Every imaginable emotion—from tears to uncontrollable jubilation—was visible at the finish line of Sunday’s Marine Corps Historic Half marathon, as 5,397 men and women completed the challenging run through the city streets of Fredericksburg.

As they took their final steps across the finish line, runners were greeted by a large gathering of junior officers from the Marine Corps’ Basic School, who presented each of them with a commemorative medal for each race that they had participated in that morning, as well as a salute and a thank-you.

“We love having the Marines out here interacting with the community,” said Col. William Bentley III, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Quantico. “It’s a great way for us to connect with the community, for the community to see what the Marine Corps is all about, and a way for us to give back.”

Congressman Rob Wittman offered praise and congratulations to all branches of the armed forces, not only for their commitment to the event, but also for their involvement in the Fredericksburg community.

“The appreciation that the people have here in Fredericksburg for the military, and how this really brings it to life once a year—what a great day,” said Wittman.

Hundreds of well-wishers lined the route throughout the morning offering snacks, water and loud cheers of encouragement to the runners.

“This community has really come to embrace this event,” said Wittman. “This has become not just a regional event, but it’s become a national event, and that’s pretty significant. Having the Historic Half in Fredericksburg is something to be really proud of.”

Regardless of personal exhaustion, brutal heat or in some cases—severe personal experiences—each of the runners crossed the finish line to receive a hero’s welcome.

Navy Master Chief Robert Hunter of Virginia Beach completed the run with a prosthetic, his first race following the amputation of his right leg.

“This is actually just a practice prosthetic leg that I got 14 days ago,” Hunter said.

Hunter, who remains on active duty while rehabilitating at Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Md., suffered a severe injury when he fell down a ladder—a shipboard term for a stairway—while serving aboard the USS Blue Ridge in Japan.

“My leg got caught between steps on the way down,” said Hunter, who developed complex regional pain syndrome after his fall. CRPS is a chronic, consistent pain experienced in a limb following an injury.

“The CRPS was brutal,” Hunter said. “I was in pain constantly and lived with it for three years before the military gave me an option for an amputation,” he said. “I’m a little sore today, pretty beat up.”

Emotions also ran high for Bridget Saverine of Philadelphia, as tears of joy streamed down her face as she crossed the finish line.

“When I started the race this morning, I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish,” said Saverine. “I have a cold, I’m not really a runner, this is my first race ever, and I’m just proud of myself and so happy to be part of this great event. I’ll definitely be celebrating and watching ‘Game of Thrones’ tonight.”

As the last runners were on the final stretch of the course, Marines sprinted down the course to help cheer them across the finish line.

The final runner was Notah Begay Jr., 77, of Albuquerque, N.M.

This was Begay’s first race that he ran to pay tribute to his father—a World War II code talker—and to his son, who had completed two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. He also dedicated his run to all of those code talkers who are living, as well as to those who have passed away, and “to the people in this county who understand what really true Americans are,” he said.

“I felt this run was something I could do,” said Begay, who served in the Marine Corps himself from 1967–71.

“I feel I’ve accomplished something today and there’s more things that I need to do, I guess to make myself feel that I’ve accomplished something in this world, and this is one of them,” he said.

Over the last several months, the Marine Corps Marathon organization has worked closely with the military, as well as with law enforcement officials from Fredericksburg City, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, the Virginia State Police, Mary Washington Healthcare, and numerous medical and emergency response crews from the region.

“There’s a lot of setup involved with the community, city officials, the military, they’re all in,” said Navy Capt. Martha Cutshall, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Quantico’s medical clinic. “It takes a lot of months to prepare for this.”

In addition to an over-abundance of water, sports drinks, ice, snacks and well-staffed medical tents throughout the venue, traditional emergency response equipment was also on scene to treat runners who fell victim to the high heat and humidity that plagued runners all morning.

But keeping the runners safe and healthy wasn’t the only concern for race officials on Sunday. Keeping track of over 5,300 runners was another feat that was meticulously orchestrated.

Jim Jackson, business manager for the Marine Corps Marathon, said the equipment used in the event’s timing trailer—and on the runners themselves—tracked the whereabouts of each and every runner throughout the entire course.

The timing and location of each runner was revealed through the use of microchips that were embedded in each of the runner’s bibs. The chips communicated via sensors on the route with satellites that relayed the information to crews on the ground.

“This happens when runners travel over mats that are strategically located throughout the course, about every three miles,” said Jackson. “We keep an eye on everybody all the way.”

As the event drew to a close, the loud cheering, the booming music and the intense fanfare all seemed to quickly dissipate. Sunday’s runners were now in the history books with over 60,000 runners before them who had crossed the same finish line since the event first came to Fredericksburg in 2008.

Charlie Harr, the Marine Corps Marathon operations coordinator, called the end of the race a bittersweet experience for many of the day’s runners.

“Training for an endurance event like this—especially for a first-timer—can be bittersweet because you first have that boost of confidence that comes from completing the event,” said Harr. “But then the bitterness comes when you finally realize that the journey is over.”

James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438 jbaron@freelancestar.com