First marathon in Marathon: Airmen team for success

Story and photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Bass 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Capt. Rachel Weiler (left), Capt. Michelle Harrington (center) and 2nd Lt. Haley Janssen, all officers assigned to the 86th Maintenance Group, pose for a photo in front of a C-130J Super Hercules propeller Jan. 6 on Ramstein. The three company grade officers completed their first marathon in November in Athens, Greece, the location of the very first marathon ever run.

Some say that running is a hobby. For others, it’s a passion. For a good portion of people, it’s simply a means to an end passing their physical training test.

It’s worth a guess that even those who only run to pass their PT test have dreamt of crossing the finish line after running 26.2 miles. All three female company grade officers from the 86th Maintenance Group recently crossed that achievement off their bucket lists.

Captains Rachel Weiler and Michelle Harrington and 2nd Lt. Haley Janssen all accomplished their first marathon together Nov. 13. It’s poetic that their first marathon took place at the same location as the very first marathon Athens, Greece.

“I’ve always wanted to run a marathon,” said Harrington, 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “It’s been on my bucket list. I thought it was pretty fitting to run the original marathon.”

Harrington conceived the idea while deployed, and she took it upon herself to convince Weiler and Janssen.

According to legend, in 490 B.C., after the Greeks won a battle against the Persians, a messenger named Pheidippides, pronounced “Feh-dip-ih-dees,” ran from the battlefield at Marathon, Greece, to Athens 26.2 miles with word of the victory. He said, “Nike!” meaning “victory,” and then collapsed and died.

“(Harrington) did not fail to remind us of that,” said Weiler, 86 MXG maintenance operations officer in charge.

Their goal was to not die, said Harrington. With the idea born, their training began.

Janssen, 86th Maintenance Squadron maintenance flight officer in charge, explained that she joined the endeavor because the Athens marathon is the pinnacle of all marathons, and by doing this one, she wouldn’t ever have to do another.

Training with a 5K run every other day and longer runs on the weekend, Janssen and Weiler paired up to get ready, while Harrington trained by herself at her deployed location.

“We did the Ramstein Half-marathon in preparation, which was good because you go up and down hills,” Weiler said.

The team traveled to Athens, their minds full of anticipation and excitement, combatting the mental stress of running the distance. Since the team was staying in Athens, they knew where the end was, and that information was vital to keeping their mental state positive.

“You start in Marathon and end in Athens,” Weiler said. “So it wasn’t like this big loop. There is a goal; at the end of that road is the finish.”

The team wasn’t ready for the hill which awaited them, however.

For half the race, the team worked up a meandering hill.

“You just try to find your pace,” Weiler said. “It’s a mental game, but the hill was steeper than I ever thought it could be.”

The hill started 6 1/2 miles in and lasted for 13 miles.

“I think at the half point for me I thought, ‘Well that really sucked, I guess I have to do that again,’” Janssen said.

Janssen added that her desire to finish before dark pushed her to finish the hill.

“There’s not a lot of training you can do for that,” Harrington said.

Once they summited though, the rest was downhill literally.

“To finally see the stadium, you had to finish strong,” Janssen said. “It was a pretty awesome feeling.”

Upon finishing, Weiler looked for her cohorts.

“The first thing I did was start looking for people,” Weiler said. “And (Harrington) was waiting, so we got our medals together, which I thought was really important.”

With the common goal of finishing together, their individual times didn’t matter. They weren’t done until the last one crossed the line. With this adventure crossed off their lists, a shower and a nap was as much a reward as the medals around their necks.