After booking a hotel near the start line, I opted to wait to find a hotel for Friday night until the weekend got closer. I had received all of my info from MCM, and there was one thing looming that I dreaded. The map of Washington D.C. and surrounding cities with its metro system was overwhelming, and I decided my van would be my mode of transportation instead of this scary puzzle.
Finally it was here: RACE WEEK. I had put in my training miles, made my travel plans, packed my suitcase, booked a cheap hotel in Frederick, MD for Friday night, and there was nothing left to do but mildly freak out. And I kind of did. I was a little bit nervous to be traveling alone so far from home and I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to get to the race early Sunday morning. Friday came, and after dropping Nash off at school, I was off. Road trip time! In just two short days, I'd be RUNNING WITH THE MARINES!
On my trip east, I made sure to hydrate well and, of course, I had brought along a Nerds Rope, which is my favorite pre-race road trip treat.
After an eight hour drive from Michigan, through Ohio and Pennsylvania, I arrived in Frederick to my hotel. And it was creepy. I had no choice but to go in, so I loaded up everything I would need for the night, checked in quickly, got to my hotel room and LOCKED THE DOOR. My original plan was to check in and then go grab a bite to eat, but there was no way I was going out after dark alone in my current location. So, I opted for pizza delivery and had a little "party for one" in my room.
In the morning, I woke up and quickly got ready to go. My next destination was the Gaylord Convention Center for the race expo. After crossing the Potomac River and heading down into National Harbor, I arrived at the Expo. I joined the thousands of others also picking up their race gear and was pleasantly surprised that instead of regular race volunteers handing out bibs, the entire welcome committee was ALL Marines! How cool to receive your race bib and a good luck wish from these men and women! I didn't stick around too long because I wanted to go check out D.C. on this gorgeous, sunny day. It took me over an hour to travel the 15 miles into the city, and after having my van thoroughly searched before entering the Ronald Reagan parking garage, I was free to roam. I didn't want to exhaust myself before race day, but I figured walking a few miles would do me some good. I headed towards the Washington Monument and then checked out the awesome WWII memorial site, along with a few other places around The Mall.
I had been to D.C. when I was younger, but I never had the chance to just walk around. I didn't know beforehand, but most of the museums in Washington D.C. have free entry, which is amazing. I was near the National Museum of American History and decided to check it out. After going through a few exhibits, I came upon a special event-live music tucked back into a corner of the museum. There was an early American folk band playing and I sat and listened to them for quite a while. When they wrapped up their set, I headed back outside. I sat for a long time in a small park and watched an albino squirrel entertain passersby.
Then I decided I'd head to my hotel in Alexandria to check in. I was getting a slight headache, so I figured I'd go get my things ready for the morning and then find someplace for an early dinner. A couple of hours later, I had everything laid out for my 3:45am alarm and I was getting hungry and my headache was getting a little worse. I found a nearby restaurant and ordered a Coke, hoping to diffuse my now pounding head. I nibbled on my salad and when my meal came, I took two bites and a wave of nausea hit me. I thought I was going to be sick at the table! I flagged down my waiter and asked for a to-go box, paid my bill, and nearly sprinted out of the place. When I got to my car, I thought I could make it the short distance back to my hotel, but my stomach had other plans. I ended up pulling to the side of the road and throwing up REPEATEDLY into a bag in my car. OH NO. This was not a small amount; this was the entire contents of my stomach from the entire day. All of my food and water, gone. And the race was in less than 12 hours. OH NO! My head was still raging, but I made it back to my room where I started to panic. I took a bath and then managed to hold down some popcorn and as much water as I could drink. I knew this would not bode well the night before a marathon.
I fell asleep before 9pm and slept straight through until 3am. Six hours of sleep the night before a race?! Unheard of! After getting myself ready and packing my bags, I headed to Crystal City. This was where I'd presumably find a shuttle to take me to the start line at the Pentagon. I arrived early enough to make it on to one of the first shuttles, and crammed as much as I could into my little running pouch for the race. I sat and chatted on the bus with a man from Omaha and talked about races and kids and such and soon enough, we were at the Pentagon parking lot. After a short, chilly walk, we arrived in Runners Village. I headed towards a big tent where some people were gathering and parked myself in a chair. It was only 5:30am and the race start was still 2.5 hours away. I quickly learned that the tent I was in was home to a church service that morning for the runners. At 6am a few hundred of us sat and listened to a military chaplain give a short sermon and to my delight, the song of choice was "How Great Thou Art", one of my all-time favorites.
When the service ended I took the opportunity to hit the restrooms before they got overcrowded. I was slowly getting colder and colder with nothing to do, and was highly jealous of people wearing pajama pants and bathrobes! I found a place to sit and managed to curl my legs up tight enough to squeeze them inside my Walmart $6 sweatshirt that I planned on leaving behind at the starting line. And there I sat for nearly an hour, trying to stay warm until it was time to head into the starting corrals.
When the masses began herding towards the start, I followed. I headed up to the 4 hour time start, even though I knew I'd be taking my time with this race-I didn't want to miss a thing! I made friends with a lady named Robin from Toronto, and we chatted until it was time for the National Anthem. As the song was sung, eight marines jumped from a plane overhead and landed, one by one, right next to the starting line. It was impressive to see how quickly they approached the ground and then to see them land with such grace!
And then, along with thousands of other runners-runners from all 50 states, and 60 countries around the world, every branch of our military, team members from Team RWB, TAPS, Semper Fi, Autism Speaks, Team Beef (complete with cowbells), plus wheelchairs and hand cyclists-it was time to GO.
I tossed my sweatshirt to the side, (the Marines wash, fold and donate all items) and heard the starting gun go off! Here we go! The first mile was a little chilly, but soon enough my jitters had subsided and I started to warm up. The first few miles were slightly uphill, but I was enjoying the course and taking in the sights. Upon arriving at the first aid station, I was once again surprised to find that all of the volunteers were Marines! Throughout the course, Marines were offering Gatorade, water, Vaseline, gummy bears, animal crackers and orange slices. It seemed a little funny to be to be accepting these things from these men and women in uniform.
After and out-and-back portion from miles six through nine, we headed down along the edge of the Potomac River. And then, we were there. The Blue Mile. The Blue Mile is one of remembrance for fallen service members. The course was lined with photographs labeled with names and ages and dates these men and women gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice. I had tears in my eyes coming through this section, and when I reached a tunnel of U.S. flags held by family members of the fallen, I completely lost it. I don't know if you know this, but it is REALLY hard to run when you're sobbing.
After Mile 13, I was still feeling pretty good, taking in the scenic views along the river. Soon, though, my quads started to ache. Uh-oh. By the time I got to Mile 16 and had passed several more monuments, my back seized up. Double uh-oh. I tried to remain in good spirits. After all, I had come all this way and I was currently running past the U.S. Capitol building!
By Mile 20, nothing from the waist down was cooperating. I guess this is what happens when you puke out all of your food and water the day before a marathon. It hurt to run and it hurt to walk, but forward is forward and I kept going. The sun was blazing hot by that time, and I couldn't wait to find some shade.
Throughout the race, I passed and was passed by several hand cyclists. It's hard to complain inside your head when you're watching a military double-amputee hand cycle on a hilly course for 26.2 miles. Also in attendance were many parents and friends pushing wheelchairs holding their sons and daughters and loved ones while running the entire marathon. It didn't seem right to walk when I had nothing to carry but myself. Check out those hills and climbs!
Passing the 26 Mile marker, there were several Marines yelling, informing us that around the next turn we'd see the finish. What they didn't tell us was that there was also a hill around that corner. And it wasn't just any hill, it was straight up. Lining both sides of the course were many Marines, cheering and yelling at us to "RUN, DON'T WALK! FINISH STRONG! RISE TO THIS FINAL CHALLENGE!", and I don't think anyone out there wanted to let down these Marine men and women. We ran. And it hurt. But then, there was the finish! The crowd was enormous and everyone was cheering for everyone. As I came across the finish line and looked ahead, there was a sea of Marines, each of them holding medals for the runners. It's a strange feeling, receiving medal for running just a marathon from someone who has committed their life to protecting yours. And they were all amazing. They were so proud to see us finish this race, to complete our mission, and we were proud to run with them and be among their greatness.
After staggering through the finish area, I remembered something: Brooks Running was offering bacon. They had made 600 pounds of bacon for the finishers and I wanted some badly. I collected my bacon, along with a nifty little box of goodies from the Marines, and collapsed on the grass. I'm pretty sure that was the best bacon I've ever had.
After a few minutes, I got to my feet. My day wasn't over just yet. I still had to figure out where to get on the shuttle back to my van. After trekking up a steep hill unappreciatively, I managed to find my bus. I was joined by a man from New Jersey and we once again talked about races and kids and soon enough I was back to where I had started that morning.
But my day still wasn't over yet. I had a nine hour drive ahead of me. Who runs a marathon in D.C. and then drives back to Michigan the same day?! This girl. I gave myself a disgusting wet wipe shower in the back of my van, changed out of my horrendously gross running gear and hit the road.
I'm not sure how, but I managed to stop just once along the way for a slice of pizza and some gas, and those last two hours in the van were pretty sketchy, but I made it home just before 1am. I think the drive home might have taken as much mental strength as the marathon! I promptly took a much needed shower, brushed my teeth and passed out in bed.
This experience is one I won't soon forget. And although I find inspiration in all of my races, this race held extra special meaning. Most of the time, unless you're in a military family, we don't see these great men and women who protect us. And in this day and age, it can be easy to forget that we are lucky to live in this great country. This is the home of the free, because of the brave, and I will forever be honored to have had the chance to run with them and experience their greatness firsthand. OORAH!