Alongside the 20,895 runners competing at this year’s Marine Corps Marathon was one Coast Guardsman who was running a marathon for the first time. As he crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 37 seconds, his dedication and commitment to training paid off – he won third place overall and earned the title of “marathon runner.”
Lt. j.g. Patrick Fernandez, training officer for the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard, ran his first race in the third grade. Inspired by his grandfather, an accomplished distance runner, Fernandez was soon running sprints to half marathons. At one point, he had raced at every distance but one – the marathon.
When he reported to the Honor Guard in June, he saw the Marine Corps Marathon as the perfect opportunity to take on that final distance and the perfect race to represent the Coast Guard.
“From day one of my training, my mission was to show the stuff the Coast Guard is made of,” said Fernandez. “The Coast Guard is always there when it counts but many of the Coast Guard’s greatest feats take place too far away for most people to see. When I compete, I like to think I’m running for all those unseen feats and sacrifices made by Coast Guard men and women every day.”
“While we may be small, we pack a powerful punch,” added Fernandez.
Fueled by his desire to represent the service, Fernandez knew he wanted to run the “People’s Marathon,” but first he had to train. He coached himself through the heat of the Virginia summer in what he called “many long and lonely miles.” Trying to keep the pace by himself took discipline, and Fernandez faced days where the last thing he wanted to do was go on a 20-mile training run.
But there was one thing that always helped him resist the urge to sleep in or cut his run short. Early in his training, he happened upon the memorial to Theodore Roosevelt on Theodore Roosevelt Island. To Fernandez, Roosevelt and the monument “embodied that rugged, persevering, never-give-up mentality” that are essential traits for any distance runner.
The monument’s statue, surrounded by large stone tablets, held one powerful quote Fernandez would never forget: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
These words became his mantra throughout training and led him to race day. In one of the coldest days of the marathon’s 36-year history Fernandez set out for his first marathon.
Months of pacing unforgiving miles on his own paid off. Especially when he found himself in what runners refer to as “no man’s land” – when a runner has lost contact with a pack and there are no other runners in sight.
“When I found myself there, I had complete confidence in my training and said to myself that this was just another training run,” recalls Fernandez.
After crossing the finish line, Fernandez was still catching his breath when he discovered he had come in third place behind an Army Ranger and a local runner. At the awards ceremony, as the commandant of the Marine Corps crowned the olive branch wreath upon his head, he knew every drop of blood, sweat and tears had not gone unrewarded.
After a chance to take some recovery leave, Fernandez reflected on the race and hopes his success at the marathon serves as inspiration to others.
“I think that everyone should have some sort of fitness goal that they are reaching for, whether it be weight loss, bettering a PT test score, setting a personal record or running their first marathon,” said Fernandez. “Whatever that goal may be, I hope that people know that there is nothing that is unattainable for those who are willing to put in the hard work.”