Friday, April 12, 2013

It's spring in our nation's capitol!

Last weekend we headed to one my favorite cities, Washington, DC, so I could run one of my bucket list races, the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I'm not entirely sure why this was a bucket list race, but it's one I really wanted to do. Last year I didn't get into the race (there is a lottery entry), so I was thrilled that I got to run it this year.

We got to DC late Friday morning and headed to our hotel in Arlington. I've been staying on Courthouse Road in Arlington for about a decade for a few reasons. It's a more quiet neighborhood, it's near the metro, and it's next to Ragtime, a West Virginia bar. After dropping our bags at the hotel we headed to my favorite area establishment for lunch - Bayou Bakery. We discovered Bayou Bakery on a trip to DC last year, and I am a touch obsessed. I love everything about it - the atmosphere, the sassy music and the food is to die for. Seriously- the food is amazing. 

After lunch we thought it would be fun to do something touristy, so we headed to Arlington National Cemetery where neither of us had been for years. It was a gorgeous sunny day with temperatures in the 60s, and we had gorgeous views of the city from the Robert E. Lee house at the top of the hill. Arlington is such a poignant place, and it was a nice, quiet way to spend the afternoon.
Gorgeous view from Arlington - I would run across this bridge later in the weekend.
Enjoying a gorgeous sunny day
We followed Arlington with a little shopping in Dupont Circle (which will always remind me of one of my favorite movies - The American President). We then walked to Adams Morgan to a great Peruvian Place, Las Canteras, where we had dinner. This is what I love most about DC - the variety of neighborhoods. In just our first afternoon we walked through a half dozen distinct and vibrant neighborhoods. As a cityphile I find it inspiring.

Saturday morning started with tacos from a District Taco food truck (Bayou Bakery was super crowded, and I needed food stat).  One of the cool things about the Courthouse neighborhood is the farmers' market and bazaar set up outside the courthouse on Saturday mornings. It's a great addition to the community.  We headed out then to another of my favorite DC places - the National Gallery. It was another gorgeous, sunny day, and we walked through the sculpture garden and then to the museum. My favorite painting, Renoir's Girl with a Watering Can, is in the French Impressionist collection. We have a reproduction at home, but there is nothing like seeing the original.

We met a friend and headed to Old Town Alexandria, one of the best areas in metro DC. We did a lot of walking around, and I got to visit Pacers Running Store where I purchased a "we run these towns" shirt. It seemed fitting. I had also forgotten my Jelly Belly sports beans, so I was able to stock up for the race the next morning. Following our Old Town stroll we had frozen custard at The Dairy Godmother (super clever and delicious) in Del-Ray, another vibrant metro DC neighborhood. Dinner followed a few hours later at Faccia Luna in Clarendon. We seriously did have a great DC neighborhood tour.

The race began at 7:30 on Sunday morning, so we were up extremely early and Metro'd over near the Washington Monument where the race was starting. I had my packet mailed to me beforehand which was an extremely convenient option. The race was extremely well organized. The waves for different timed starts were well marked, and there was lots of energy pre-race with music and a fun MC. I was psyched at the start. 

Wearing my husband's jacket to try to stay warm before the race.
It was truly a great experience to run this race in the nation's capitol. As the sun was peaking up behind the U.S. Capitol Building and casting its golden glow on the Washington Monument, it was the perfect time for the National Anthem. I'm often emotional before/during/after races, but I was particularly choked up to be part of it. 

An amazing sunrise over the US Capitol Building

I somehow missed in pre-race communications that this was also the US Women's 10-mile championship as well. The race field was abuzz as the elite women started the race and we all began moving forward slowly waiting for our wave to start.
The Elite Women beginning the US Track and Field 10-mile Championship
I started strong and headed out onto the course. It was a really crowded course, and it took a while for everyone to jockey through and settle into position. While it was busy, it didn't feel like there were too many people. The course headed onto Memorial Bridge toward Arlington, and I got to take in the gorgeous view we'd seen the day before at the Cemetery.

All smiles at the start
The race course was extremely energetic. There were thousands of spectators cheering for runners with signs and cow bells. It never felt boring or lonely. I found myself smiling the entire time. Around the five mile mark there was a thick crowd of spectators because it was relatively near the start/finish. My husband ended up stuck on the right side (I am strictly a left side runner), but he managed to find me and get some great photos around the halfway point.

Excited when I spotted my husband across the street

I didn't realize until later my husband had followed me and took more photos.
While many of the cherry blossom trees had not popped, the course was still beautiful. As in many races the last 3-4 miles were the toughest, and there were fewer spectators on the back end. I am, however, extremely grateful for the cute little guy who set up a deejay station around mile 8 and was rocking some fun. for the runners.

Check out this rock star that carried a flag. Awesome.
I picked up the pace in the last mile. I loved that there were signs indicating the 1200, 800 and 400 meter marks. I always have a hard time judging when I should really turn it on at the end, and that was so helpful. I saw my husband and our friends at the finish and it helped me sprint to the end.

So excited when I saw my cheering section!

Finishing strong.
I loved this race. I beat my goal time, and I felt fantastic. The only real criticism I have is that there were not water/Gatorade stations on both sides of the course. With the extraordinary number of people running it became very difficult to get from one side to the other. Most of the water stations were on the right, and the one time I made my way to the right it was on the left. I had to dodge my way back to the other side. Otherwise I loved it.

Rocking my medal after the race
After the race I grabbed my medal and we walked to Clyde's in Chinatown for brunch. I was once again struck by another vibrant neighborhood with lots of restaurants, shops and things to do. After brunch (and more importantly a bloody mary) we headed back to the hotel for a nap and then later dinner with more friends at their house.

This is what runners do - stretch IT bands in elevators.
This weekend getaway was exactly what we needed after a stressful few months. I loved exploring so many diverse and exciting neighborhoods. We got to spend time with our fabulous friends, and I got to run a race that was fun, well organized and everything my bucket list thought it would be. We also had gorgeous, sunny weather for the entire trip. Now if spring had just followed us back here to Michigan...

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