As a giant red arch inflated on his father-in-law's front yard in Burke, Tim Schneller reconsidered his stance on inflatable lawn decorations.
"I've never put them up at Christmas," he said. "But maybe we'll start, because this is a lot of fun."
When the arch began to take shape, exposing the words Marine Corps and a globe and anchor logo, it became obvious to residents on Wilmette Drive that this wasn't a normal, cutesy-pie snowglobe lawn decoration.
"I thought it was great that the Marine Corps had landed," Schneller said, after seeing the arch stand next to his house.
On April 6, Tim and his wife Christine Schneller, both Marine Corps veterans who served in the Gulf War, played host to the Marine Corps Marathon's "Start the Marine Corps Marathon At Your House" event.
The couple lives in Crozet, Va., but used Christine Schneller's parents’ house to host the event.
"I was a little bit concerned about registering for the race," said Tim Schneller, 40. "I know it fills up in like two days, and I had reminders set, but I saw this [contest] on the Internet about starting it at your house ... if we won the contest, we wouldn't have to worry about getting our registration in on time."
The contest tasked entrants to write an essay about why the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) should bring the starting arch to their house to kick off registration for the 35th running of the race.
The MCM is the fourth largest marathon in the United States and eighth largest in the world. The MCM also is the largest marathon that does not offer prize money. Registration is open to runners ages 14 and older.
Christine Schneller, 42, wrote the essay that won the competition.
"We enjoyed our time in the Marine Corps,” she said. “It’s where we met and it holds a special place in our hearts.”
Along with a visit from the marathon's starting arch, the Schnellers’ prize package included two elite entries into the marathon, training clothes, a 1-mile training session with Race Director Rick Nealis, a visit from MCM mascot Miles, sports drinks, a pre-training massage on their driveway and their own personal port-o-john.
"It's a major undertaking to run a marathon," Nealis said. "The fact that they're publicly making the statement that they'll run on Oct. 31 will serve as an inspiration for about 10,000 runners running the [MCM] for the first time."
The couple wasn't only motivated to attempt the MCM because of their service history. Tim Schneller said that after he and his wife retired from the Marine Corps, they both fell out of shape.
"We became runners in the Marine Corps," he said. "But when we left, we got out of shape. We realized two years ago we were way more out of shape than we wanted to be."
Since then, the two have competed in 10-mile races to prepare for a marathon and together have lost more than 100 pounds. But the couple didn't want to participate in just any marathon, they always had their sights set on running the MCM.
"It's a personal nostalgic reason," Christine Schneller said. "We wanted our first marathon to be special. That's
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Filmed and edited by Reed S. Albers.