My runcation trip to the east coast started with a red eye flight that left San Francisco at midnight on Thursday and got me into Ronald Reagan International Airport at about 10:30 AM. Holy cow red-eye flights are exhausting! I had worked the entire day on Wednesday so I was functioning on maybe 3 hours of sleep by the time I touched down in D.C. I was picked up by two of my favorite sole sisters Michele (a.k.a. thepinkhatrunner) and Betsy. My friends know me well and the first thing that we did was head into Georgetown to feed my belly! The restaurant that we wanted to try out wasn't open yet so we spent time strolling through Georgetown and checking out the various stores, including a mandatory stop at Georgetown Cupcakes.
Love my sole sisters!
The next day we got up bright and early to head to the D.C. Armory for the Marine Corps Marathon Expo. It's quite an experience to be pick up race bibs from Marines and have them lined up and down the expo giving us our shirts and free race goodies. Despite the fact that I swore up and down that I wasn't going to buy more than one race item, I ended up leaving with a bag full of MCM gear. How did that even happen?!
Marine Corps Marathon Expo
While we were at the expo we were fortunate enough to run into several members of the Red Felt Running Club. The RFRC is an amazing running club that I found when I first signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012. Although originally founded and formed by runners on the east coast, the club is now comprised of members all over the United States and throughout the world. I cannot speak enough about how phenomenally inspiring, motivating and encouraging this group of runners is. They embrace everyone with open arms from walkers to first time runners to experienced ultra runners. Although the main race for the group is MCM, members run races all over the world and the group offers encouragement and support for every race. If you're looking for a running group please consider the RFRC!
Some of the RFRC crew
Bib in hand and ready to go!
After our expo shenanigans, Michele headed out to meet her friends for dinner and Betsy and I headed over to her children's school. Betsy is an AH-MAZING mom and happens to be one of the two parent mentors for the school's Odyssey of the Mind group. You guys, kids are freakin' hilarious! Their answers to the questions and problems presented to them cracked me up to no end. I really wish here was a way for me to look into their little heads and watch their brains work 'cuz the things they said were seriously too funny! I was thoroughly entertained.
Once the Odyssey of the Mind group finished their meeting/practice session, we all headed back to Betsy's house where we picked up her parents (who happened to be visiting from Oregon) and we all went out to dinner. I really cannot thank Betsy enough for not only opening up her home to me but also sharing her time with her family. I've pretty much adopted them! After dinner we picked up Michele from the metro and headed back home to call it a night.
Saturday morning we woke up to meet RFRC at the National Mall for a shake-out run. Since everyone in the group is spread out throughout the country (with the vast majority located on the east coast) I really try to spend as much time with them as I can during races. It was like a huge family reunion with big hugs being exchanged all around. Even those we were meeting for the first time got hugs because that's just how RFRC rolls! The run was a short 3 miles and I'm sure we were quite a sight as we ran, especially with Darling taking the lead with our famous RFRC flag. It was so much fun!
I seriously love these faces!
Running it out
Group pic during the run's halfway point
Once our group run was done everyone scattered to their respective next destinations so Michele and I grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Every time I'm in D.C. I have to stop by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Always. My dad is retired Army and a Vietnam veteran so in his honor I always have to pay my respects to those who never made it home. It could so easily be his name on that wall.
Once I paid my respects, we started our walk back to the metro station and hit some of the major landmarks along the way including the Washington Monument and World War II Memorial. We grabbed the metro, headed back to Betsy's house then all three of us proceeded to our hotel. We dropped off our stuff in our hotel room then went to grab an early dinner. After dinner we drove straight back to our hotel for an early night. We had a 4:00 AM wake-up call in the morning!
Cali in da house!
The alarm went off way too soon and we went through our pre-race rituals before meeting our RFRC contingent in the hotel lobby. Man, do I wish I had a group picture of us in the hotel lobby. Our group had taken over and boy what a boisterous group we were! The energy and excitement was palpable. We all meandered over to the metro stop together and took the metro to the marathon start between the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery. It's humbling to start a race guarded on one side by those who are actively protecting our country and guarded on the other by our fallen heroes.
Ready to run
Of course, the RFRC passed the time before the race start in true form with lots of laughter, silliness and genuine camaraderie. I had such a good time chatting with everyone that the time passed by quickly despite the fact that it was quite chilly.
The ladies before heading to the start line
Soon it was time to start walking towards the start line. We all huddled together as the sun rose and the air around us started to warm up. We got treated to one of the most spectacular race starts that I have ever seen with three skydiving teams jumping down to the start area, each with a large U.S. flag held out for everyone to see, including U.S. Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, decorated Vietnam veteran Ret. Marine Col. John Bates and Ret. Army 1st Class Dana Bowman (a former member of the U.S. Army's elite parachute team, the Golden Knights, and a double amputee). There was not one person who was not emotionally touched and affected by that sight. Following that was the annual flyover start by two Marine Osprey MV-22B signaling the official start of the hand cycle and wheelchair athletes.
As with most large races, the race start was really congested and I had a rough time getting a consistent pace going for the first 2-3 miles. Once I got past the first three miles, my legs were warm and loosened up and I settled into a (way too fast) pace. The first half of the Marine Corps Marathon is considered the hardest part of the race as it's comprised of a lot of small rolling hills which is exactly my cup of tea! I was having the time of my life taking in all of the excitement and energy of my fellow runners, enjoying the gorgeous weather and views along the way, and thanking the Marines who were out there supporting us (every race should have hot guys in uniforms at their aid stations, amirite ladies?!). I was having so much fun that I had a really hard time reeling my pace in and got a bit anxious when I started seeing sub-10:00 min/miles flash on my watch. This was supposed to be my fun race...WTH was I doing "racing"?! By the time I hit the blue mile I could feel the fatigue starting to set in and I made a conscious decision to stop and truly enjoy the experience. So I stopped and walked through the blue mile and truly gave it the respect and reverence it deserved. I took pics, touched each and every photo of our fallen heroes thanking them for their service and sacrifice, and high fived every family member and friend who was out there supporting the runners. It was hard not to get choked up and I was so glad that I decided to stop and fully experience it.
Hits me right in the feels
I may or may not have cried a little
After that, I party paced it while taking photos along the way. Eventually (I think it was around mile 14 or 15) I ran into some of the RFRC ladies and decided to join their group for the rest of the run. Best race decision ever! They were doing 4-1 intervals which suited me just fine and having a heck of a fun time. Lots of photos, lots of high fives and hugs along the way and lots of laughter.
Love these ladies!
Why hello there!
Group pic on the course
Everyone was in great spirits and all we could talk about was getting to Mile 20. See, every year RFRC has our own "aid station" around mile 20 on the MCM course where they have anything and everything that a runner could possibly need at that point in time. They were stocked with cookies, chips, soda, gatorade, candy, water and even some fireball whiskey! All we wanted to do was get to the Mile 20 party!
Before we knew it, we hit mile 20 and turned the corner to hear a ridiculously loud RFRC cheer squad greeting us! In 2012 I was in such a bad place mentally that I completely ran by the mile 20 crew. Not this year! This year I jumped right in for hugs and partook in the best tasting chips and Diet Dr Pepper of my life! Then we proceeded to have a dance party and twerking session. NBD. Totally normal.
RFRC Mile 20 support crew
Freakin' love these weirdos
Dance party at Mile 20
Twerk it out
Unfortunately, the party had to end and we had to go on to "Beat the Bridge" so that we didn't get swept up by the sweeper bus. The remaining 6 miles were a bit of a blur. Almost everyone was struggling a bit at some point, whether mentally or physically, and we were all just supporting each other to get it done. What I do remember is that once we hit the base of the .2 mile hill that took us up to the finish line, we all took off running as fast as our legs & feet could take us. Marie, Maria and I joined hands before the finish line and crossed it together with Tonya and Nasra not too far behind us. We did it! We were MCM finishers! The best part was that we got our medals from active duty Marines who thanked US for being there. It didn't seem quite right so I made sure to thank each and every one of them for their service.
Thank you sir for your service!
We meandered over to the beer tent and somehow made our way through without standing in line (hooray for super secret back entrances) and found some more of our RFRC friends. It was so good to see everyone and hear each of them tell their race story.
Once I found my roomies Betsy and Michele we walked back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out for the traditional RFRC after party. These guys know how to throw a good party! I was laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. I'm claiming that as my ab workout for that day. Seriously though, I absolutely LOVE RFRC (have I mentioned that yet? 'Cuz I do). They are some of the most sincerely kind, generous, big hearted people that I have ever met and every single one of them is truly inspiring.
RFRC after party
Train hard, race hard, party even harder!
I had the time of my life at the Marine Corps Marathon this year. I have no regrets at all and I am so glad I opted to stop, slow down and really enjoy the race. It truly is an amazing experience and a race that every runner should run at least once in their lifetime. I know I'll be back again!
See ya again MCM! Thanks for the memories.