August 24, 2020

Grieving the Loss of an In-Person Marine Corps Marathon

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Each Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) participant had a vision and expectation for October 25, 2020. Participants relish the beauty and excitement of the MCM course and love the experience of togetherness and competition on the grand stage that the MCM provides. We now must grieve the loss of this vision, shift our expectations to fit our current reality, and create a new vision for the MCM 2020 experience.

The MCM Psyching Team is hard at work coming up with ways to support your virtual run! Recorded messages will be available to assist runners in coping with the ups and downs that may occur during a virtual run. In addition, keep an eye out for additional blog entries addressing psychological aspects of this year’s run and opportunities to connect in October through virtual events.

In the meantime, here are some tips from the MCM Psyching Team to help cope with this year’s changes:

  1. Permit your feelings. Your feelings are a sign that this is important to you! It is completely understandable and normal when you have devoted so much of yourself to attaining a goal that you’re going to have a reaction when the opportunity to pursue it as you’d expected is no longer possible. You might notice that you have multiple feelings (for example: anxious and disappointed), uncomfortable feelings (profound sadness or anger) or even conflicting feelings (such as disappointment and relief at the same time). You will have an easier time moving forward if you set aside time specifically to acknowledge and experience these emotions.
  2. Think about what makes you, “you.” For many runners, training and racing are a part of their identities, and an even larger part during periods of intense preparation for a race. Your reactions to the changes this year are a reminder that running is meaningful to you, but it is important to remember that it is not all of you. Reflect on the fact that there are many other facets to your identity and that no one race defines you. When time allows, focus on other parts of your identity that have may have taken a backseat during training. This is likely to be fulfilling and help you cope with the loss.
  3. See the big picture. Recognize that participating in the event is only one benefit of your decision to take part in the marathon. Perhaps you signed up for the MCM to make new friends, be healthier or push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Review all the positive ways that making the decision to train for the MCM have benefitted you. Decide to emphasize these gains rather than focusing on the losses.
  4. Seize the opportunity to grow. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created a greater sense of uncertainly for all of us. Just like in a race where you are faced with circumstances that are out of your control, this is a chance to practice cognitive flexibility, acceptance, mindfulness, gratitude and positive self-talk. These efforts—which can occur simultaneously with allowing your emotions—can make you a more resilient individual and athlete.
  5. Take pride in being a team player. Remember that the MCM is an event that draws participants from all over the world. We are all doing our part to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our fellow runners by participating in the race virtually or postponing until next year. This is something to feel good about for sure.
  6. Make the most of your choices. Some have chosen to bump registration for the MCM until next year. That decision provides a great opportunity to shift the focus of your training and/or perhaps deal with an injury. Seeing the good that can come out of this and taking advantage of the opportunities that it presents can assist you in getting to a place of acceptance and peace with the event changes that have occurred.

Motivated individuals can still register for the virtual MCM Weekend events here.

Written by Jennifer Lager, Psy.D. Jennifer Lager, Psy.D. is a McLean, Virginia based Clinical Psychologist. Her practice, GAME- Get A Mental Edge, specializes in performance enhancement for athletes, performing artists and business professionals. Dr. Lager is the Director of the Marine Corps Marathon’s Psyching Team established in 2019.

Register for the Marine Corps Marathon Weekend

Recognized for impeccable organization on an iconic course managed by the US Marines in Arlington, VA and the nation’s capital, the Marine Corps Marathon is one of the largest marathons in the US and the world. Known as ‘the best marathon for beginners,’ the MCM is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, earning its nickname, “The People’s Marathon.” The weekend also offers the MCM10K and MCM50K.