Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cherry Blossom Race Report

If you've ever read Miles and Laurel, you probably know that I love running in other cities as a way to explore those new places. I also love running races in other cities: to have the chance to run a route I couldn't configure on my own, to get a feel for the running community in each place, to see what's universal and what's unique.

When my dear friend Nat asked me months ago if I wanted to put my name into the lottery for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, I jumped at the chance (I was so excited that I probably literally jumped). I already loved many things about this race: its old-school, low-frills-in-a-good-way charm, its $40 entry fee, the prospect of seeing cherry blossoms along the course, the idea of running with my friend. We were both selected, along with Nat's husband, Mike, and I booked my flight not long after!

I had considered making this a goal race of sorts and started incorporating speedwork and building up my long runs, but a medley of winter-related reasons threw wrenches in both of our training plans. I think I did hit 10 or 11 miles for a long run at least once and did several in the 8 to 9 mile range, so I was prepared to complete the distance, but not exactly to race the distance. I think Nat and Mike and I were all on the same page, so our plan for the race was a relaxed one.

That opened the door to really enjoy the time leading up to the race, rather than trying to stay off our feet to rest up, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. We walked all over town on Friday, including a stop at one museum, and went on a cherry blossom interpretive run with a park ranger on Saturday (more on this soon). We walked past the Washington Monument, basically the start area for Sunday's race, and I tried to picture what it would look like with 17,000 runners milling around. On Friday, we grabbed our race packets at the expo, which (of course) was at a beautiful historic building: the National Building Museum. It was much prettier than any other expo venue I'd ever seen!

Nat and I got our bibs and finisher t-shirts, looked at those pretty sparkly headbands but didn't buy, and were so tuckered out from all the walking that day that we hopped on the Metro back to her home and took naps.

It might not have been until Saturday that we figured out that this would be our first race together. What?! Nat and I became friends because we ran cross-country together in college, but we never actually raced together then (and even if we would've, it wouldn't have been the chatty kind of running). Nearly a full 10 years after we first met, I felt so lucky to be running this race with her.

I also felt so lucky for the weather forecast. Sunday's high ended up in the low 70s, but the morning started out sunny and in the low 40s. This is basically my dream racing temperature. Because we jogged 15 minutes over to the starting line, we skipped bag check, so I started with a long-sleeved t-shirt on mostly so I wouldn't get too cold after the race. I was in my tank top by mile 3. I also wore my very stylish running pouch (not a fanny pack) to hold my camera, since our plan was to stroll around to see some of the monuments after the race.

Here we are near the starting line, complete with Washington Monument and cherry tree in the background!

We hopped into the starting corrals in time for our start, a few minutes after 7:30. The course winds past the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial. It also meanders along the Tidal Basin, the body of water in DC that's also the site of so many cherry trees. Because of this year's late peak, they still weren't in full bloom, but with some trees blooming, it was still beautiful - and you could get a glimpse of how amazing it would be once peak bloom comes around.

Of course, running past national memorials is new to me:

There was a headwind that was tough at some times, but the sunshine was great.

We ran at a relaxed pace for most of the race and started to pick it up in the last few miles, which coincided with the headwind. I was starting to get tired, but had the cherry blossoms to distract me, as well as my two friends running next to me. We each took turns pointing out our favorite dogs along the course. We also enjoyed the spectators' signs, including one that said my name and one that said WISH'S name (except it was really "WISH" in huge letters with each runner's name in smaller letters, but of course, I pretended he was really there). Late in the race, there were two spectators dressed up as ketchup and mustard holding signs with glorious puns on them: something like "CATCH UP to the next runner" and something about RELISHing the race experience. (Obviously, I loved this.)

And then we were approaching the finish line! There is a big hill leading up to the line and I wasn't in a position to really pick it up at that point, but Nat and her husband kicked it into high gear up the hill and I was totally fine with motoring in a little slower. Then Natty turned around and waited for me, and we were both beaming as we crossed the finish line.

I think our pace ended up being in the low 9:00s (maybe 9:10?) per mile. We made our way through the finish line crowds, grabbed bottles of water, and started the walk home.

I looked back for one more peek at the post-race crowd:

During the trek home, I had my traditional post-race soda on the brain. But we started chatting about favorite post-race recovery food and drink, and someone mentioned chocolate milk, and it was all over. When we stopped for a few groceries for brunch, I ended up with this.

I bought some soda, too, but chocolate milk really is the best thing ever. Then it was time for brunch with some of Nat and Mike's friends. (Really good post-race celebration idea!)

There are few reasons why I would ever purchase photos that companies take of runners during races, but when Natty alerted me that ours were online, I decided I might have to buy from this one. It seems like the photographers rarely catch really positive race emotions, although it's possible that my racing ensemble usually just includes a charming perma-grimace. But on Sunday, nearly every photo they captured is of us laughing and smiling, even when we were tired at the end. I was so thrilled to be able to run this race with my friends.


  1. Your friends were SO charmed at being able to run this with you Becs! We loved having you here and I adore those pictures and your recap; I'm so glad you wrote it because, well...just because! Here's to a great weekend and to future prospects of doing this with a couple of other gals out there {Fence-en-ator! Stafford!!}.