The MCM is one of the largest marathons in the US and the world and stands as the largest marathon in the world that doesn't offer prize money, earning its nickname, "The People's Marathon." The MCM has been voted “Best Marathon in the Mid Atlantic,” “Best Marathon for Charities” and “Best Spectator Event." Hosted annually in the Arlington, VA and the nation's capital, the MCM offers an experience for runners to tour the nation's most recognizable landmarks while being supported by the men and women of the United States Marine Corps.
Col. Jim Fowler, USMC Ret., spurred an idea that would become the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). Fowler outlined a unique plan for the Marine Corps Reserve Marathon (MCRM) to promote community goodwill, showcase the Marine Corps, serve as a recruiting tool and also give Marines an opportunity to qualify for the marathon in Boston.
"After the Vietnam War, popularity of the military services declined in the eyes of many. At the same time, distance running was gaining considerable positive attention," said Fowler, driving him to write a memo to his superior, Gen. Michael Ryan, on Oct. 17, 1975 sharing his idea.
Under Fowler's and Ryan's leadership, the Marine Corps Reserve Marathon welcomed its first participants to the Washington D.C. start line Nov. 7, 1976. Of the total participants, 994 were male and 24 were female making 1,018 finishers. At the time, this was the largest inaugural participation for a marathon. Each participant paid an entry fee of only $2 to enjoy a run through the nation's capital. The first person to arrive at the finish with a time of 2:21:14was two-time Olympian Kenneth Moore of Eugene, OR. Susan Mallery of Arlington, VA led all females by finishing in 2:56:33.
This success gave Fowler the motivation to make the second even better. Colonel Fowler met with the Chief of Police for the District of Columbia and was granted a parade permit empowering him to alter the Marathon's course to the more scenic route enjoyed by participants today.
The second Marine Corps Reserve Marathon occurred on Nov. 6, 1977 and introduced a wheelchair competition. Mallery again took first place among females, becoming the first back-to-back winner of the event, a feat matched by Hall of Famers Cynthia Lorenzoni, who won in 1981 and 1982, Jim Hage (1988 and 1989), Ruben Garcia Gomez (2005 and 2006) and recently by Jenny Mendez (2015 and 2018).
In 1978, the event officially became the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) as responsibility was transferred from the Marine Corps Reserve headquartered at Marine Barracks 8th & I to the active duty Marine Corps, with the organization now headquartered on Marine Corps Base Quantico.
This year also brought the introduction of the Challenge Cup, a competition between the U.S. Marine elite running team and the British Royal Navy/Royal Marines. This event within the event was inspired by the donation by the British Royal Navy/Royal Marines of an 1897 Victorian silver cup to the MCM, which had been part of the HMS Victory. The cup annually is awarded to the winning team, calculated by averaging the top three male finishers. Female teams from both sides of the Atlantic joined the competition in 1998.
MCM participation rose to 9,306 entries in 1981 with runners representing 48 states and 33 countries. It was then that President Ronald Reagan wrote a letter to MCM participants saying, "I send greetings to each runner in the outstanding field and salute you for participating in the ultimate challenge of foot-racing - the 26.2 mile marathon." With this encouragement, Dean Matthews of Atlanta, GA broke the MCM course record, earning a finish time of 2:16:31. Matthews time stands as the fourth fastest in event history.
With MCM registration at an all-time high of 11,525 on Nov.7, 1982, entry fees rose that year to $10 and included post-event hospitality with beer, soup, soda and cookies. The MCM headquarters hotel in Arlington charged just $38 per night.
The bombing of Beirut Barracks in October 1983, just weeks before the MCM, killed 299 American and French service members, was on the minds and in the hearts of all at the 8th MCM. For the first time in MCM history, a U.S. Marine captured first place as Gunnery Sgt. Farley Simon finished in 2:17:46. Simon's achievement was a welcomed celebration, following the tragic loss of so many service members in Beirut.
The 9th MCM in 1984 welcomed eventual MCM Hall of Famers, the father and son team of Richard and Rick Hoyt of Massachusetts. Rick Hoyt was born with cerebral palsy, but that didn't stop him from accomplishing his goal to finish the MCM. On Nov. 9 1984, Team Hoyt with dad pushing and son riding rolled to their seventh marathon finish and first of four MCMs, clocking in at 2:45:23, helping the duo qualify for Boston.
Brad Ingram topped all finishers for the second time in three years as he crossed the 11th MCM finish line in 2:19:14 on Nov. 2, 1986. The following year the MCM date was changed from the first Sunday in November to the second Sunday to avoid Halloween festivities taking place in Washington D.C. On Nov. 8, 1987, for the first time in MCM history, live television and radio coverage was provided as they captured the fastest MCM finish in MCM history. Jeff Scuffins of Hagerstown, MD completed the Marathon in 2:14:01.
A year later at the 13th MCM, Jim Hage won the first of two consecutive MCMs by topping Brad Ingram by just 19 seconds. Sharing a title of distinction was Ruth Rothfarb, 87, of Cambridge, MA who finished the Marathon in 5:34:58, making her the oldest runner ever to finish the MCM.
On Nov. 5, 1989 the MCM welcomed over 10,000 finishers. Among them was Bob Wieland, a medically discharged Army medic who lost both of his legs to an 82mm mortar round in Vietnam. Wieland finished the MCM in just over a week -- 79 hours, and 57 minutes -- completing his last mile with 100 Marines marching in cadence.
The 15th MCM welcomed 13,000 runners to the start line on Nov. 4, making it the largest marathon in the country. Soviet Sgt. Olga Markova of Leningrad made her mark at the 15th MCM in 1990 finishing the Marathon in 2:37:00 and setting the course record for female competitors. During that record-setting year, Ken Carnes of Morningside, MD established the wheelchair course record, completing his MCM journey in 1:40:22.
By 1991, advances enabled registration forms to be computer generated, rather than printed and completed with a #2 pencil.
Technology wasn't able to aid the event results when, for the first time in MCM history, there would not be a declared winner at the awards ceremony. The MCM's new race director then-Maj. Rick Nealis had a tough decision to make on Oct. 25, 1993. In order to be declared the winner of the MCM it's important, of course, that the participant completes 26.2 miles. First place finisher Dominique Bariod of Morez, France made his debut at the 18th annual MCM, but was observed cutting corners; as was the second place finisher, Esteban Vanegas of Ecuador. After consulting with race officials, it was determined there was no unfair advantage due to cutting corners, allowing Bariod and Vanegas to take first and second place. Their wins were declared at a later date.
The 19th MCM in 1994 was epic when talk show host Oprah Winfrey participated in "The People's Marathon." At age 40, Oprah wore Bib #40 proudly finishing the MCM in 4:29:15. With throngs of spectators, Oprah completed her MCM on a very rainy Sunday afternoon. After her successful finish, Oprah said, "Its [Marine Corps Marathon] the best feeling I've ever had. It's better than an Emmy, I tell you." Since that time, many a MCM runner has set their marathon goal, "to beat Oprah."
The U.S. Marine running team would win the Challenge Cup only two times between 1990 and 2003. Their wins occurred in 1995 and in 1997, the same year Vice President Al Gore, 49, ran the MCM alongside his two daughters. Wearing Bib #17, Gore crossed the finish in 4:54:25. Also, making a debut at the 12th MCM was the computer chip timer that each runner wore to ensure more accurate results.
In 1998, MCM launched its own website www.marinemarathon.com and introduced the Armed Forces Competition. Judged much like the Challenge Cup, the Armed Forces competition combines the top three finish times of each military branch's elite runners to determine the winner. Air Force would win the inaugural competition and go on to take the title four of the first six years.
Registration was off the charts for the MCM's Silver anniversary on Oct. 22, 2000. Registration opened on Feb. 15 and reached a capacity of 24,588 participants within three days. The MCM debuted a new event, the Healthy Kids Fun Run, later renamed the MCM Kids Run, a one-mile fun run to inspire the next generation of young runners.
On Oct. 28, 2001, the 26th MCM was "dedicated to the memory of our fellow citizens who lost their lives, the survivors of these tragic events and the selfless heroes who worked tirelessly to save lives on September 11, 2001." Participants showed their patriotism carrying flags throughout a course than ran as close as 50 yards from the damaged Pentagon just weeks after the terrorist attacks.
For the 27th MCM, a lottery registration was introduced due to the high demand to participate in this event. To ease the concerns of the frequent participants, the MCM instituted the Runners Club, offering those runners who had completed the MCM five or more times a guaranteed entry.
Adding further growth to MCM Weekend, on Oct. 29, 2006, the MCM10K was introduced as the MCM grew the Marine Corps 8K into an event that boasts a start on the National Mall.
The Penguin Award was first presented on Oct. 28, 2007. The award honors Marine Maj. Megan McClung, who was killed in action in Iraq in December 2006. An enthusiastic Public Affairs Officer and runner, McClung was selected race director of MCM Forward in October of that year. The event was created for service members deployed overseas to be able to run the MCM. McClung presented a stuffed Penguin named 'Paul' (a character in one of her favorite books) to the final finisher of MCM Forward. Today, the Penguin Award tradition continues for the final MCM finisher.
In 2010, the MCM paid tribute to its 35th anniversary and the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon by carrying the flame from Marathon, Greece through a tour of US landmarks significant to the Marine Corps in Boston, New York and Philadelphia before bringing the flame home to the MCM.
In 2011, funny man Drew Carey ran his first Marathon on a very cold MCM morning with plenty of great stories about his days as a U.S. Marine. Carey finished the 36th MCM in 4:37:11. That year also saw advances in technology, as Runner Tracking services were introduced to the MCM.
In 2012, the MCM welcomed its largest field to date with 23,519 finishers completing the 37th MCM despite impending Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast.
Government sequestration brought additional concerns for the 2013 MCM, as National Parks and many government facilities were shut down. Despite nearly having to cancel the MCM, the event was held with its second-largest participation to date. Also that year, the MCM10K saw its greatest participation with 7,593 total finishers.
The MCM reached the half million finisher mark in 2014. The MCM welcomed "Rudy" actor Sean Astin to start and run and Medal of Honor recipient retired Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, who skydived into the start before completing the MCM.
In 2015, the MCM received Gold certification, the highest level awarded by the Council for Responsible Sport, for being socially and environmentally responsible as a world-class running event. The MCM earned 45 credits becoming the largest U.S. marathon to earn this distinction among environmentally-conscious sporting events. Previously, the MCM was awarded Silver-level certification in 2009 and again in 2011.
In 2016 and 2017, MCM participants endured record heat as temperatures climbed into the upper 70s. In 2018, the MCM earned recognition from AIMS, international running organization, for having the Best Finisher Medal in the World.