Monday, April 8, 2013

Race Review: Cherry Blossom Ten Miler

Setting: National Mall and Tidal Basin Washington, DC during the beginning of the cherry blossoms.

Cost/Registration:  Registration is done by a lottery system.  You can guarantee entry into the next year's race if you volunteer.  You can also run for charity to get into the race.  The cost was was customizable which I really liked.  There was a flat fee and then you paid more if you wanted to receive a medal (I opted not to) and if you wanted a dri-fit shirt instead of a cotton shirt (I got the basic cotton).  I thought this was a nice way to keep the cost down for people who may run a lot of races and really don't need to pay more for extra shirts or medals they don't want/need.  

Expo:  The expo was held at the National Building Museum which made it very convenient to get to as there is a metro stop right across the street.  This is a gorgeous building and the vendors were all set up in the grand foyer.  There were plenty of volunteers on hand directing you where to go.  The race organizers tried to lessen the crush of racers all at once at the expo so that created times to come pick up your bib based on the first letter of your last name.  We were the Saturday afternoon time slot and attended then.  I think this really helped as we didn't have to wait in lines and it never felt too busy or crowded.  More races should do that!  After the Expo, we decided to head over to the mall to check on the progress of the blossoms and attend the festivities.  If people travel to town for this race, there is so much going on in the days before and after the race that they would never get bored!

Start:  The start was right on the National Mall.  Again, very easy to get to by metro so parking is not even an issue.  There were 20,000 people running the race so it was pretty crowded on the mall and lines for the bathroom were long (as they are for any race) and port-a-potties were out of toilet paper...ewwww.
It was a cold morning start as well.  We arrived at the staging area by 6:50am.  The sun was not up yet and it was COLD!  I had my arm warmers on and was huddled with other runners for warmth.  Once the sun started to peek over buildings it felt better, but it sure was brisk.  I knew once I got a good pace going I would warm up, but I just had to get there first!
It was a 7:30am start with six waves of approx. 2,500 runners each.  They marked each corral with a color flag that corresponded to your bib, which made it very easy to identify were you need to go. The corral you were assigned to was based on previous race times. All entrants had to provide a past 10-mile time (or a projected time based on a 10K time).  Individuals not submitting a time were placed in the slowest time group.  I was placed in the red corral, which was the second wave which was for a time of 1:12-1:24.  I am not sure if the pace verification really helped at all though.

The start corral was so crowded that I couldn't find room to even squeeze in.  About 100 or so of us were outside the fence standing on the curb with no way to get in.  Once, they sent the first wave and the reds moved up a bit, it created some additional standing room and we were all able to squeeze through the barriers.  I ended up all the way in the back of the red corral, which wasn't where I should have been.  I could see the 8:30 pacer sign way in front of me and knew I would be running faster than that.  A friend I had met in the bathroom line hopped in at the end of the corral right next to me and he was planning on a 7:30 pace, so we discussed that we would definitely have some dodging to to do!  I run with my iphone so that I can use runkeeper to know my time, pacing and gps distance as well as listen to my music.  I got my music set up and was ready to hit start on runkeeper as I crossed the start line, but the app was frozen and I couldn't get it started.  I ran for a half mile with it in my hand waiting for it to unfreeze and it never did.  Instead of wasting anymore time, I decided to put it away and run "naked" with no timing or pacing.  I knew it would be strange, but I told myself I was up for the challenge.  I had NEVER done this training or at a race! 

Course:  The course was mostly waterfront leading from the National Mall, past memorials, over the bridge, around the tidal basin and out to the island point and back.  As I was running this I was thinking it was funny that I will be running almost this same course three times within a two month span.  Rock and Roll DC full, the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and the Nike Women's Half Marathon...crazy!  The cherry blossoms weren't quite at peak, so it would definitely have been much nicer had they been!
I think that there were too many racers in each corral, and many racers were not seeded correctly, because the first five miles was tight and packed!  Much of those early miles I was hoping up on curbs, running around the back of spectators just to keep pace and keep from running into to people and I was not the the only one!  It was madness.  During the miles, I kept asking myself why do I run big races when this seems to happen?  Because it is very stressful!

Once I hit my stride and space opened up a bit, it felt better and got warmer.  I took off my arm sleeves and tried to put them in my stow and go bra, but that wasn't working out so I just decided to carry them.  I was thinking of tossing them, but ended up running the rest of the race with them in my hand.

I wish that I had taken the time to look at the course map and plan out where I would stop for water.  I had a HumaGel with me and decided to take it at mile 4, but wanted water to go with it.  I was apparently in the "zone" because I didn't realize a water stop was coming up until it was almost too late and I cut over to grab water, but I was at the end of that water stop which is where they were serving Gatorade.  I don't do Gatorade, so I ate half of my HumaGel and carried the rest until I got to the next water stop to take the rest with water.  Two water stops during a ten miler was definitely not ideal time wise.  

When we were out on the island, there was a group who had set up their own mock hydration station handing out cups of beer and oreos.  I didn't take any, but I sure thought it was funny.  There was a couple dressed as Ketchup and Mustard cheering on runners with a sign that said, "Runners are beating you, Go Catch Up!"....I yelled to them, "I get it!" and the Mustard yelled back, "Relish the moment!".  I ran a few hundred yards before it really sunk in and I giggled....I got that one a bit late!  Another woman was holding a sign that read, "Holler if you aren't wearing underwear!"...Of course I had to!  I love creative signs and great spectators.  That really added to the course.  Without any family that lives in the area, we never have our own spectators, but I love reading everyone else's signs and pretend they are cheering for me!

As I approached the final mile, it felt like I still had so far to go.  I could tell I had pushed myself because I didn't feel that I had a lot of extra energy to give.  I was also being very conscious of the footing below me.  That part of the race the road was full of potholes!  With my history of spraining my ankle and with the tired state I was in, I knew I had to be extra careful.  I was looking down watching my footing as best I could.   Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream" came on and it gave me a little boost.  As we approached the finish, the final distance was very clearly marked with signs stating 1200m to go, 800m to go and 400m to go.  This was really nice, but that final 800m felt so LONG.  Felt much longer than twice around the track, but I know when I am doing that my legs are fresher!  The final 400m was a gradual uphill, which normally the hill wouldn't have seemed bad, but at that point, anything other than flat was tough....I was running out of gas.  I saw Jim jumping up and down as I got closer to the finish line and that signaled to me that I must have been running a good time....without my runkeeper I had no idea of time or pace.  I saw the clock but new that the time was not accurate for me since I was the back of the second corral.  I tried to sprint to the finish (not my finest sprint) and felt my phone buzz.  The race allowed you to sign up for text alerts telling you your finishing time.  It came through as I was in the shoot and I was able to immediately know my chip time.  VERY NICE!  Chip time came in at a 1:21:17.  Not too shabby.  In fact I was very impressed with myself to average an 8:08 pace with no time or pace of was all based on how my body felt. 

Finish:  The finish area had muffins, water and bananas.  I grabbed a banana and Jim ate a muffin and we headed over to retrieve our bag at bag check.  This race organized bag check a bit differently than previous races where it was based upon your last name.  This was based upon bib number/corral, which didn't work out too well because everyone in the yellow corral for instance all finished around the same time and wanted their bags, where as the slower corrals hadn't finished yet so there was no one in those lines.  This seemed like a poor decision on the race planners part.  Hopefully it gets changed for next year because that was a LONG line to get our bags.  And at this point, I had cooled down and was very cold again.  While waiting in the long bag check line, I ran into another girl I had met in the pre-race bathroom line and we were able to chat for a while.  Her name was Rebecca and she was visiting from Chicago (Hi Rebecca!).  She was very nice, I told her about the blog and I think I convinced her to become a Spin Instructor! :-)

Jim and I didn't stick around after getting our bag because we had to rush home to our babysitter.  Our original babysitter had gotten sick, so her mom had come over at 4:30am to fill in for her, so feeling so badly about that we knew we wanted to get home right away because that was an above and beyond thing to do.

I actually think I could have possibly ran faster.  The day prior to the race could have been titled, "How Not to PR in a Race The Next Day".  I taught a 7am spin class, then participated in a stream clean up hauling huge tires out of a river, then walked a few miles downtown at the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Most training plans advocate for REST the day before a race....whoops!  

Overall, I think this was a great race.  Mostly well organized, fantastic volunteers, great crowd support, beautiful course, and pretty trees (that could have been even prettier).  Plus, it's a Washington tradition.  Groups of Congressman even get together to form teams for the race...the New Hampshire team was "Live Free or Die Running a Ten Miler".  Gotta love it.  I would give this race an A.    The only downside was truly the crowding, but I guess everyone just wants to get in on such a great race.  :-)


  1. I thought It was very crowded too. Great race btw.

    1. Thanks! It was still a great day regardless. I am hoping next year I can solve my crowding issue. I guess I just need to get faster and move up corrals! :-)

  2. Great race recap Colleen! I love how you "work the crowd" while you are running :) The ketchup, mustard and relish joke was great :-P LOL! Congrats on getting a good time! I hope you are all rested up and recovered now!!

  3. Great race! I loved the ketchup and mustard people too!

  4. Loved reading your race recap. The part of the catchup and mustard thing was classic. Awesomeness on the time too! Cheers.