Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam Popp sprints to gold during the 1500 meter finals of the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada Sept.  25, 2017.

Retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam Popp sprints to gold during the 1500 meter finals of the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada Sept. 25, 2017.

Now in its 44th year, the Marine Corps Marathon is maintaining its broad appeal as “the people’s marathon,” with over 30,000 registered runners.

This year, the course offers an ultramarathon — 31 miles instead 26.2. It’s one of the only urban ultramarathon courses in the nation, and it’s so hotly anticipated that registration filled up only an hour after it opened.

U.S. Air Force TSgt. (Ret.) Adam Popp will be among the 1,700 Marine Corps Marathon Ultra runners. In December of 2007, TSgt. Popp was removing improvised explosive devices in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, when one of them detonated. The blast resulted in extensive injuries, including the loss of his right leg from above the knee. But after an extensive rehabilitation process, Popp went on to compete at the 2017 Boston Marathon and was recently selected to represent the United States at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

Popp will join us in-studio to discuss the appeal of the Marine Corps Marathon, along with Marine Corps Marathon Director, Rick Nealis

Produced by Victoria Chamberlin


  • Rick Nealis Race Director, Marine Corps Marathon Organization; @Marine_Marathon
  • TSgt. (Ret.) Adam Popp Retired, Explosive Ordnance Disposal; Wounded Warrior


  • 12:00:20

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned into the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.05, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll take a look at the money being spent on the campaign trail in Virginia. But first now in its 44th year the Marine Corps Marathon course offers an ultramarathon for the first time, 31 miles instead of 26.2. It's one of the only urban ultramarathon courses in the nation and was so hotly anticipated that registration filled up one hour after it opened.

  • 12:00:48

    KOJO NNAMDIRetired Air Force Technical Sergeant Adam Popp will be among the 1700 Marine Corps ultramarathon runners. In December of 2007, Tech Sergeant Popp was removing improvised explosive devices from a roadside in Paktia Province, Afghanistan when one of them detonated. The blast resulted in extensive injuries including the loss of his right leg above the knee. But after an extensive rehabilitation process, Popp went on to compete at the 2017 Boston Marathon and was recently selected to represent the United States at the Invictus Games in Toronto. Tech Sergeant Retired Adam Popp, Marine Corps Marathon ultra-runner and triathlete joins us in studio. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:01:32

    TSGT.Thanks, Kojo. And thanks for having me here.

  • 12:01:34

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Rick Nealis. He is Director of the Marine Corps Marathon. Rick, good to see you again.

  • 12:01:39


  • 12:01:40

    NNAMDIRick, the Marine Corps Marathon has a long legacy in this area. What were some highlights and major events in your 27 years as the director?

  • 12:01:49

    NEALISWell, you know, it really starts -- the purpose I'm sitting here with you today really goes back to the 1994 the change of life of meeting Oprah down in Charleston, South Carolina when he was preparing to run Chicago.

  • 12:02:08

    NNAMDITalking her out of it.

  • 12:02:09

    NEALISAnd writing a letter and somebody read it at her studio and then she comes to the Marine Corps. And then her security detail enticed me to leave the Marine Corps and do security for the Olympic torch relay in 1996, the Atlanta Games.

  • 12:02:26

    NNAMDIHow do you persuade her to not do the Chicago Marathon, which is my understanding is fairly flat. And to do the Marine Corps Marathon, which is a little more difficult.

  • 12:02:34

    NEALISWell, you really have to go back in time. There was a period in her life when she was speaking out about the hormones and the -- what was in our meat supply. And there was a lot of angry people that did not wish Oprah, you know, happiness. And the one thing I think was that when I wrote and said that I know what it's like to be a first time marathon runner. You just want to put one foot in front of the other and get to your goal. And if she would come and run with at the Marine Corps Marathon, we would do the security. We would protect her and we could help her have that dream. And that's what happened. So 4:29:15 is the rally cry. It's like, you know, remember the Alamo. Everybody knows Oprah's time.

  • 12:03:29

    NNAMDIExactly right. The rest as they say is history. The ultramarathon is a new addition this year. How many people are registered and what can they expect?

  • 12:03:36

    NEALISWell, 1700 runners. And what they can expect, you know, for being an urban ultra is that, yes, they're not going to be running in the parklands and on trails. So it's a hard surface road. But once you take that away, what you are getting at Marine Corps is the organization skills of those United States Corps Marines. So the water points, the aid stations all the things that a marathoner gets, the ultra will get. So when they do their ultras they normally are packing maybe their own food and a little bit more nutrition to get them through these trail runs. At Marine Corps you can leave that stuff behind. We're going to take care of you. We actually have a dedicated food station just for the ultras right around mile nine and they will get their choice of muffins. So it's blueberry apple.

  • 12:04:39

    NEALISAnd if some of them are looking for something fat free we'll have that with carrots, with bran. And then then if you're gluten free then you'll get a chocolate muffin. So we're going to have a little fun with the 50kers. And I'm sure they'll maybe stop there. Enjoy a muffin. Talk to the others before they continue their journey of the next 21 miles.

  • 12:05:03

    NNAMDIAdam Popp, you were injured when an improvised explosive device detonated as you were disabling it. After several years, you began to run again. And with several marathons under your belt, you'll be running the ultra this weekend. What motivates you to keep running longer and longer distances?

  • 12:05:21

    TSGT.I think it's always just finding a challenge for me. I did Marine Corps Marathon for the first time in 2009. I was on a hand cycle back then. And I had catastrophic failure about mile three and didn't get to finish so. I'm coming back this year to get a little redemption and run the 50k.

  • 12:05:42

    NNAMDIThe hand cycle bike malfunctioned a little bit, didn't it?

  • 12:05:45

    TSGT.That's right. The front derailleur broke off. And I was stranded at mile three. So, yeah. It was not a good experience last time. My last 50k actually wasn't a great experience. I was in -- Rick and I were talking about that a little bit before we got started today. So I'm just back here to get a little redemption and hopefully finish well and finish strong.

  • 12:06:04

    NNAMDIRetired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, Earl Granville was on his third deployment serving as an infantryman when a roadside bomb exploded near him in Afghanistan in June of 2008. Despite the loss of a leg he ran the New York Marathon last year. He's joining us by phone today to tell us the significance of his Marine Corps Marathon run. Earl Granville, thank you very much for joining.

  • 12:06:29

    STAFF SGT.Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

  • 12:06:31

    NNAMDITell us what is the significance of your Marine Corps Marathon run.

  • 12:06:36

    SGT.Well, I've hand biked the Marine Corps Marathon in the past and a long time ago when I first lost my leg. And last year I assisted my friend Noah Currier and we both hand biked it last year as he has a spinal injury and he has difficulty with his hand crank when he's going uphill, because how high his spinal injury is. So I thought I'd step it up a notch. And I just did Chicago earlier this month. I ran the whole marathon. So I decided to bring it down a little bit. I'm going to just run the 10k with a Cigna health company who is a sponsor of an organization I am part of called the Achilles Freedom Team. And I just like to get out there and challenge myself more and more. And it's something I've been doing since I lost my leg and I really like pushing myself.

  • 12:07:22

    NNAMDIThis year is pretty special for you, because it is my understanding that if I see you I can expect you to be carrying a cinderblock on your back.

  • 12:07:31

    SGT.Oh, yes. So I have a cinderblock with a chain and I named her. Her name is Cindy. And you're all supposed to laugh at that right now. Ha ha. But what Cindy represents is a heavy mental adversity that we're going to face in society at some point in our lives. We all face adversity. And the idea of Cindy is when we carry that adversity that we carry inside. Sometimes I find that people are too afraid to be vulnerable and reach and ask for help. But when I run these races and such and usually with a team or some friends and we like to carry the weight together.

  • 12:08:06

    SGT.So if that weight of Cindy gets heavy on my back I have somebody out there to assist me carrying it. And that's a message and metaphor to understand, you don't have to carry the weight of adversity by yourself. And it's just a little message. And I'd like to give a little physical, I guess view of what adversity may look like when it comes to the weight holding us down stopping us from enjoying life.

  • 12:08:27

    NNAMDIEarl Grandville is a Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant. Thank you so much for joining us, Earl.

  • 12:08:33

    SGT.Thank you very much.

  • 12:08:34

    NNAMDIAnd good luck to you. Rick, pictures of fallen service members carefully line 1064 steps of the course called the blue mile. Each poster has been personally requested by an athlete or volunteer and honors a person who gave their life. Does the race provide volunteers doing that section to help runners get through it? Sometimes it must be pretty difficult.

  • 12:08:56

    NEALISYou know, it's one of those things that I focus on this year. And, you know, being a marathon runner it's about doing the physical training and the physical challenges you put on your body. It's about the mental, you know, overcoming that little hurt and those little things that bother you, and what we focus on that's really unique to what we do at Marine Corps Marathon is this blue mile at mile 12. And I now know that we put emotional stress on some runners, and this year we actually have what we call sight teams. We'll have these medical professionals out there between mile 11 and mile 15. And when they recognize somebody who's emotionally overtaken, because you see that line of servicemen who gave, you know, their lives and servicewomen, who gave their lives to our country, it strikes you.

  • 12:10:03

    NEALISThere's a visual. There's an American flag. There's a photo. There's a story. Our runners actually stop and read and touch and reflect. And now we're giving them a little bit more care. And that's probably the hallmark of the Marine Corps Marathon. We're the people's marathon and we really focus on those runners, all 30,000, that might need assistance. And this is one way we're doing it by taking some of that emotional stress. Talk to them at that point and tell them, you know, keep going. You know, there's a reason you're out here today on Sunday and it's to accomplish your dream and never forget what our country is going through. You know, we're still at war. And it's never, you know -- it's just a moving tribute to our men and woman, who have really given their all to this country.

  • 12:11:00

    NNAMDIAdam Popp, you're running the ultramarathon. It is my understanding that you like a nice pizza at the turnaround. Why and what food will get you through this race?

  • 12:11:11

    TSGT.Well, I find when I'm running ultras you can only eat so much gel. So usually around the six or eight mark your body starts craving something. And typically my body is craving pizza whether I'm running or not. So that comfort food when you're out on the course can take your mind off a lot of things and help replenish your body to keep going.

  • 12:11:31

    NNAMDII understand you typically grab two slices.

  • 12:11:33

    TSGT.That's right.

  • 12:11:34

    NNAMDIBoth hands.

  • 12:11:35

    TSGT.Both hands, double fisting the pizza and it usually makes me a lot faster. I don't know if Rick can arrange that for the course tomorrow.

  • 12:11:43

    NNAMDII was about to say, Rick Nealis, do you have special food planned for the ultramarathoners?

  • 12:11:48

    NEALISWell, we have our muffin station at mile nine.

  • 12:11:54

    NNAMDIAdam is not a muffin guy.

  • 12:11:55

    NEALISHe's not a muffin guy. I now know.

  • 12:11:58

    NNAMDIHe's got to get his mom and dad Digiorno.

  • 12:12:00

    TSGT.That's right.

  • 12:12:01

    NEALISAnd I'm probably not going to win him over with slices of oranges.

  • 12:12:07

    TSGT.It's typically after the six hour mark. So hopefully I can finish on Sunday faster than six hours.

  • 12:12:11

    NEALISBut, Kojo, you're a runner you know the beauty of the Marine Corps Marathon is the spectators. I mean, the mall -- they are out there on Sunday. And the stories that you hear from the people who just come out to provide comfort, it would not surprise me on Monday we hear from Adam and somewhere on that 30 miles course that he's running there's going to be somebody out there with this pizza looking for his bib number. Adam, you might want to give it out.

  • 12:12:45

    TSGT.That's right. I won't turn it down either.

  • 12:12:47

    NNAMDII'm pretty sure somebody will do that, because in the days when I used to go help people around Hanes Point to get through that wall you see people carrying all kinds of things to support the people who'd they heard about were in the race or the people who they knew were in the race. It's a really fun place to be. Will the ultramarathon and the marathon share a course?

  • 12:13:05

    NEALISThey do. And that's one way we were able to pull this off with all our partners. So, you know, doing an ultra in Arlington, Virginia as well as the District of Columbia it's all about law enforcement and those business improvement districts and our credibility to do what we say we're going to do. So to get people through Georgetown to get them back to Virginia, because the one constant that we have with this course is Washington D.C. wants everybody out of the District by 1:15 and that's not one 1:16. It's not 1:17. 1:15, so that's my goal is to make sure every runner has a good experience. So he does not have to get on the old straggler bus.

  • 12:14:05

    NEALISBut this year we're calling it the redemption bus. And it's another one of my feel good reaching out to our runner that if they ended up on my redemption bus those runners are the first ones to be able to get into the Marine Corps Marathon for the 45th anniversary with a redemption card, because I want them to come back and be successful. So before you would be a failure, now, we're trying to put a little positive spin on it, just like we're doing with our sight teams. And embrace these people for whatever reason, they might have failed. Just like Adam shared, you know, his first experience was not successful. I want everybody to come back and be successful.

  • 12:14:52

    NNAMDIDewitt called in to ask, if you can walk the marathon, how long does the course stay open for walkers? Tell us about the gauntlet.

  • 12:15:01

    NEALISThere's actually four gauntlets. So the easy answer for the marathon is 14 minutes. So if you want to come out and if you cannot maintain that pace then you are looking either to get turned at a gauntlet.

  • 12:15:17

    NNAMDIFourteen minute per mile.

  • 12:15:18

    NEALISOr to get on that redemption bus. But if somebody wants to come out for the first time and are a walker I would challenge you, you know, in the future, you know, look at a smaller distance and get that positive experience and get on a good training plan. So when you do do the marathon you're building for success not failure.

  • 12:15:42

    NNAMDIGrace tweets, I'm running the 44th Marine Corps Marathon as my very first marathon, lucky to run with my two best running friends and motivators. My big sister could not be here. Days away from running with those strong women, will it rain? Do you know?

  • 12:15:58

    NEALISWell, Kojo, the first thing. The United States Marine Corps is privileged to have the United States Navy chaplains and medical personnel supporting the Marines. So the first call out is for my chaplain and he's praying for good weather. So a lot rides on a Navy chaplain and he normally brings us, you know, good grace. The second thing I would share with our runners is they can't forget that the United States Marine Corps is an amphibious organization. So we like to go to sea. We like the spray of saltwater in our face. So a little bit of rain kind of takes the Marines back to our roots that we are amphibious and rain, you know, you got to look at it as a positive. Everything in life should be positive. And to me this rain is liquid sunshine.

  • 12:16:57

    NNAMDIAdam, what is your advice to wounded veterans or other potential runners, who are on the fence about getting into distance running?

  • 12:17:04

    TSGT.I would just say don't be discouraged early on whether that -- when it comes to running or anything else in your life. You know, it's a slow start in the beginning and you can have a lot of challenges initially, but if you keep with it anything worth having is worth working for hard, and there's a ton of resources out there available to veterans. The Achilles Freedom Team that Earl mentioned earlier, their partner is Cigna. They have a great resource. A 1-800 number where they offer help with job placement and other types of resources for veterans. There's a ton of stuff out there to help you get to where you want to be.

  • 12:17:42

    NNAMDIJust do it. And finally here Stacy in Silver Spring with what I am sure is part of a lot of people's favorite part of the Marine Corps Marathon. Stacy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:52

    STACYHello. I was wondering, this year is there going to be a health and fitness expo the day before the marathon?

  • 12:18:01

    NNAMDII mean, how else am I going to buy my running shoes.

  • 12:18:05

    NEALISWell, I'll jump in. There's a two day expo and we want everybody, runners, spectators, everybody to come out, because there's a lot for everyone. There's over 200 exhibits going on. There's symposium talkers. There's a pasta dinner. There's a lot of things that you can come over to the National Harbor at the Gaylord Resort Friday starting at ten o'clock to eight o'clock on Friday night, and then on Saturday from eight o'clock in the morning to six o'clock on Saturday night.

  • 12:18:40

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Stacy. Rick Nealis is Director of the Marine Corps Marathon. Rick, always a pleasure.

  • 12:18:46

    NEALISThank you.

  • 12:18:47

    NNAMDIAnd Tech Sergeant Retired Adam Popp is a Marine Corps Marathon ultra-runner and triathlete. Good luck this weekend.

  • 12:18:55

    TSGT.Thanks so much and thanks for having me.

  • 12:18:56

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll take a look at the money being spent on the campaign trail in Virginia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.


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