This was an extremely last-minute decision.
Three weeks ago, I felt like it had been forever since I last ran a race. Technically, this wasn't true - Cherry Blossom was in April; Phoenix, February - but I think I had a series of weeks (months?) there in late summer where I just felt really cooped up, stressed, and stifled for a lot of reasons. (Bar studying being one of them. July was rough.) I knew the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon was coming up, but by the time late August rolled around the prices were pretty high and I figured I had missed out on the opportunity to run.
But I honestly kept having this craving for a good race and everything that comes with it: the nervous thrill of the starting line, the joys of seeing all of the signs and cheering friends & family, overhearing excited conversations and muttered out-loud pace calculations, intense competition, the city in the early morning light. I really missed the unmatched feeling of that last half-mile or so, when the crowds grow thick and the finish line is in sight and the pain just kind of fades away for a brief second while you sprint to the end. I LOVE RACES. And I thought I had missed this one - until, serendipitously, a chance at a super-discounted entry fee popped up just two & a half weeks before race day. It was totally a sign (/answer to a prayer?), and I totally took it.
The expo was a little different - instead of a convention center, it was inside the Nationals stadium. It was very small - only a few sponsors for this race - but really fast and friendly.
I felt a special sentimentality for this race because of the military focus. When I signed up, I got to register as a military dependent and received a little bit of special recognition on race day with many other military family members. I thought of my dad the whole time. Also, the very first wave belonged to a group of Wounded Warriors, and I legitimately teared up watching them line up at the start and then sprint away at the ring of the Navy bell. So inspiring.
Obviously, I was not well-trained for this. Though I run pretty consistently, I was only able to fit in three (not-long-enough-)long runs (6, 8, & 10) in the short time leading up to the race. Sunday morning dawned cloudy, hot, and humid, which is a bad combination for me. I biked to the start line, but my bike ended up with something of a flat tire about two blocks away, so I ended up doing a mad awkward walk/run/pull-the-bike-along situation in order to get to my corral on time....which meant I showed up with already-exhausted quads. ha! Terrible recipe for a race.
Sure enough, it was slow. But all of my favorite ingredients were there - the crowds, the signs, the music, the sunrise, the athletes. I love DC races because the course is always pretty much the same (Hains Point, Arlington Bridge, under the Kennedy Center, up to Rock Creek Park, then back to the Mall) but there are multiple out-and-back points where the road is split and the leaders of the pack are sprinting back down the other side from you. I love being able to see and cheer for the athletes blazing past who are almost certainly going to win or place - so inspiring. (and humbling!)
For a large portion of those thirteen miles, I just kept thinking how grateful I was to be running. I'm so grateful for health; for a family that raised me to value strength and ability over appearance; for a husband that loves to be active as much as I do; for a body that can get out there and run thirteen miles on less-than-ideal training, no problem. My legs definitely can't fit into size 0 jeans, but who the hell cares, because they can walk out the door and run for a damn near effortless eight miles on a random Saturday simply because I'm craving a good hard run. I know sometimes I don't shut up about it, but I swear running is infinitely superior to any other kind of therapy. It is my one absolute guarantee for good mental health, and I'm so grateful for it.
^ Cue an extremely stereotypical, embarrassing gym-mirror photo, solely because I was so grateful at that minute to be healthy and able to be in the gym. Race on, friends.