More Than a Marathon: Marine Corps veteran reflects on the 48th Marine Corps Marathon

Marines cheer on runners during the 2023 Marine Corps Marathon.

In Washington, D.C., the last Sunday of October is filled with closing roads, ringing cowbells and hundreds of uniformed Marines lining the street. It’s the Marine Corps Marathon, one of the country’s largest marathons, bringing in runners from all 50 states and over 50 countries. It’s also known as “The People’s Marathon” because the lack of prize money keeps professional runners at bay.

For Marine Corps veteran Isaac Solorio, it’s become a five-year tradition and a way for him to honor the service members who have given their lives for their country. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate his unlikely ability to run after a severe injury nearly left him paralyzed. Solorio served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2016 before suffering a military-related rollover accident.

“I'm very lucky to be able to run,” Solorio says. “After the accident, the doctor said there was a 90 percent chance I would be paralyzed. I fractured my back and suffered a TBI [traumatic brain injury], so to be able to run to this day is a blessing.”

Runners line up at the start of the 48th Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA.

Return to running brings a sense of belonging

Solorio was active his entire life, from playing soccer to training for the rigorous physical demands of military life. After leaving the Marine Corps, though, he stopped exercising for a while.

“In the military you always have to stay fit,” he explains. “You have to be physically ready whenever you're called upon to serve your country. When I got out of the military, I wasn’t required to do any physical activity, so I didn’t.”

But once a friend mentioned she was running a half marathon, Solorio was intrigued.

“It seemed like a really long time to be running,” he laughs. “But I thought it would be an interesting experience. I thought I’d try it once, and if I don’t like it I can at least say that I tried it.”

Once Solorio was surrounded by the screaming spectators and encouraging participants, he was hooked.

“Seeing all the people cheering me on, and the other runners next to me checking in on me, it gave me that sense of belonging. I felt that camaraderie that had been missing ever since I got out of the military.”

Solorio remembered a flier he had seen on base while he was serving, advertising the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon. Similar to his experience at the half marathon, he thought he’d just try it out and see what happened.

Now, five Marine Corps Marathons later, Solorio says he’ll keep running the race for as long as his body lets him.

Community and purpose fuels a new PR

Marine Corps Veteran Isaac Solorio holds up his 5 Marine Corps Marathon medals in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Solorio ran a 21-minute personal best this year, a feat he credits to the Semper Fi America’s Fund to which he’s a member.

“Semper Fi America’s Fund takes care of disabled veterans. They helped me get to the race financially, taking care of the flight, hotel and the race fee. This year, I joined the Runner Battalion, another part of the fund. This provided me with a training plan through Training Peaks, and, if I finished 75 percent of the training, the fund would take care of my race expenses. It was my first time following a real running plan and having people checking in on me to make sure I was following it.”

Solorio felt strong throughout the whole race, despite the physical and emotional challenges of the Blue Mile. The Blue Mile is the 11th mile of the race, a challenging section on Haines Point that often takes the brunt of winds coming off the Potomac River. This section is lined with posters of fallen military members, American flags, and Gold Star Families attending the race to honor their loved ones.

“No matter how many times I’ve run this race, the Blue Mile is always very emotional and sentimental,” Solorio says. “I always do a live video on my phone as I approach it, so my followers, many of whom are military veterans, can see it and feel that moment with me. We all stick together and are bonded together. That Blue Mile will always be very, very emotional and sad.”

It was a bittersweet day, the highlight of which came when Solorio crossed the finish line in 4:25:16. A Marine Corps First Lieutenant put his medal around his neck and posed for a photo in front of the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, where the race finishes.

“Every time I run this race, I always record the moment of a Marine putting my medal around my neck,” says Solorio. “The memorial at the finish line is very symbolic for the Marine Corps, which is just icing on the cake.”

Keep Reading