Last January, junior Marissa Cohen ran in a Miami marathon to benefit the Whitman-Walker Clinic, an organization that provides support for people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
She is one of several students who participate in marathons around the country.
“I had never run even a mile before I started training, so it was a big step,” Cohen said. “I wasn’t sure that I was going to do it when I signed up, but then I tried it and just got hooked.”
The Miami marathon raised $1.1 million from D.C. participants alone.
The runners begin training months before their scheduled events and are divided into pace groups that train as a unit.
Junior Andrew Teig, who competed in this same 26.2-mile race in Miami, said he valued the training sessions.
“(We) all taught each other techniques together,” Teig said. “It was really you and your group running together the whole time, and I became really good friends with everyone (in my pace group) even though they were a lot older than I was.”
Cohen found the social aspect rewarding as well.
“It’s a really emotional experience, and a lot of people were first-time runners … (When) you spend hours and hours doing something really physical, you get close really quickly, and the only thing you can do to pass the time is tell stories.”
Junior Kristen Hawley, who has competed in many shorter races for a variety of charities, recruited friends and drew inspiration from them.
“I’ve done a couple races by myself,” Hawley said, “and its just not as good of a feeling as crossing the finish line and having your roommates there, or you sisters there, or just other people who are working for the cause with you.”
Some GW students said they found small numbers of other college students participating in the races.
John Beach, the program representative for the National AIDS Marathon Training Program, which organizes several events like these across the country, estimated that of the 210 competitors from the D.C. area, there were approximately 30 college students in last January’s Miami race.
One caveat of charity marathon participation is that the runners each have to raise money for the charity – $2,500 is the minimum requirement for the Miami race.
“I fortunately did not have trouble raising money at all,” Cohen said. “I just sent out one big mass e-mail to everyone I knew and the donation came pouring in. I was shocked.”
Deena Mencow, a graduate student who trained for the Marine Corps Marathon last week to benefit the Organization for Autism Research, said she used a very comprehensive strategy to solicit donations.
“I sent e-mails to everyone in my address book … friends from high school, college, professors, etc … My mother sent around an e-mail in her school district, (and additionally I) posted my fundraising website on my AIM, Gmail, Facebook … the whole nine yards.”
“I guess I know a lot of really generous people,” Cohen said.
When it comes to running the marathon, however, family and friends can only do so much.
“You start contemplating whether you’d rather die then keep going,” Cohen added. “You have to push through that for a few minutes and then after a while you’re not even thinking about it. Your legs are moving but your mind’s in a different place, because if your mind was with you for all 26 miles, you would be in hell.”
Teig said he had a similar difficult moment in the race that stood out.
“After mile 22 I was dead. I started walking, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to walk the rest.’ But somehow I just got wind to run two straight miles, quickly, sprint through. I was heaving and crying and finally I finished, and I remember it was the best feeling afterward, the best feeling of accomplishment, everyone cheering for you.”