I ran the Cascade Crest 100 during chemo. Actually, I took my morning dose of oral chemo at the Mineral Creek aid station (mile 80) and spent the next 6 miles trying not to throw up.”

— Robert Lopez


“I met my husband, Shane, at a trail marathon in 2010 in Medford, Wisconsin. We were each on our own 50-state journey [to run a marathon in all 50 states] when we started talking at the awards ceremony and learned that we still needed each other’s states; I invited him to come stay with me if he got into the New York City Marathon and he invited me to come to Alaska and stay with him when I was ready to do Alaska. It was a friendship that bloomed over time and turned to romance in another marathon. We like to say our first date was a marathon: We ran the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in Delaware in December 2010 together and decided to do a marathon a month together going forward so we could see each other. I lived in New York City and he lived in Alaska. A few years later, he proposed to me at the finish line of the Louisiana Marathon and we completed our 50-state goals together and got married, or ‘Maui’d,’ as I like to say, at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon.”

— Julia K. Garling

“My husband proposed to me at the finish line of a half-marathon, and then we got married during that same race the next year.”

— Shawn Steve


“I was running the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon with my brother, and I absolutely gassed out at mile 20 after trying to break 3 hours 10 minutes. I’ve qualified for Boston with a 3:07 before and was hoping to just get into that range again. At mile 21, I did the math in my head and realized I wasn’t going to make it, and at that same exact time, I bumped into a woman who had lost her contacts earlier in the race while I was going through the water station. I helped her get some water and she told me that she was on her second attempt to qualify for Boston. She was worried that she wasn’t going to make it since she could barely see, so I agreed to help pace her for the rest of the race. Over the next 4 miles, we ran together and with a mile left, I was completely wasted. She surged up the slight hill toward the end of the race and ended up qualifying.”

— Steve Gera

“The Knoxville Marathon will always hold a special memory for me. As I approached a long, fairly steep hill approximately 10 miles in, I noticed a frail-looking gentlemen trying to wheel his wheelchair up the hill. I saw no way that he was going to make it so I got behind him, told him to lift his feet, and started pushing him up the hill. He was so grateful that I would sacrifice my time to do such a thing for him. I heard nothing of it and explained that it was good for me to be reminded that my ability to run was a gift and a blessing not to be taken for granted. I pushed him along as fast as I could and we finally made it to the top. I was tired and my heartrate had spiked into the 170s, so I knew my chance for a PR that day was gone. Looking back, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world.”

— Sam Wachsman

“I’ve been involved in on-course emergency first aid more times than I wished. Crossing the 59th Street Bridge (can’t recall if that’s the right bridge) onto Manhattan in the 2014 New York City Marathon, I came across a woman who went into grand mal seizures. I ended up on the phone with 911 while caring for her and trying to find any medical personnel among the hordes of runners. I stayed with her until the ambulance arrived and helped clear a path across the sea of runners for the stretcher.”

— Dan Semsel

“At a very cold Route 66 in 2013, some runners and I came across a collapsed runner (a young college student). We quickly sprang into action, then waited until the race medics arrived. We later found out he suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Luckily, he survived and is living life to the fullest.”

— Patti Randall Krebsbach

“I was the sweeper and as we approached 25.5 mile, I saw a lady who was clearly struggling. She was staggering and leaning on her partner and barely moving forward. She was one of what I sometimes think of as being “the walking wounded.” Then I noticed that her shirt said ‘Since 96’ while his said ‘Married 19.’ It took me a moment to realize that the combined message was “Married Since 1996.” He was encouraging her and when he noticed me he started telling her ‘Steve’s still behind us. You can do this.’ As a pacer, it is my responsibility to maintain a steady pace but I feared that if I passed them, it might kill her. Well, not really kill her as such, but crush her. The pacer’s job is to help the other racers and I figured if I help a racer to finish it won’t matter if I’m a little late. So I held back. By the time we were a quarter mile from the finish, I really needed to pick up the pace if I was going to finish near my target time. Where she found the strength to go with me, I’ll never know. Perhaps it was just having the finish line in sight. In any case, she found the strength and we finished just slightly behind time.”

—​ Stephen Kimmel


“A nursing mom had to stop several times to nurse the baby during the Lean Horse hundred miler. … She still beat me.”

— Jill Hudson


“For my dad’s 20th marathon last fall, my family and I tried to make the milestone memorable for him by getting him in the news coverage of the race. In coordinating with a reporter from Good4Utah news (ABC affiliate), we arranged to get my dad over to where the reporter was after he finished. We surprised my dad with an interview. He was very happy, and my mom, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews were excited to be filmed in the reporter’s b-roll.”

— David Stephan

About the Author

Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer Purdie

Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.


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