Thousands of runners gathered Saturday for the 26th annual United States Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.

Supporters cheered from the sidelines as participants from around the country and world crossed the finish line near the U.S. Air Force Museum.

Rene Aldrich traveled from Nashville, Tenn., to run in Saturday’s race. She said this was her first time participating in the U.S. Air Force Marathon, but it’s something she’s wanted to do for years.

“I love everything aviation, so it’s really special to be here,” she said.

ExplorePHOTOS: 26th Air Force Marathon

Aldrich, who is a pilot, said she’s been a fan of flying for her entire life. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love airplanes. My parents said when I was two, I had this airplane pull-toy and I played with it until the wheels came off. I was inconsolable until they bought me another one,” she said. “I was also obsessed with the movie Top Gun.”

Unsure about the possibility of pursuing a career in aviation, Aldrich went to school for engineering. “As far as I knew, (becoming a pilot) wasn’t something that women did,” she said. It wasn’t until 2008 that she earned her private pilot license, obtaining her multi license three years later in 2011.

Aldrich said she hopes to return to run the marathon again someday, noting that she enjoyed the course.

“There are rural parts of the course that are scenic and pretty, it was gorgeous this morning with the sun coming up and the fog,” she said. “Running through the campus here was interesting, too.”

Lynee Miller beamed with pride as she went to congratulate her son, Ethan Stein, who was cooling down after finishing the race early Saturday afternoon. Miller and Stein, who is part of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Kentucky, traveled to Dayton from Burlington, Ky., for the race.

“I’m on top of the moon. (I’m so proud), not only of Ethan’s internal desire to be the best runner he can be, but because he is just as strong of a Christian and just as strong of a future leader in the military,” Miller said.

The annual event attracts runners from near and far, with some participants returning year after year.

David Clark of Louisville, Ky., said he has run in the Air Force marathon for the past five years. At 37 years old, Clark has been a member of the U.S. Air Force for the past 18 years. His job within the Air Force, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, involves packing parachutes for C-130 aircraft.

Clark said he keeps coming back for the marathon because he appreciates the location and how the event is organized. He said the course was a bit challenging in spots, but that he was still happy with his finish time.

“The course was really hilly, but I got my second best time and I haven’t run all year,” he said.

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