To get in shape for her first marathon, Maria Alyanak would start her day at the break of dawn. She would run about seven miles before arriving at work at 7:30 a.m. as an executive assistant at the World Bank.
A wife and a mother of two girls, Alyanak trained since this summer for The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Her personal goal: to cross the finish line.
The marathon took place on [Oct. 30] in Washington, starting in Arlington, Va., and winding around Washington’s monuments, finishing at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. Over 20,000 runners participated.
Alyanak, 46, has thought about participating in a marathon for many years. She ran in two half marathons in Europe before she moved to the United States in June. The Bethesda resident said she wanted to mark the move with a race.
“I wanted to mark it with something that meant something to me,” Alyanak said.
Alyanak was born in New York but lived most of her life in Annecy-le-Vieux, France, and in Italy. She worked as an assistant in the Security Services program and then as a staff member in the Health Unit for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
For this marathon, Alyanak didn’t follow any specific training or diet program. She loves pasta and rocky road ice cream but doesn’t eat any red meat. She was at the gym by 5 a.m., using the treadmill in her building in Bethesda, and doing some stretching and abs work. On the weekends she would run on the Capitol Crescent Trail, an off-road trail from Silver Spring down to Georgetown. She also read articles and took advice from friends and people who have run marathons.
But for most of her training, her husband and daughters were the only ones who knew she was running for a marathon. Last year, she had a series of running injuries. Since, Alyanak has been superstitious and didn’t want to say anything to her parents or her friends about the race so they wouldn’t worry. She finally told her parents and her friends about the race [the Friday before it was held].
Alyanak said despite her injuries running remains a pleasure rather than work.
“I’ve always liked to put my shoes and go,” she said.
Running isn’t her only love, though. She also loves taking walks with her children, watching movies, go shopping, doing arts and crafts with the younger one, reading and visiting Washington’s museums.
And she always listens to music while running. She has several play lists and chooses one depending on her mood. The first song on her play list is from Soul Patrol, which reminds her of the reasons why her family decided to move to D.C. “Just like Heaven” by the Cure is also one of her favorites, which reminds her of the reasons why she likes to run. Most of the time, she thinks about how she will organize her day because it helps her to focus on what she has to do. But she also thinks of her children and her husband, reflects on life, where she wants to go and what she wants to do.
During [the] race, however, she ended up not listening to her music but to the crowd. The signs helped her along the race, and she thought that there were funny and motivating. One of them was: “Your feet hurt because you’re kicking butt.”
Alyanak didn’t participate in athletic organizations and wasn’t into sports as a child. She would work out two or three times a week and would occasionally walk on Sundays in France. However, her three younger brothers and her father played soccer and her mother loved to walk every day. Alyanak discovered running in her late 20s after her first child, Rebecca, was born. She and her family love walking and taking public transportation. One of the reasons they chose to live in Bethesda was that they wouldn’t need a car.
Alyanak’s husband, Cemil Alyanak, 55, was a Canadian air force pilot and has been her weight trainer every morning.
“She is fabulous and I support her entirely,” Cemil Alyanak said in a phone interview. “She has made improvements nonstop in her speed and form.”
As the day of the marathon approached, Alyanak felt nervous.
“I’ve always told myself that it was a great idea, that I have always wanted to do this, that I will feel great afterwards,” Alyanak said. “And other times, it seems like a good idea when I signed up for it but I go through moments of self-doubt.”
She expected the physical pain of this marathon.
“A friend of mine, a strong man, told me that he cried when he finished one of his marathons,” Alyanak said, “and just the thought of him crying, I definitely imagine how much it is going to hurt.”
She was surprised there were hills in the race and thought it was long. The last two miles were the hardest, she said. She finished in 4 hours and 17 minutes, better than she had hoped.
Alyanak said the marathon taught her to believe in herself, that it is OK to have an ambition and to have an unattainable goal. Hard work and perseverance make the goal possible to reach. She hopes to serve as an example to her girls.
She said she’d like to run again, maybe with her daughters. The girls, now 17 and 12, think she’ll be too old to run by the time they’re ready to run a marathon.
“But I say one is never too old! There are so many examples of women and men running in their 70s and 80s,” Alyanak said in an email.
Kirstie Murr is a sophomore at The Catholic University of America studying world politics and media studies. A native of Paris who moved to the United States last year, she would like to become an international reporter with a major news organization.
She is a volunteer contributor to The Gazette. This is her first column.
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