Shadow run allows Fort Bragg couple to run All American Marathon together
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 19, 2017
During parts of last year’s All American Marathon, it seemed as if nature itself was conspiring to stop Melanie Gibson from reaching the finish line on Fort Bragg.
During the last Fayetteville-based stretch of the race that spans from downtown to the heart of the military post, she and thousands of other runners plodded their way up the All American Freeway as the wind pushed them back.
“I never wanted to do that again,” she said, looking back on the race. “It was very difficult.”
Melanie and her husband, Lt. Col. Doug Gibson, finished the Mike to Mike Half Marathon side-by-side last year — the longest race either had ever run up to that point.
“We start together and we finish together,” she said. “He’s a best friend and running buddy all in one.”
This year, Doug and Melanie will once again have each other in mind as they run the half-marathon. But unlike last year, they will have roughly 7,000 miles between them.
For the first time in the event’s four-year history, the All American Marathon is going international in an effort to serve Fort Bragg troops deployed overseas.
Lt. Col. Gibson, who commands Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion of the 18th Airborne Corps, is helping coordinate shadow runs at Union III in Baghdad, Iraq, and Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
With race officials cooperating with Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation leaders overseas, the nearly 200 expected participants in the shadow runs will receive the same race bibs, shirts and finisher’s medals as the thousands expected to compete in North Carolina.
Melanie said that while she runs this year’s race, it’ll be comforting to know her husband has done the same on the other side of the world.
“Even though he’s not physically with me, he’ll be with me,” she said.
Doug said he and other soldiers are excited to be able to run the race and, in the process, connect with home.
“It’s just a little piece of home forward,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to still feel that connection to Fort Bragg and the Fayetteville community.”
“It is very special to me to be able to participate,” he added.
The lieutenant colonel praised MWR officials in all three countries and Army leaders in Iraq and Kuwait for helping the shadow runs come about.
He said race officials offered reduced rates for those serving overseas. Soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and other deployed Fort Bragg units are expected to participate. So will other American troops and coalition partners from countries like Italy and Germany.
Unlike the original All American Marathon, the shadow runs won’t have the two towering Iron Mike statues or the winding, hilly route from downtown to the parade field.
“I think it’s going to be a little warmer here,” Doug said. “And I won’t have as many hills along my route, but 13.1 miles is 13.1 miles.”
Melanie said that by the time the couple ran the half marathon last year, she knew her husband would be deploying.
He’s among hundreds of soldiers from the 18th Airborne Corps deployed in support of the anti-Islamic State mission.
In the months leading up to the deployment, the Mike to Mike Half Marathon — named after the “Iron Mike” stations marking the starting and finish lines, became a milestone to look forward to.
They trained for the race together, running long distances each weekend.
With only a few months left in the deployment, this year’s marathon is the same.
And the couple is still preparing together, despite the space between them.
They update each other on their progress daily, Melanie said. She on her neighborhood runs. He on the time spent on a treadmill at an overseas gym.
“It’s really about accountability,” she said.
The couple have run several races together during their 14-year marriage. And while neither were big fans of running when they met, they have grown to enjoy competing together and pushing each other on.
“With his support, I won’t quit,” Melanie said. “I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to stop.”
It’ll be the same on race day, when she’ll start the race knowing Doug has already finished.
“We get to have this experience together but separate,” she said. “Not everybody gets that experience.”
“We start things together,” he said, “We finish them together.”
©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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