A wear blue Mile display at last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego race. Photo: Ryan Bethke
It is a 1-mile stretch unlike any other in road racing. Heartbreaking, emotional, poignant, moving.
First, come the 18-inch by 24-inch posters sitting atop A-frame stands. The posters, one on each side of the street, feature a tight facial shot of a deceased United States military service member, their name, date of death, age and if they were killed in action.
Then come the 3 feet by 5 feet U.S. flags on each side of the street, one for every lost military member. The flags are often held by family members of the late soldiers.
It’s called the wear blue Mile and has been on display at Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series races in Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Diego and San Francisco. Come Sunday, about 3½ miles into the race, in the heart of downtown, the wear blue Mile will be on display for the first time at the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon.
Seventy-five service members will be honored.
Photo: Rod Mar
Alex Bennett, vice president of events for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, has driven past every wear blue Mile display the organization has staged. Typically, he’s in the lead vehicle or press truck, making sure there are no course issues.
“Every time it’s just as moving as it was the last time,” Bennett says. “It’s amazing to see those families out there supporting our runners but also remembering the fallen soldiers.”
The wear blue Mile is Lisa Hallett’s creation. Hallett’s husband, Army Capt. John Hallett, was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 25, 2009. At the time, the Halletts had three children, boys 3 and 1, and a 3-week-old daughter John never met.
In January of 2010, Hallett organized a running support group of 15 people where she lives in Dupont, Wash.
“Military families need infrastructure to support them in healthy ways through these challenges,” says Hallett.
Since that first support group, it has now grown to 44 similar running communities in the United States. The program is called wear blue: run to remember.
Hallett will be in Chicago and is still heavily involved in the program.
“Even though my family has moved forward in happy, healthy ways, you never stop missing and loving your spouse,” says Hallett. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wish he was with us, that he was part of us, seeing our children grow.”
The Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon will be the 28th road race with a wear blue Mile experience. When asked what goes through her mind when she sees the portraits of deceased military members and the procession of U.S. flags, Hallett says, “Every race is a little bit different.
“But when I hold my husband’s flag and the first runner comes through and salutes me or makes eye contact, my heart just soars and the flag is not a flag anymore. It’s John. It’s the celebration of who he was, how he lived,” she adds. “I’m connected to this runner. We’re sharing John’s life. It’s powerful and uplifting to me, a reminder I’m not alone in this journey of moving forward in the aftermath of him passing away.”
On Sunday, the wear blue Mile hits The Windy City. Know this: the scene will be memorable.