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Different paths lead runners to Marine Corps race starting line


At first, Jennifer Homendy couldn’t run the length of two driveways. She would creep outside under cover of darkness to run because she was embarrassed by her lack of stamina. She would jog for 15 seconds, then walk for two minutes, then repeat.

Gradually, Homendy found herself jogging for longer increments. Little by little, she added distance to the jogging portion of her workout. Then one day, she discovered she could run three miles without stopping.

“Over the course of several months, I taught myself to run,” said Homendy, 40.

Homendy underwent gastric bypass surgery and committed to regular exercise in 2010. Now, 18 months later, she is down 148 pounds and will be one of about 7,700 people crossing the starting line Sunday morning for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon.

“I was able to, I think, shift my focus from food and other things to something more positive,” said Homendy, of Spotsylvania County. “I think in the day about when do I want to run. But I don’t overdo it, either. I don’t want to be 40 and ending my running life.”

She has followed a training schedule for the past 20 weeks that’s had her running three to four days each week, and recently her weekend long run has been along the half marathon course.

Sunday, she hopes to finish in about 2 hours. Her goal is to run the entire Marine Corps race series, including the full marathon this October.

“I want to say I did all of them so I can hang with the Marines, I guess,” she said with a laugh. “I’m tough.”


When she’s tired after a long workday or just not in the mood to lace up her running shoes, Ann Smith thinks about her best friend, Erin Yagla. Yagla, of Hanover County, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about a decade ago, and the disease has robbed the once-star athlete of the ability to take a short jog.

“I thought to myself how lucky I am to be able to get up and just go run whenever I want,” said Smith, 34, of Spotsylvania County. “I would think every night that I didn’t want to go out and run—‘Oh, I don’t want to do this. I’m just too tired.’ I would think about Erin and how she would do anything to be able to go out and run.”

Smith took up running in 2006 after the birth of the first of her two daughters and finds the regular workouts are “a good way to burn off stress after the workday, help clear my head.”

During Sunday’s race, Smith will wear orange—the color for MS awareness—and think about her friend.

“It’s just a show of my love and support for her so she knows that I don’t take my good health for granted,” Smith said.


In 2010 and 2011, Nathan Miller was on hand at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon shooting photos of the runners. He thought to himself, “there is no way I could run that far.”

In fact, the one race Miller had tried, a five-miler his friends talked him into in 2007, could be chalked up as a disaster. His friends left him in the dust, and Miller finished that race dead last.

“At that point, I swore off any kind of running or anything like that again,” said Miller, 32, of Spotsylvania County.

Yet Sunday morning, Miller will tackle the 13.1-mile course and feel confident even about “the dreaded hospital hill,” a monster incline at about mile 10 behind Mary Washington Hospital.

Miller’s journey to the starting line began a year ago when he decided to embark on a weight-loss program and began walking in his neighborhood. He weighed 326 pounds and hadn’t exercised since Little League two decades earlier.

To conquer sweat as he walked in his neighborhood, Miller tied a tube sock around his head. He quickly earned the nickname “tube sock guy” from neighbors who cheered him on as he gained fitness and shed weight. He credits a diet program and race training for his 90-pound weight loss.

“I’m so happy things like this [race] come along that motivate you,” Miller said.


Andy Jones, 36, of Fredericksburg, is running in honor of local heroes who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A few years ago, Jones wanted to join the Army National Guard but, at 6-feet tall and 251 pounds, was too heavy to qualify. He started by eating “about half of what I used to eat” and exercising and by 2011 was down to 140 pounds. Then the National Guard lowered the maximum age for new recruits, and Jones was suddenly too old.

Jones kept running, joining a co-worker who was training for the Marine Corps Marathon last October, but soon realized he needed more motivation to keep his fitness and weight goals.

“I decided then I would raise money for a local charity,” Jones said. “I decided on Some Gave All because of the work they do for soldiers and veterans.”

After Sunday’s race, Jones will donate the nearly $1,000 he has raised to the Some Gave All Foundation (somegave, founded in memory of Sgt.  Joshua J. Frazier and Sgt. Nicholas C. Mason, who were killed in the line of duty.

“Now my drive is that no matter what, I will finish the race and then head over to the Some Gave All rally in King George later that day and present them with the donation,” Jones said.


Matt Bohmke, 20, might be one of the most laid-back runners striding the 13.1-mile Marine Corps Historic Half marathon course Sunday. The Virginia Tech student is running because “I just figured I’d try it out and see what I can do.” He aims to finish in about two hours.

Inspired by a former baseball coach and a friend’s father who completed the half marathon last year, Bohmke regularly runs about three times a week, but the half marathon will be his longest distance by far. Last year he ran a 5-mile race with friends and saw plenty of fellow runners wearing Historic Half T–shirts.

“I’m looking forward to it, but I don’t have any huge expectations,” said Bohmke, a 2009 Stafford High School graduate. “I’m going to go out there to have fun.”

Donya Currie is a freelance writer in Stafford County who regularly contributes to Healthy Living. You can write to her at