I woke up at 5:00 am on Sunday in preparation for running the 42nd annual Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in D.C.
The race, dubbed the “runners rite of spring”, typically occurs during what should be the peak bloom period of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin near the National Mall.
Mother Nature held onto winter with such relentless claws this year, so I was convinced spring never arrive, and planning for this even seemed quite futile. The cherry blossoms seemed destined to never show their beautiful blooms.
Each year I’ve lived here, I’ve vowed to run the Cherry Blossom race, and each year I’ve subsequently somehow forgotten to enter the lottery. This year was no exception, and by the time I checked to see my eligibility to enter, I’d one again missed the date to sign up.
Fortunately, a co-worker who wasn’t so lapse received an entry, but ultimately decided she didn’t want to run the race. She offered up her place to the quickest person to answer her request, and I snatched it up with vehemence!
The race starts via a corral system. For those not familiar, in this format, you will sign up based on an anticipated finishing time. Faster runners will start ahead of the slower runners, and everyone’s exact start time will be staggered based on their expected pace per mile. The lag between corrals can vary, but will typically be between 30 seconds to a few minutes in length.
My co-worker signed up for the slowest corral of the entire race, anticipating running about an 11+ minute/mile pace. With nearly 30,000 participants, and 6 corral starts with almost 5 minutes between waves, this meant I was slated to start the race a good 30 minutes after the fastest runners had already taken off. Fortunately, this delay doesn’t factor into a final race time, since the chip you wear will only start recording your time once you actually cross the starting line.
For a runner who typically runs an 8:00 to 8:30/mile pace, starting with a group of runners who run much slower meant the first 4+ miles of the race would have better been dubbed the “Dodge the Cherry Blossom Trees Trail Run” for me.
Once I crossed the start line, I found myself running in between, up and down, and all around people just to try to maintain my pace.
Anytime I found a solid path, it would soon be closed off by a slower person. I tried running along the pathways off to the side of the main roads, but would find myself dodging the low hanging branches of the soon-to-bloom cherry blossom trees. I ran along narrow curbs and even found myself a good several feet from the actual route at times, just to obtain some berth on the main crowds.
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in my adventure, as many other runners were right beside me, slinking in and out of rows of other people, trying to advance to a faster place in the race. I endured countless elbow jabs from competitors to my arms, upper body, and face (depending on the height of the assailant). One girl even went as far as to literally push me out of her way as I passed her.
I’m sure my bursting, bounding, and complicated running style thoroughly annoyed plenty of runners along the way. I don’t feel too badly for my actions though – I would venture for every person such as myself, scrambling to make if from the back of the pack towards the front, there were equal numbers of people who inaccurately predicted a running pace that was much faster than their actual capabilities, who were simply just in the way.
Ultimately, despite the road blocks and restrictions, I finished in a decent time (1:22 chip time with an average of 8:13/mile). Though not my fastest race, I did manage to slightly surpass my time for the Baltimore 10 miler last June, back when I felt I was at the peak of my running performance. And had I been in a more accurately timed corral, I’m certain I would have finished at least 10-20 seconds faster, if not more.
Since I’m running while injured right now, the most enjoyable part of the race for me was that my IT band actually felt BETTER as the race went on. In fact, between mile 7 – 8 I distinctly remember thinking, “Hey, my left leg DOESN’T hurt right now!”
Of course relief only lasted about a 1/2 mile before the familiar nagging pressure/pain feeling returned. But feeling as though I had some decent running capacity for the majority of the run and knowing I ran my last 2 miles at sub 8:00/mile hopefully indicates I’m on the mend!
I’ve always had a distinct love/hate relationship with running. I love the feeling of accomplishment, especially after a particularly grueling run. I hate waking up early to exercise or feeling as though I “have” to run a certain number of miles per day or week to maintain fitness. I love achieving a personal record for a specific distance or course, but I hate when I don’t run faster than I did for the previous race.
Today, the things I loved were running around the beautiful sights of D.C. while keeping the Washington Monument in sight pretty much at all times as my marker of progress,
The pretty cherry blossoms, that are so close to blooming,
And my wonderful husband who endured the cold and wind to come out and cheer me on, and then promptly fell asleep on the Metro ride home.
The hate portions were waking up at 5:00 am,
The pain from my IT band,
The bitter cold at the start,
And the nagging voice in my head that tells me I should run faster (even though I know I’m injured and need to take it easy.)
In all, the race proved to be every bit what I was hoping it would be.
And nothing beats resting up afterwards with this little girl…
Now, time to decide on the next race…