Graduate student Sarah Keasler said marathons are a half-mental, half-physical test of skill.
Keasler, who will graduate in December with a master’s degree in public administration, completed the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, her third year in a row. She and alumna Christianna Fattorini have become avid marathoners striving toward their goal to complete five attempts at the D.C. marathon and said having a partner to see it through can be what gets you to cross the finish line.
Fattorini’s morning warmup before her marathon involves a healthy dose of oatmeal and some pump-up videos courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles. She wakes up Keasler by blasting music through the apartment, then they bike to the starting line. She and Keasler always carbo-load the night before with a pasta dinner, she said.
“We’re not speedy, but I’d say we know the ropes now,” Fattorini said.
Also known as the “People’s Marathon,” the 26-mile marathon begins near the Pentagon in Arlington, where runners then pass through Rosslyn to Georgetown. The course takes runners all the way up to Rock Creek Park, down the National Mall and back around to Arlington before rounding Crystal City and finishing off at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
At their beginning as runners in 2016, Keasler and Fattorini began an Instagram account, Run With Us D.C., that attracted a local following. Novice joggers direct message them for tips on marathons and D.C. trails to kick off their training. Social media also has connected them with other Marine Corps Marathon runners and GW students and alumni.
In years past, they would separately take their early morning runs, but now the two runners work together on the treadmill before doing half of their long runs around town. Keasler said her long runs start at 16 miles then incrementally go up a mile a week, almost always training in the Lerner Health and Wellness center after class.
For the marathon on Sunday, Fattorini said she “roped in” her friends from her workplace at the Advisory Board Company after they watched her run for the last two years. They now have a group chat where the two seasoned runners give “unsolicited advice” to their team, Fattorini said.
“They told us they would never run a marathon,” Fattorini said. “We’ve done training runs with them, giving them tips and it’s become a fun running group.”
Along with the support they give each other on the runs, the two runners have a dedicated “cheer squad” of 15 family members and friends decked out in bright orange shirts that Keasler’s mom made for their first time running the marathon. Their parents have become skilled at finding the runners on the course, and Keasler said they’ll see the family six or seven times along the course.
“You see them at the mile markers you know they’re gonna be at, and you get excited and it keeps you motivated to get there,” Keasler said.
The urge to keep going can be hard to find without family and friends. Fattorini said on her first run, she “hit the wall” where her body began to swell with lactic acid in the final eighth of the race, making her body feel like stone.
“You’re in pain, but you can tell yourself that you did it and you went through so much,” she said. “That’s what keeps us doing it. It’s almost like being adrenaline junkies.”
Last race, Keasler became haggard halfway through and said she was at her limit, while suffering from dehydration. She said she never knows what her body will do when going into the run, so having a constant partner in Fattorini makes the daunting task of running a little less painful.
The marathon attracts all kinds of people in its pool of 22,000 runners and the run is more attractive to “everyday people” and first-time runners, Keasler said, as it’s the biggest marathon without a prize pool.
If you run the Marine Corps Marathon five times, you are admitted into the Runners Club, which gives participants lifetime access to the run without being chosen through a lottery. Other marathons also have this completion club, like the World Marathons in cities like Tokyo, New York and London, which are notoriously tough to get into.
Fattorini completed one World Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, this spring while Keasler raised money for charity in her stead. While it is a long journey before they become international marathoners, mastering the D.C. run is a good first step, Fattorini said.
“We started that one summer and it was a realization of it was something that we can do,” Fattorini said. “I think when I’m running is when I feel the most empowered.”