Pre-race: This is all about the charity, Team Running Strong. We were invited for an honoring ceremony the morning before the race and I wasn't sure what to expect. It was held at the National Museum of the American Indian and I was excited to see the museum (and the rest of DC) for the first time. When we arrived I was given a great swag bag and invited into the auditorium for a welcome presentation. We heard from the Team coordinator Jennifer Rivera, James Pine (2015 Dreamstarter and runner), ESPN Senior Writer Mike Wise and Olympic Gold Medalist and Spokesperson Billy Mills. Each shared their thoughts about running and about the good work that this charity does for kids across the US. We then got to go up to the Director's Terrace for an honoring ceremony with Steve Hill who performed a smudging ceremony. This was pretty spectacular- first of all the views of the National Mall were amazing and second, getting to participate in a ceremony like this with the Running Strong team is something that not many people get to experience, and I'm glad I had the opportunity. Anxieties were eased and blessings were given and we were left prepared to run the Marathon as a team.
There was an additional perk to the ceremony. First, let me say that runners are a notoriously superstitious bunch. I spent the week before the race meticulously monitoring my workouts, my food and my hydration. I had to have a new pair of Balega socks to wear (but the exact same style I always wear) and I went over my race day checklist a million times. I worried nonstop about my arthritis. Would it flare up and knock me out of the race? I've had it destroy 5k's, if it wrecked the marathon, to say I'd be disappointed would be an understatement. Throughout the days leading up to the race I repeatedly said things like "No new foods, only what I know works." and "I need the right socks! I can't risk blisters!" Then Steve Hill gifted the runners with some medicine- Rodger "Big Tree" Hill's Pain Cream, made (if I remember correctly) from bear grease and tallow. A little dab would help ease any aches and pains. Immediately my "nothing new" mantra went out the window and I was all in. I've tried a million things to get me through races, but mostly I just run in pain, so I figured giving this a try wouldn't hurt anything. And you know what? It worked. I was hurting by the end, but my regular, everyday aches and pains were much, much better. My knees, hip and feet got a dose pre-race. I rubbed some on my shoulders and lower back mid race. And I felt better. It's been suggested that it was a placebo effect, that it worked simply because I wanted it to, but at this point I'm a believer. I'm carrying it around in my bag 24/7 and if my super-googling skills could point me to someplace to buy it (I haven't found it yet), I'd be sending you all there too.
In other words- the ceremony was a win all the way around. Anxiety and pains were both dealt with, and I was ready for race day.
Race Day: This was a phenomenally run race. The only complaints I have dealt with security. It took forever to get into the starting area as all 30,000+ runners had to pass through approximately 7 metal detectors and get our bags inspected. After the race I had to walk all the way around some serious fences to pass through to the Charity tent area, which was approximately 30 yards from the finish line as the crow flies. Other then that the race was well organized, the course was well marked, there was food and water left for us slow pokes and the spectators for all 26.2 miles were amazing.
As for how I ran, I crushed it for the first 20. I ran my fastest 1/2 (and wasn't even pushing it), and felt great through about mile 17. Then I started to feel it, but still only lost about 30 seconds a mile as I rounded the mall and headed towards the dreaded bridge. I was starting to second guess whether or not I would beat the bridge. How bad would it suck to get that close and be pulled? I had tried to mentally prepare myself for the possibility, but once I was out there, I really didn't want that to happen. Luckily my husband assured me I was ahead of the 14 mm pacing requirement and that I'd be fine. He was right- I crossed onto the bridge and suddenly people were slowing down, stretching out and enjoying the fact that no matter what happened, they were going to finish this race. At about mile 23 my legs decided that enough was enough and called it quits. I walked it in from there, using my reserves to run across the finish line, where I was greeted by a ton of Marines ready to congratulate me, give me a medal and point me towards the food (what more could you want, really).
Post Race: Time for FOOD! Usually I'm all about the food, but I found myself suspiciously not hungry. I was totally unprepared for how not hungry I would be. Usually I go right for the food and snacks, but for this race I ended up just enjoying being part of the Running Strong team. Right after receiving my medal I went for the official post-race photo, possibly one of the coolest I've taken. The photographers set up right in front of the Iwa Jima Memorial and your photo is you with the statue rising up behind you. A big step up from the normal race logo back drops that you find at other races. After I walked what felt like a million miles to the Charity tent I was greeted with a big hug from Billy Mills, who congratulated me on finishing my first marathon. After chatting for a few minutes I took a seat and watched people come in. After our last runner came in, we took a few pictures and then it was time to head home. I had a 6+ hour drive and work in the morning, so even though it would have been nice to hang out longer, it was time to hit the road.
Final thoughts: Before the race and even during the race, I was pretty sure that this was going to be a one and done deal. I even told Billy Mills that while I had fun, I didn't think the marathon was my distance.However, by the next morning I was already thinking ahead to next year. 26.2 is probably not my thing, but running this race, with this team, is something I would do again in a heartbeat. The race alone was was amazing, but being part of Team Running Strong made it truly memorable.
I was also reminded many times of what makes running great. It's the adventure of it. The places you get to go, the people you meet and the things you get to experience that you might never had had the chance to do otherwise. For some people it's about going fast, winning medals and setting records. Those are all good things, but since I'm slow and the only record I currently hold is "slowest marathon" in our family record book, I figure I might as well make as many memories as possible. So when you run... slap every hand reaching out from the side of the road, especially if it's a kids. Dance along with the bands. Take all the pictures. Enjoy the adventure and run strong.
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