Name of the race: Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run
Where: Washington, D.C.
Date: April 6, 2014
Time: 7:30 am
Distance: 10 miles
Entry fee: $35 (You paid more if you wanted extras like medals and tech shirts. We opted out.)
Swag: Cotton t-shirt
Post-race Food: Bananas, granola, chips, water, and cereal/protein bars
Time: 1:20:38 (PR)
Performance:Overall 3004/17861; Gender 872/10595; Age (F 35-39) 36/123
Weather: 43 F with 6 mph NW winds, 52% humidity
Washington, DC will always be a very special city to us. Two years ago Ben and I went to DC as our second trip (first domestic) together and this year another special event took place. Two years ago we went to DC on a lark to spectate the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler and to go sightseeing. This year, because of my crazy work schedule, we had a mad dash 26.5 hours in our nation’s capital. Ever since I saw the happy and exhausted faces of runners in the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in 2012 I wanted to be a part of the annual “Runners’ Rite of Spring.” I asked Ben if we could do it last fall and as always he answered that anything I wanted to do, he’ll do with me.
When we travel to DC from NYC, we like to go by bus because it’s a lot cheaper than driving (the tolls drive up the price, let alone the gas) and it’s fairly convenient. We buy our tickets far in advance when it’s cheap, but this time we got really lucky somehow because Bolt Bus sold us our tickets for $0 plus a little processing fee. Yes, the tickets were free except for the couple of dollars for processing. Win!
We left NYC around 9:30 am and arrived in DC around 1:30 pm. We had a quick 15-min stop in Delaware for the bathroom, food, and drinks. The ride was quiet and uneventful. I spent the hours doing some work. After arriving in Union Station, we headed to the expo for bib pick up. I had hoped to meet up with some Swirlgear ambassadors, but we arrived a little too late. We got our bibs, shirts, and the clear plastic drop off bags, did a quick perusal of vendors and went to our hotel. We had an early dinner with a couple of my friends. It was really nice to catch up with them, as I had been friends with one of them since high school. As always we had fun reminiscing of old days (Our partners can’t believe that we actually have happy memories of high school, but we did!). Ben planned a lovely surprise later that evening for me (which I’ll share in another post).** Because of the race, we went to bed fairly early.
We woke up at early at 5 am to make sure that we would get to the start line in plenty of time. I was really excited about my race outfit. I proudly wore my pink SwirlGear shirt and my special Lululemon Frangipani Parfait Pink Pacesetter running skirt. The delicate pink blossom design looks just like cherry blossoms. It was very apropos. I received a couple of compliments from other runners during the race, who ran up to me to say, “Nice cherry blossoms,” before they zoomed off. I also wore my white and pink Headsweats visor and pink Forerunner 10 Garmin, so I was very much a vision in pink.
We got some coffee and a croissant for me and joined the thousands of other runners using the Metro to get to the start line near Washington Monument. We weren’t sure which stop we should get off at, but in these situations, following the crowd is the best thing you can do. Ben was super. He dropped off my race bag, found a bathroom with the shortest line for me (they really need to do something the pre-race restroom situation, the line is much too long), and got me a good spot up in a corral.
I was happy and eager to see what I could do. I wasn’t quite sure because I had eased up on training because of work. I figured that I was capable of running between 8:10-8:15 pace, which would have me coming in between 1:21 and 1:22:XX. Even if I came in at 1:23, I would have been satisfied. Ben warned me (as usual) to not start too fast.
When the horn blared, a tidal wave of runner rushed out and crossed the start line. Knowing full well that in a crowded field like this that it was all too easy to get swept up in the excitement and adrenaline rush, I purposefully ran as slowly as I could manage. I kept a sharp eye on my Garmin to look at my pace. With each glance, I saw that my pace was much too fast and I slowed down even more. With everyone flying past me, I thought I was CRAWLING!!!! Finally my pace slowed down to 8:15 and I stayed at that pace even though I was really tempted to go faster. I couldn’t believe what a huge difference a race atmosphere makes. An 8:15 pace in a training run can feel rather tough and hard, and I really need to push myself to run at that pace. In race, however, pffff! It’s a breeze! My legs were dying to run faster. But for once, I really forced myself to keep it slow. I wasn’t treating the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler like an important goal race, so I didn’t have the worry in the back of my head that I wouldn’t make my goal time and therefore the really bad urge to “bank” time up front was minimized.
The first six miles of the Cherry Blossom race are tons of run. I didn’t really look at the course map (I know, I’m bad) beforehand, so I didn’t know the exact layout of the route, but I knew that I would have a couple chances to see Ben while out on the course. I didn’t run the best tangents the first couple of miles because the crowd was so thick, but I didn’t worry about it and just did the best I could. Our first opportunity to see each other was over Memorial Bridge. I saw the elite runners tearing down the other side, so I knew Ben would be coming along in a few minutes. I moved over closer to the median to look for Ben and to make it easier for Ben to spot me. He found me first and yelled that I was doing great. I eagerly waved back.
The course really is flat except for the small elevation change (up and down) as you cross the bridge and the small hill at the end (more on this later). I noticed the small incline as we ran over the bridge, but really it’s not much. I would still call it flat.
The second opportunity for us to see each other came around 2.X for me and 3.X for Ben. Again he found me first and yelled to get my attention. The third possible opportunity would have been around Mile 4, but at the paces that we were going at, Ben left the area before I got there.
I felt good when I reached the halfway point at Mile 5. I was gradually running faster and pleased to see that I didn’t feel wiped out. The best part of the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, in my opinion, is the group of Taiko drummers. I could hear them long before I could see them. The deep throbbing resounding drumming pumped more adrenaline and my legs flew even faster. You could feel the excitement of the other runners and it was contagious. Cries of “Yay, drummers! Go drummers!” roared out of us despite the creeping fatigue. At that moment, the drums drummed the fatigue out of our bodies. We ran like we had just started. I waved my arms and pumped my fist as I ran by the drummers. I would like to think that they got a little pumped by me and drummed harder because of my enthusiasm.
The most tedious part of the race is from Mile 6 to Mile 9. As I rounded Hains Point, I slammed into some headwind. I tried to draft some other runners, but it didn’t do much good. There were very few runners at my pace and at some point the wind switched directions so that it was a somewhat strong crosswind. During this stretch of the race, there’s very little going on. There were few spectators and amusements. Someone set up a boombox, so I heard a little bit of music. Another group handed beer and Oreos (I passed, but other runners did not). But really, not much was there. If the weather had warmed up a bit sooner, this stretch would have been glorious because it’s lined with cherry trees. The blossoms would have created a flowery bough over the route and I would have drank in its beauty. But that Sunday, the buds were still tightly closed, as if guarding a precious secret. In lieu of nature and entertainment, I distracted myself by looking at other runners and ruminating over an upsetting matter that happened a couple days prior. Let me give you a little secret to great running – Run mad. Whenever I felt tired or felt like slowing down, I thought about the upsetting incident and stormed on faster. Believe me, no gel or energy drink gives you as much burst of energy as fury does.
Finally I saw the sign for Mile 9. I raised my arms and yelled, “Woohoo! LAST MIIIIILLLLLLEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!” Runners who were right next to me turned their heads and stared in silent disbelief. I’m sure they were thinking that if I had enough energy to yell that then I hadn’t been running hard enough. Ha! I was just so happy to see that it was almost over. I was tired, hungry, and looking forward to having a good brunch with Ben.
When I saw Washington Monument looming in the horizon, I knew the finish line was near. In the last quarter mile, there’s one last incline. Again, it’s a small incline, but we’re tired and just not in the mood to put up with it. If you ever listen to Ben describe it, you would have thought that they put Mt Everest there (ok, I’m exaggerating what Ben said, but just barely). Up over the hill, around a small turn, and I’m running through a tunnel of spectators. Thick rows of onlookers cheered from both sides. I remembered standing there and being one of the spectators two years ago. Now I was one of the runners. Out of nowhere, I heard Ben’s voice cheering and yelling that I could beat 1:21 on the time clock. I raised my head and saw the finish line. I picked up my legs and sprinted down, just like all those training runs where I practiced my kick. I crossed a couple seconds before the time clock said 1:21. I knew for sure I was under because I hadn’t crossed the start line right line.
My final time was 1:20:38 (average pace 8:04), which is a brand new shiny PR. I was super psyched about my performance because my average pace was so much faster than what I had anticipated. PLUS for the first time in my life, I did not start too fast. My first three miles were the slowest miles and I slowly picked up speed and maintained it.
I have a bad habit of starting too fast and fading in the last part of the race. I’ve been working on mitigating the fade. Seeing that I can still run well at the end of the race if I don’t start too fast gives me confidence in slowing down at the start of future races. When I’m racing for a new PR (especially one that I’ve trained for), I feel anxious about getting tired at the end of the race and slowing down. So then I have this terrible temptation to run even faster in the beginning to “bank time.” Only this is not good race strategy and energy levels and running doesn’t work that way.
I took my Simple Hydration bottle with me and filled it with Gatorade. Even though the race offers it, I can’t drink Gatorade out of cups. I spill it all over myself even though I squeeze the cup into a little funnel. I started drinking it just after Mile 5 and it worked really well in keeping me hydrated and giving me some calories to keep running til the end.
We got my stuff, grabbed some snacks, and headed back to the hotel. We cleaned up and napped before we went to our DC Mexican brunch place where we proceeded to devour all the food. When our appetites were satiated, we caught the 4 pm Megabus to NYC. It was a memorable spring weekend.
I love that there was an app that allowed me to check what my results were quickly. One of the coolest things about the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is RunPix, a company that creates infographics about your race performance. It’s sooo cool and so much fun to look at.
I could see how well I did relative to all racers, to other women, and in my age group.
How fast I was going and who was around me when I crossed the finish line
Where I was when the overall winner finished (first female winner, and my age group winner).
My favorite piece of info – Where I was when my Ben crossed the finish line.
**We got engaged! Another post coming soon!