Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run (sorta)

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 7th Edition 
75.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run (sorta)
Place: Washington, DC
Miles from home: 2798
Weather: 40s; Sunny

Concluding a whirlwind tour of four absolute must-do races in 15 days, found me in my old home of Washington, D.C. this past weekend. We often overlook the most wonderful things under our noses in search of the fantastic elsewhere. The Cherry Blossom Ten Mile definitely fits that bill. To my credit, I did know the race was wonderful when I lived here. I just never made the time to run it. However, with a new book in the works talking about cool races, I knew I finally had to run this iconic race.

I spent the previous days before the race speaking at the expo with noted running legends Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Jen Rhines and others. This is the second time in two weeks I got to see my friend Bill but unfortunately we couldn't carve out time for a run together as we have on other occasions. Would have loved to have taken him to some of my old running haunts here in DC if we could have, not unlike when he visited Portland a few years ago. We did get to share a book signing/autograph session, which was quite fun. I hope the 3 or 4 fans I had did not deter the This is Sparta!-esque legion he had waiting for him.

The weather forecast promised to be absolutely perfect and it did not disappoint. I was staying a few metro stops away from the start of the race and very boldly attempted to use this system to get to the start. I say bold because I probably rode the metro ten times in the four years of DC living. Fortunately, my metro adventure worked out just about perfectly for me as I got to the starting area about 7 minutes before the start. Unfortunately, I had very little time to locate the bathrooms. I also assumed the lines would be beyond long to get in them once I located their whereabouts.  However, as I was thinking about potentially violating 14 DC laws to find a bush and TCB, I happened across a bank of porta-potties which were essentially unmanned. In I went and with 3 minutes to spare was in my starting corral.

Mere seconds before the race started, the organizers announced that just minutes before, an accident involving a pedestrian and a motorcycle occurred on the course.  Because of this, the race needed to be re-routed.  It appeared the course would fall .25-.5 of a mile short of the intended distance.  My two emotions were as such:
1. Well, there goes my attempt at running my first ten mile race ever.
2. Holy mackerel, that is absolutely amazing that with mere minutes to go before the start, the organizers were able to make use of what had to be a contingency plan they probably hoped to never use.

So while the wind was sucked out of my sails a little bit, I was still in awe of the race organization. For a race just shy of 18,000 finishers, THIS is the sort of thing that makes a race a must-do. Forget the bling and the bands. If you know anything about racing, you want people running it who pay attention to the things which matter.

First 10k:

Even with two 10Ks and a 30K prior to this weekend under my belt since April 4th, I was still feeling rather fresh. In fact, I was feeling oodles better than I was in New Orleans last week when I ran a personal worst in the 10k at the Crescent City Classic. I knew the culprit (cat allergies from staying with a friend in Canada) but was unwilling to believe that something so "innocuous" could destroy my lungs so much. Runners, especially those who go pretty far, like to believe in their invincibility. Which is funny because when weather or the course or anything else isn't ideal, we can often become whiny babies. So, while I was feeling better, I knew I wouldn't be running anywhere close to my potential. In addition, while running a 9.5 mile race is just as arbitrary as running a 10 miler, I could tell my heart wouldn't be in this very much. So instead of "racing", I decided to simply enjoy as much as the race as I could, while still putting in a hard effort.

As we ran down the first stretch of road, I pulled to the side a bit. I really don't like to have people around me when I am racing. There is something about wanting my own personal space which is paramount to me. I would probably have been terrible in track meets with more than a few runners. So even in crowded races I find my way to the areas where people are not most of the time.

Once over out of the crowd and after a guy inexplicably decided that he needed to run around me and then immediately cut in front of me (getting a "OK come on." from me) I noticed another runner also seemed to enjoy getting out of the crowd at the start as well. Then I noticed that other runner was Joan Benoit Samuelson. We chatted oh so briefly and then, after running a 6:10 first mile and realizing I didn't wan to run that fast today, I bid her adieu. She ran, at age 57, a fantastic time of 58:56. Dang.

The unaltered portion of the course took us down Independence Ave with the Washington Monument in the background.  After that we passed over the Memorial Bridge toward Arlington Memorial Cemetery. Before even getting two miles into the race, watching the leaders already a full minute or more in front of you can be both awe-inspiring and disheartening at the same time. I went with the former so my ego didn't take too big of a hit. Heading back toward the Lincoln Memorial, massive hordes of people filled the other lanes on the opposite direction. They were just where I had been. I hoped someone was silently cursing me for being so far ahead of them.

Down Rock Creek Parkway and under the Kennedy Center we went.  This overhang for the Center has always struck me as an odd addition limiting any truck of any large size. Perhaps that was the purpose. But it seems to be superficial, overwrought and gets far more attention than it deserves. Hey, just like JFK himself! (These are the things I think about while running.) Pondering this overhand kept my mind off the 180 degree turn we had to make a few hundred yards later. I don't really mind these turns much when I am not too crowded. But in big races, too many people don't seem to understand physics and the two objects can't occupy the same space at the same time theory. That said, going through the 5k in a sub-20 made me feel a little better.

Another 180 degree turn after mile 4 meant we were now going into the area where the course was slightly changed. To be honest, I will have to look up someone else who used their Timex GPS to see where we went because I never turned my on. In fact, I rarely do in races. I am not exactly sure why. I guess I just want to go by feel and run without being hooked up to whatever crutch is out there. It makes me feel more in tune with a race.

Before I knew it, we had run around the Tidal Basin and up the smallest of hills.  I remember this bridge from the 3k I had run on two different occasions when I lived in DC. Memories. Then the mile 6 mile marker appeared and I realized that even accounting for what ever additional mileage which would be added on, my 10k would be faster than both my Crescent City Classic and Cooper River Bridge Run 10ks by over a minute. Crescent City I can blame on cats. Cooper River had me slowed by the bridge and knowing I was running a 30K the next day.  But to best both those times barely halfway through a race shows how odd this sport can be.  It is a fickle mistress, running.

Final 4-ish miles

I knew three of the final four miles were on Hains Point.  I have a love/hate relationship with Hains Point which started when I first began running the Marine Corps Marathon. It is lonesome and fairly exposed to the elements.  In addition mthis portion was always the point where I would begin to tire in the MCM.  But I loved how it had the Awakening statue at its furthest point. That is, of course, until DC moved the statue.  When it was happening I tried to be civic-minded and express my distaste for this. I went as far as to look up the info on the creator and see that he actually had final say on where and when the statue could be moved.  All he had to say was "nay" and it stayed put. Even though I had moved from DC when it was to be moved, I felt a connection to the statue.  Often it was the only thing getting me through this part of the race.

So I wrote to the creator, his agent or publicist and told them how much  I loved where it was.  No answer. Then it was moved.  Bollocks. So now I had no Awakening to look forward to and I was actually dreading this portion of the run.  However, then came the Cherry Blossoms.


To say this changed not on my perspective on this portion of DC, let alone solidified my thoughts that this is a
must-run race, would be an understatement.  For the most part, I do not not care one bit about the scenery of a race. If I am racing hard, I care about where the runners are and where me feet are landing.  The rest of everything is, at most, something I notice for a second.  But as you run down a corridor of cascading petals from hundreds of cherry blossom trees, it felt like a dream. Or the movie Legend.

Here I would have loved to have been racing. I would have loved to be pushing hard.  You see, in a race of this relatively short distance, you should be relatively uncomfortable to mildly uncomfortable and then really uncomfortable at the finish.  The problem with running so many longer distances races it is that it is almost impossible to convince my mind that it is OK to hurt for 30 minutes or so as I will soon be done.  My body puts a governor on pain and says "Nope. We can't do this for 3 hours." The hardest part for me in a race that is shorter distance, other than the complete lack of fast twitch muscle fibers, is overcoming that governor. Fortunately, because I was not racing per se, I afforded myself the opportunity to fully embrace this 5k of beautiful running.  It truly was soft and serene, with sun flitting in and out through the branches, and a slight breeze moving he fallen petals at our feet.  I was almost sad to see it end and take us into the last mile.

But I was ready to be done. I saw if I ran a faster than what I had averaged last mile I could end up with a time of 1:01:xx.  But I saw no real point. I had no idea what the real distance was and whatever it was, it was not the time I would want as my first ten miler. Instead, I waved, high-fived little kids and the enormous headed Presidential mascot of, I think, Thomas Jefferson.

Another really cool aspect that I don't recall in any other race I have run was that in the last mile there was a 1200 meters to go sign, an 800 meters to go and then 400 meters. I am not sure how much that would help many runners who seem to avoid any sort of track workouts at all but I thought it was a fantastic touch.

A slightly cruel but hardly substantial hill with about a quarter of a mile ago loomed in front of us.  I passed more than a few people here and stretched the legs out a bit.  Even when you are supposedly taking it easy, there is something about seeing the finish line that makes you pick up your heels and get your ass going. It was too late for a 1:01 but I was glad to finish in 1:02:12.  This gave me 439th place overall.  But more importantly, of the four Danes in the race, I was tops.  My streak of being undefeated against guys named Dane is still alive.

And that's really what matters.


TWINS RUN in our family said...

Great to meet you at the Expo! One of these days the slower 1/2 of @TwinsRun will write a race recap. ;-)

Kimberly Westrich said...

Great recap! I especially like the part about the Awakening being moved. I, too, was sad when it was moved.