We all love symbols. Tattoos are symbols. Flags are symbols. Words are even symbols. We communicate via symbols every day. It’s how we take what’s inside our brains and our souls and share it with other people. Symbols are an essential part of community, and this run is full of symbols.

The run itself is a big symbol, running across the country, from ocean to ocean, covering every inch by foot. It’s not just the massive mileage it’s going to take to do it, heck that was what this was for I could just stay in sunny SoCal and run 35 miles every day. It’s symbolic. It’s symbolic of me reconnecting to my country. It’s symbolic of me transitioning from the Marine Corps to whatever is next in my life.

My starting and ending points are important. I’m starting the run in San Diego, home to Team Hoyt San Diego on the anniversary weekend of their very first race. I’m ending in Virginia Beach, home to the very first chapter of Team Hoyt, on my Team Hoyt anniversary race. I ran my very first Team Hoyt race at the Wicked 10k in 2011. I’ll explain more in a blog later about what Team Hoyt means to me, but in this context Team Hoyt was what made Virginia Beach feel like home. I grew up in a tiny little town in Illinois. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house on a dirt road. I can probably still tell you the middle names of everyone I graduate high school left. When I left for college and then the Marine Corps, I was chronically homesick. Sure, I love travelling and adventure, but I’m nester at heart. I need a community, a routine, familiarity. I need that small-town feel, even in the big city. Team Hoyt Virginia Beach gave me that. When I got orders to San Diego, I thought about resigning. I couldn’t leave another home. As fate would have it, Team Hoyt San Diego was founded. So I went to San Diego. I traded my ocean sunrises for ocean sunsets. Different climate, different people, but it was the same community I so desperately needed. Now I get to trade my sunsets for sunrises, and head back to my Team Hoyt home.

Speaking of home, my route is also symbolic. We’ll be covering the first two thirds of the run along historic Route 66. Historically this is route brought people to the west, to new lands, new adventure, new beginnings. It also was an infrastructural reminder of the dangers and restrictions for people of color during the Jim Crow era.

I’ll cross into my home state on the 22nd, exactly 2 months after I begin the journey. 22 is a powerful number itself I’ll be sure to harvest that energy on Oct 22 when I run my 9th Marine Corps Marathon with Bella (our 5th time together!) Side note: the MCM was my very first marathon. I, of course, said I'd never do it again. Ha!

My logos, of course, are symbolic. The bird logo for Run Free, the non-profit founded to support this run features two birds on tennis shoes. The birds are an obvious nod to the freedom often associated with flying, but also a nod to Anna Judd – one of my biggest inspirations for the run. Her transcontinental run in 2014 featured a bird logo. The two birds symbolize the power of a team, specifically the duo teams found in Team Hoyt and Ainsley’s Angels organizations across the country. If you look closely one of the birds only has one leg – because well sometimes we look or act a little different than “normal.” Still, together with a good pair of shoes, the duo can “Run Free.” The logo for the run, the multicolored flag overlaid on the outline of the United States, represents the organizations I’m supporting. The gold is for gold star families, the green for Warrior Expeditions, the pink for Ainsley's Angels, the blue for Mission Continues and Team Hoyt San Diego, the red for Team Hoyt VB, and the brown for the Farmer's Veterans Coalition. Each band represents one of the organizations I’ll be raising money for. Finally, the mantra of my run – “with grace, gratitude, and grit” outlines the way I’m going to approach every mile. Anyone who has done distance with me knows I can get pretty cranky, frustrated, and frankly rude, and often to the very people trying to support me. My favorite was during mile 75 or so of my first 100 miler. My friend Eric gently says “You can do it Maggie.” To which I snapped back “Don’t motivate me. I f’ing know I can do it. I’m 75 miles in do you think I’m going to quit? Do you think you telling me I can goddam do it would stop me? Just go. Run ahead I don’t even want to look at your face or hear you breathing anymore.” Add a couple more f bombs in there would probably be more accurate. In other words, I become grace-less and most certainly don’t exhibit gratitude. Of course, I’m tired and understandably cranky. But as I’ve repeated before, nobody cares who you are when you’re fresh.

I will cease to be “fresh” around midday Sunday. So that mantra is to remind me to give gratitude, act with grace, and move forward with grit. It’s what (hopefully) will fuel me through the gruel. And it sounded better than passion, persistence, and pizza.

So those are my symbols, the things I’ll look to for strength and comfort when I’m in so much pain, and the things I’ll look to to remind me of what I’m trying to do and why I wanted to do it in the first place.