‘Running the race of life:’ Couple who got engaged at Gasparilla Distance Classic to retire

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A couple who got engaged after running a half marathon at the Gasparilla Distance Classic and then went off to run eight other classics together are retiring this year.

Marshall Gross and Elizabeth Anne Joyner got engaged at the finish line in 2011.

“I ran the entire race, all 13.1 miles with the ring in my pocket,” Gross said.

The couple told 8 On Your Side their faith is very important to them in all aspects of life, including running races.

“The scripture that I used to propose to her was 1 Corinthians 9:24 and 25. It speaks about how there’s a race in front of us, everyone competes in the race, only one gets the prize. But we’re not competing for a prize that will rust or decay, we’re competing for the crown of life that will last forever,” Gross smiled.

Since getting engaged at the Gasparilla Distance Classic, the couple has run 20 half marathons and a full marathon together.

And they do run together, staying side by side throughout an entire race.

“We run together because he proposed, we run together, we stay together, and this is it. This is us. He’s not leaving me, I’m not leaving him, that’s how it is. So we cross that finish line, we’re doing it together,” Joyner said.

The couple has run the past few Distance Classics in style.

Joyner said she had the idea of running in full pirate garb a few years ago because her husband loves costumes.

“I was very nervous the first time we did it. Because people were looking at us like we were crazy, cause I had my makeup on and everything,” she explained. “But we just went out there and did it and from then on, we have done it, for the last, you know this will be our seventh year, and the crazy thing is, we run the whole way.”

A top place finish isn’t the goal for the couple. They said they are in it for the journey, and their faith reminds them to keep going for those who can’t.

“We run for people that can’t run and we run for people that we know that have lost, we’ve lost them to cancer. Young children. Adults. That’s what we run for,” Joyner said. “And that’s what keeps us going, and we pray for them while we’re running. It’s a spiritual journey, really.”

She said they pray for others as they run, as they’re passing homes or for those that come to mind.

Joyner’s father passed away a few years ago, but his words still resonate as she runs.

“Because our lives, what we’re going through is not compared to somebody else’s. My dad always said, ‘someone is worse off than you are.'”

After so many runs together, Gross and Joyner are ready to slow down just a bit and retire from longer races.

“It’s best to leave them wanting more than wishing they hadn’t had it,” Gross said.

Joyner said the 10th anniversary of the run that ended in their engagement is a good place to stop.

“But this is it. I think it will be special to celebrate here in Tampa since I’m a Floridian, I love Tampa, I love Gasparilla, and it’s my home and where my heart is,” she said.

Gross offered a bit of advice for couples thinking of training together and sticking side-by-side during a long-distance race.

“I would say if you’re going to do this with a partner make sure you’re both fully vested in it,” he said. “Because there’s nothing more frustrated than one person being gung ho and super excited about an event or about a new stage in their life than having someone drag them back or hold them back.”

No matter what this year’s race brings, this couple is doing it together.

“I’d like to say bittersweet but I have more a feeling of contentment that we’ve run the race, we fought the fight and we’re finishing strong,” Gross said.

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