Everyone who runs the Marine Corps Marathon knows it’s going to be hard to do — that’s often the point.
The motivations may vary: Some do it for a loved one or a friend; others see it as a means to a goal. But no one ever does it because it’s easy.
They do it because it’s hard.
That’s why 59-year-old Waldon Adams, who lives in Northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, started running it. It had always been a goal of his. But when he finally did run it in 2010, just getting across the starting line was a significant accomplishment.
“I’m from D.C. I’ve been here all my life,” said Adams. “I went through some issues and spent close to 30 years homeless.”
During that time, he battled drug addiction and found himself in and out of hospitals. But when he was a kid, he remembered the image of a runner struggling to get across the finish line of a Marine Corps Marathon, and it always stuck with him.
“I thought that was so amazing and I always wanted to do it,” he said. “That became one of my goals and then as life went on, things got worse and worse and my goals got limited to three things. The three things were finding a place to live, getting sober and running the Marine Corps Marathon, believe it or not!”
That last part he said with a bit of a chuckle, knowing how different the third goal was from the first two.
But it took time to accomplish his goals.
“Every goal I had set out, I couldn’t finish. Nothing I set out to do, I could finish.”
It took until 2009, when he was in his late 40s, before Adams found sobriety. He also found a stable place to live through a program called Housing First, and after signing up once before but failing to follow through, he signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2010 — and finally made it across the finish line.
The memory of the walk to the starting line on that early Sunday morning is seared into his brain, he said.
It’s a walk that’s meaningful to the tens of thousands of people who make it every year. For Adams, it meant “I felt like a part of the world. I remember walking down there and I got into Runner’s Village and I was nervous and saw the people parachuting [from] planes doing the flyover, and just how exciting it was at that start.”
“I had trained for it,” he added. “I’ll just never forget I crossed that finish line and just that whole route, the whole course, the support and being in this iconic event that I always wanted to be in — I just can’t describe it. It was so exciting for me. I kept going and ran a few other ones.”
Today, Adams works as an outreach specialist for the nonprofit Pathways to Housing DC.
“I help people that were like me, that had addiction and health issues,” he said. “I’m doing for people what I needed back then.”
He said his ability to relate to those who are still struggling has been key to his professional success.
Since 2010, Adams has run the MCM and other marathons several times now, although injuries have prevented him from participating in recent years. If the Marine Corps Marathon were run in its traditional setting, which includes time limits, he’d have to miss it for the third year in a row because another back surgery is looming in the coming weeks.
But a virtual race, one that allows people to map out their own course and run on their own time, made it possible for him to participate again this year. In fact, he didn’t just run the marathon this year; he has already done the MCM Trifecta, a weekend of three different runs.
Well, to be more accurate, he walked it.
“I look forward to this event every year, and I felt bad for the last two years I haven’t been able to participate,” he said. “I know that even though I couldn’t run, I could walk it.
“This was my opportunity to get back out,” he said. “I can still walk and I can still go after this goal.”
With the course etched in his mind, Adams pictured himself going through it as he walked 3-mile laps around D.C.’s Hains Point over three consecutive Sundays. The first weekend he did the marathon; the second, a 10K, and he closed out the Trifecta by doing the 50K.
“I used the trunk of a car as my water stops,” he said. After every 3-mile lap he’d grab some water and an energy snack and keep going.
Every time he participates in this event, Adams said it’s a reminder of how far he’s come.
He said, “I really felt a sense of pride” when lining up to run that first marathon. “I’m part of the world and I’ll never forget that feeling.”
“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done to finish that first marathon,” Adams said.
He has been sober for almost 12 years now, and “I haven’t looked back since.”