10K for Dad

Author: Janet Kramer

Surviving Daughter Runs with the Marines to Honor Her Dad

Sitting at Dad's graveside at Arlington National Cemetery, I took a breath and looked around. I could hear the announcer's voice from the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, October 29, 2023. I carefully undid the safety pins from my Team TAPS racing shirt and removed my race bib and laminated photo of Dad. I propped both up against the tombstone. Then I took off my 10K finisher's medal and draped it on top as my husband sat quietly next to me. In my mind, so many thoughts were rushing around. "I finally made it to this race...I ran past your old work...I ran past the cemetery...finished with the Marines, Dad...I was at the Iwo Jima memorial...I wish we could have done this together...I ran this for you.”

The Marine Corps Marathon had humble beginnings in 1976, when my dad, Jerry, ran it. It was called the Marine Corps Reserve Marathon that year. Dad was on recruiting duty in Willingboro, New Jersey, at the time and made the trip to D.C. for the race. My mom, Teresa, claims that Dad understood that the race was going to help the image of the Marine Corps after the Vietnam War. He ran 26.2 miles without a finisher's medal, race shirt, or crowds of supporters. Dad finished 296th out of 1,500 runners, with a time of three hours and 15 minutes.

10K medal on dad's gravestone

Dad took to running in 1970, two years after he enlisted in the Marine Corps and graduated from boot camp in Parris Island. Running suited him. It was something he could do anywhere, in any kind of weather. He just needed the road and a pair of running shoes. When Mom and Dad married in 1973, he was sent to Iwakuni, Japan, for a year. There, he would run twice a day to help pass the time. He ran several races there, the longest of which was 15 miles. In August 1977, he ran for his reenlistment, making the 20-odd-mile trip from Willingboro, NJ, to the Navy Yard in Philadelphia in three hours. Once there, he made it official and signed up for six additional years. After 30 years on active duty, Dad retired at the Pentagon in 1998 as a master gunnery sergeant. 

I was 16 years old in 1999 when I began running cross country in high school. Dad unofficially became my coach. He woke me up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays to run at the nearby Naval Air Station Patuxent River or on the trails of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He showed up along the race course during my meets, and I’d find him at the top of a hill, cheering me on and yelling at me not to quit. 

After a while, we entered local 5K and 10K races together. This was the true reward of all of the work I was putting into running — the memorable running adventures with Dad. We'd leave the house together in his red Toyota pickup truck so early it was dark outside. He provided me with cold Gatorade, an old, gray Marine Corps sweatshirt, a red Marine Corps duffel bag, and a good pair of running shoes. He was full of running tips, and decent shoes were part of the deal. "Don't ever buy cheap shoes,” he warned me.


Jerry Gooch Running in Marine Corps Marathon

Janet Running as a teen


I grew up in a Marine Corps house, where I recognized my dad as a man who wore camouflage or khaki, depending on where we were stationed. I can vividly remember watching him unlace his boots at night and unhook his green boot blousers. Just as vivid are my memories of seeing his running shoes on the porch and watching him walk in the back door breathless, but happy, after a run. I knew that the Marine Corps Marathon was special to him. 

"Isn't there a shorter race associated with the marathon?" I'd ask, hopefully, "Something like a 10K?" Dad would smile and shake his head. 

"It's 26.2 or nothing,” he'd answer.

I went on a running hiatus during my college years, but after I got my degree and moved back home, I picked it up again. I began dating my future husband, Scott, who happened to be a runner, which led to more races. The three of us ran the Jingle Bell 5K for arthritis, the 5K and 10K for hospice, and the Leatherneck 5K at Patuxent River. 

Over time, Dad slowed down and began walking. The man who used to run in any kind of weather was getting older. His joints were tired, and his balance wasn't reliable. Using a walking stick on his neighborhood jaunts, he still logged four to five miles a day, five times a week until the week he passed away at 71, in March 2021. 

Meanwhile, I took another break from running while Scott and I raised three young kids. On a whim, I decided to run the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond, Virginia, in April 2022. I quickly remembered how to run and really enjoyed the race. I started entering races again and fell back in love with running. Running helped me heal during the grieving process, and it helped me feel closer to Dad. During the Monument Avenue 10K, a runner zipped past me wearing a Team TAPS shirt. I wondered how it all worked. I wanted to honor Dad's memory, but — having been involved with TAPS for less than a year — I was still learning about all the opportunities.


Running with Team TAPS

It was at my local TAPS Care Group that someone suggested I run with Team TAPS in memory of Dad. I was thrilled to raise awareness for TAPS while doing something I already loved. Scott and I signed up together to run the Marine Corps Marathon 10K. The actual event was much more than a race. I found fellow Team TAPS runners — though meeting for the first time, we all felt like friends that day. Nearing the end of the race, just as I noticed the finish line was coming up after an uphill, I spotted a line of Marines to my left. Marching up the hill in camouflage and boots and carrying rucksacks, their encouraging words gave me the boost I needed to climb the final hill. In a crazy sort of way, I could picture my dad standing at the top, clapping and cheering me on, too.

Scott and Janet running the Marine Corps Marathon 10K

Old photo of Gerry sitting on helicopter

Janet poses by Iwo Jima Memorial in D.C. after race

Join Team TAPS

Are you looking for a special way to honor your fallen loved one? Join Team TAPS or apply for the Fallen Hero Match program which connects your hero to a Team TAPS participant.

Janet Kramer is the surviving daughter of MGySgt Jerry Gooch, U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.

Photos: Janet Kramer, TAPS Archives