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Hall County couple running in Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon
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Stephen and Christen Wilbanks plan to run the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 22, 2017, in Washington, D.C. - photo by Scott Rogers

Stephen Wilbanks’ knee crackles like a bowl of Rice Krispies in the morning.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy had work done on both ankles and broke an elbow while racing bicycles, not to mention some back issues.

“He wants to become bionic, eventually,” his wife Christen Wilbanks joked.

“Not so much. If I never have another surgery, I’ll be OK,” Stephen interjected with a smile above his “Everything Hurts” T-shirt.

Stephen will scratch off an item on his “bucket list” with his wife running beside him, as the couple enter today’s Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

“If I was only going to run one marathon in my life, and this may be the only one, I wanted to make sure that it was the Marine Corps Marathon, just because I was a Marine, and we heard so much about it,” Stephen said.

Two weeks prior to running the race, the deputy had already clocked just shy of 500 miles in preparation. Christen said she ran 130 miles in September alone.

The race today will be Christen’s second full marathon, and the two have been on separate training plans.

Christen runs 5 to 6 miles Tuesdays and Thursdays, while her husband is doing three or four runs each week of the same length or longer. The long runs on Saturday are together beginning at Riverside Military Academy, where the pair made a 22-mile loop around Gainesville.

“The last couple times he’s been a little bit ahead of me, but he’ll check back and come back. We just make sure we’re hydrating at the same time. That’s a big thing,” said Christen Wilbanks, who is vice president of membership sales at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

While he usually tries to push himself during the smaller runs, Stephen Wilbanks said the long distances present a different challenge.

“With these long runs, it gets kind of boring. I’m not going to lie, so I like having her out there. We can run together at times and kind of converse a little bit and see how we’re doing on pace. It’s an accountability factor, too,” he said.

Just signing up for the race is an accomplishment in itself, as the tickets sold out in minutes.

In March, Stephen raced in the Marine Corps 17.75K, where finishers are granted a spot in the Marine Corps Marathon.

He said he believes the tickets sold out in about 2 1/2 minutes. Fewer than 3,000 people are allowed to compete.

“You have to be sitting there with your finger on the mouse button, and as soon as the green flag drops, you’ve got to be hitting that button,” Stephen said.

By the time they tried to enter Christen’s information for a second entry, the tickets were gone. She was able to get one of a select few lottery entries into the marathon.

“If you get into it, it’s really just luck of the draw,” Stephen said.

Though usually running without issue, Christen said she has been hampered by a hamstring issue in the past month, making her take it easier on the weekdays before the long Saturday runs.

The race is exciting for her because it’s “the people’s marathon.”

“People aren’t out there for cash money or to win it. They’re out there to really enjoy it,” she said.

The marathon starts between the Pentagon and Arlington Memorial Drive, running through most of the major monuments around the area.

“We wanted this to be kind of a joint adventure for both of us,” he said.

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