I could start with the question, “What is a military spouse?” but I would soon find myself running (no pun intended) out of space.
A military spouse must adapt to changing schedules and develop creative ways of doing things. There will be times when one parent must become both parents. They will have to say the following, “Be careful, and I will miss you, and I love you.”
I can not do justice to the question, and I will defer to the website, https://armywifenetwork.com ,which will tell you all you need to know. To provide some insight, we will hear from running Milspouse, Martha Merz, and what changes have taken place over the years and the impact on maintaining an exercise program at various locations.
When did you first realize that you had a talent for the sport of running?
I started running when I was a senior in high school. I hadn’t done any organized sports, except soccer, in elementary school. I joined the JV team and rapidly made my way to the back of the varsity team. Ironically, that year our high school team won the state championship in Maryland, which set me on a trajectory of wanting more.
Did you participate in any other organized sports?
No other sports, though I wish I had. I tell people that I run because I am not coordinated enough to do much else (though I recently took up Pickleball!)
Can you capture the feeling from your first organized race?
My first road race was the Marine Corps Marathon (2007, 5th place finish 2:53:30). I didn’t know anything about road races and figured I’d start with what looked like a good challenge. I fared well enough to capture the attention of a local club that invited me to their workout group. I eventually discovered that I could enjoy a 5K just as much as a marathon, much to my relief! Finding running friends and a new place to expand my horizons was life-changing.
Once you assumed the role of a military spouse, what was the impact on your exercise program?
I was married two years after college to my Naval Academy sweetheart. We quickly made our first PCS move to Orlando Flordia. I had no job when we arrived, my husband went straight off to work, and I was left to figure this new place out. I went right to what I knew, which was running. I ran my first race, set some goals, and met a few people. I had some great competition, but I still felt like an outsider. We moved again six months later. Thankfully, every move got a little easier and having running as a constant gave me some sense of stability through it all.
What are some terms you associate with being a military spouse?
Resilient is the one that most often comes to people’s minds. I would also say we are observant, adaptive, independent, and yet social. We are extremely good at networking.
What was the motivation to remain with the sport?
I have gained so much from the sport of running. I have been graced with the ability to run at a competitive level for my entire adult life, though it takes a little longer to get to the finish line these days. I feel like it feeds my self-esteem, gives me a sense of self outside of the military, and has provided me with a lifetime of friends and experiences. I have as many civilian running friends as I do friends in the military, which creates a healthy balance. And, after 21 moves in 36 years as a military spouse, I have the best collection of team/club singlets of anyone I know!
How did you maintain your level of performance?
It has become part of my being because I have been running for so long. I don’t ask myself, “I am going to run today,” it is “when am I going to fit in my run today?” It would help if you placed whatever your passion is as a priority. I don’t run every day, nor do I love running every day, but I do run most days. I generally run alone but look forward to my group training with a team or club, pushing me to a higher level.
What changes did you recognize running stateside versus overseas?
My overseas running was in Guam and Japan twice. When you live on an island the size of Guam (small!), there are not many races, and the same people run all the races, oh, and it’s 90 degrees and humid every day. Motivation comes from deep down, knowing that you must make fun of yourself wherever you go, that you are not ready to give up on running, and that the next PCS move is just around the corner. Japan, which came much later in my husband’s career, was a different challenge. The idea of running off base through a Japanese town was daunting.
There were very few Americans running off the base, but I got so tired of running the base loop that I became brave. I came up with some great routes, and I saw so much more of our small town than anyone else on base. As runners, we can observe the most uncomplicated, most basic, and beautiful things on foot, far more than by car. I did get the chance to run in one race in Japan, a half marathon. There were only a few Americans in the race. I was grateful to have plenty of racing experience since all the instructions were Japanese.
I won in my age group but was too afraid to go to the stage to collect my award. I just stood in the back of the crowd and smiled to myself, wishing my husband had been there to see this. I will never forget that race.
What changes have you seen in the sport looking back?
The sport of running has evolved so much during my many years. I started when women’s sports were beginning to take off. We had a small college team, and road racing was still predominantly men. Running has become very popular, and racing is for anyone and everyone today. It was fun watching the masters’ women’s field take off and be a part of it. We were just those runners that started a long time ago and were still competing well into our forties and beyond. Masters’ women were winning races, not just their age group.
Coach Jerry Alexander, President of the NOVA Running Club, shares the following story about Martha from 2007:
Martha came to the track one night in the fall of 2007 and told me that she had just turned 45 and was excited to be competing in a new age group. After I watched her run a workout that would have been incredibly impressive for a runner half her age. I said to her that I would be shocked if there were another runner over 45 anywhere in the United States who could even come close to hanging with her. In her typical humble way, Martha scoffed at my statement.
The next day, to test my hypothesis, I found the list of American records for 45 and over, and I discovered that the record for 10,000 meters was 38:11 and had been standing for 17 years. Martha had run a 10-mile race a few weeks earlier where she went through 10k en route in well under 38 minutes. Martha and I agreed that she would attempt to break the record.
What advice can you pass to another spouse who has a passion for the sport?
Stick to it and always strive to find a way. Sometimes you must be creative. Whether it is childcare, work or duty schedules, deployments, or even weather, I like the saying, “where there is a will, there is a way.” Arm yourself with a good attitude, find a friend and hold each other accountable. I am lucky to be blessed with an incredibly supportive spouse.
Did you encounter any times you wanted to leave the shoes in the corner?
Was there an event you can recall? When you think about it now, you say, “WOW?
Yes, several stand-out events will always make me smile. One was a particular Marine Corps Marathon, 20+ years after my first. I remember running up that crazy last hill to the finish and seeing the clock in disbelief.
I had far surpassed my goal that day and my time from 20 years earlier. I was forty-five. It was sheer joy.
During your travels, was there a training partner, or were you a solo runner?
My husband is my steady running partner, but I learned to enjoy solo running with so many deployments and time apart. Whenever we travel together, we feel so lucky that we can both run. We lace up in any foreign port or new city and explore on foot. I love that our travels have taken us to so many beautiful places.
What performance stands out in your mind as the one you did everything right?
Hmmm, I never do everything right!
Do you find the sport of running emotional?
Running is an emotional sport. It is fed by the highs and lows… primarily highs. I believe that success in running provides the drive to continue. There is nothing better than working hard in training and seeing it pay off on race day. There is nothing more exhilarating than a good hard run, a hot shower, and sore muscles which tell you that you did a respectable job. And there is nothing better than sharing that experience with friends along the way. And I am a true believer in those happy endorphins that come from running.
Please feel free to add any additional comments
I have learned about military life, deployments, duty days, PCS moves, etc. As a spouse, I must find what makes me happy. I run, I have coached, and I have raised three children. Whenever we move and feel a little blue, it is up to me to figure it out for all of us. We are given the tools, but only we can direct the course of our experience. Running has been one key to my success and happiness as a military spouse.
I look forward to carrying it well into retirement with me. I want to earn one more running singlet.
*To learn more about Martha Merz and her running, check out the following article: https://patch.com/connecticut/groton/merzs-return-to-area-brightens-local-road-racing