Thursday, October 8, 2015

Better Late Than Never: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler Race Report

[Note: I wrote this post in the weeks after the race, but never finished or published it. I'm running the Army 10-Miler this Sunday so I figure now is a good time to start catching up in the blog!]

Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
Official Time: 2:08:08
Pace: 13:39/mile
Projected 10-mile time: 2:16:31
Place: 1726 out of 1770 Women ages 35-39
Goal Accomplished: Reach, sort of (I finished the race BUT it was only 9.39 miles, not 10!)


Another big race, another Expo/Packet Pick-up! What makes this expo special is that it's held in the National Building Museum, which has one of the loveliest interiors in DC. I hope out-of-towners who came just for the race took a few moments to appreciate the beauty around them as they picked up bibs and t-shirts and shopped for new running gear! Otherwise, the expo was fairly uneventful. I tried on a Fitletic hydration belt (planning to buy one when I'm ready to push my distance beyond 10 miles), and bought a fun reflective shirt that says "Looks like walking, Feels like running."

With my bib, t-shirt, purchases and freebies in-hand, I headed back home in time to stuff my face full of carbs, rest, and hit up 5:00pm mass. I really wanted to avoid having to attend evening mass on Sunday in an exhausted post-race daze like I did after Iron Girl last year, so I'm glad I made it to church on Saturday this time! That night I was up a little later than I'd hoped, but I managed to blog my race goals and get all my gear ready in time to go to sleep earlier than I usually do the night before a race. I consider this progress. Maybe someday I'll actually go to bed EARLY!


I started this race day off better than MCM 10K by not oversleeping. It's amazing what a difference it makes not to be frantic and rushed. :) Once again there was a festive atmoshphere on the Metro heading into DC. It's always fun to see the look of shock on the face of each non-runner who gets on the train, expecting it to be as empty as it usually is at that hour and instead seeing crowds of adrenaline-pumped, overcaffeinated racers!

When it comes to pre-race rituals, I don't have a set routine yet. I'd sketched out a timeline of what I wanted to do once I got downtown, but I was leaving open the possibility of changing everything up by switching to the 5K race if my knee was giving me trouble. Fortunately it turned out to be a "good knee day" and I was able to stick to my plan: porta-potty visit, last fuel (banana), sunscreen application, bag check, obligatory selfies with the Washington Monument in the background, etc. I finished it all with time to spare so I relaxed and tried soaking in the beautiful weather and festive atmosphere.

There was one confusing disruption to the festive atmosphere -- an announcement that due to an emergency situation, part of the course had to be re-routed, resulting in a shorter total distance for the race. It wasn't until later that I learned the emergency was a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle (a motorcycle, I think?) on the race course about an hour before start time. I commend the race officials and park police and everyone else involved who handled the unfortunate circumstance so well and kept the race running smoothly! What didn't register immediately in my brain was that the shorter distance for the race meant a larger cushion with the time cut-off, so I headed to the start still paranoid about being too slow.

The best part about being slow and thus assigned to the last wave at the start was that our wave was PURPLE! I'm always thrilled to be associated with my favorite color in any way, shape, or form. I tried getting as close to the front of the purple wave as possible, to put some room between me and the inevitable sweep bus. When we finally hit the start line and started running, I went out too fast, but didn't realize it. I guess I was just full of nervous energy and terrified of being too slow!

My first clue that I was running too fast was how quickly I felt winded and how soon I needed to take a walk break. However, I misinterpreted this clue and assumed it was merely a sign that I was out of shape and might not be able to finish the race. So after a quick walk break, I resumed running at a faster pace than is normal for me. This soon became a pattern that ultimately would repeat throughout the entire race.

The sweep bus made its first appearance in mile 2 after I'd crossed the Memorial Bridge and was crossing back over into the city. I knew it wasn't right behind me, but it was close enough to make me nervous, and so I kept on with the running-too-fast-and-needing-frequent-short-walk-breaks pattern. It wasn't until I reached mile marker 3 that I looked at my watch, did a little math in my head, and realized that with as many walk breaks as I'd already taken, I HAD to be running much faster than usual to still be making good time. That knowledge helped me relax a little. Then as we headed into the rerouted portion of the course, my newly relaxed brain did a little deductive reasoning and figured out that with a shorter course but the same final cut-off time, we could actually run slightly slower than usual and still make it ahead of the sweep bus. Shortly after this epiphany, a spectator let us know that we were more than halfway through the race, and finally I started to feel confident that I just might finish the whole thing.

Next up was my favorite part of the race. Miles 6-9 were along Hains Point in East Potomac Park, and it was here that we really saw the benefits of running when the cherry blossoms were at peak bloom! The trees lined both sides of the street and formed a canopy to run under in many spots. The sight was breathtaking and many runners were stopping to take pictures along the way! I wish I had taken a few, but I was really focused on continuing to move forward. Now that I knew I probably COULD finish the race, I was becoming determined to do just that. I kept up with the run/walk intervals, setting mini-goals for myself like trying to make it to the next streep lamp or water stop. Many of the back-of-the-pack runners were also doing intervals, so we kept passing each other back and forth. There was a lot of positive energy among us and I was soaking in every bit of the experience.

My knee had held up well throughout the race, but in the last mile my feet were starting to ache and I was definitely feeling the strain of the distance. As we headed back towards the Mall, we had to go uphill a bit which felt particularly painful. Also, at this point in the morning, throngs of tourists had flocked to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms, so there were people everywhere along the sidewalks and crossing the street at random times. So for the entire last mile I pretty much just wanted to be DONE already. Still, once I got within sight of the finish line, I had just enough gas left in my tank to step it up and "sprint," finishing strong.

Given that I hadn't been confident I'd cross that finish line at all, completing the race was an amazing feeling. It doesn't even bother me that I got a little help from the shortened course. In our official results, they told us what our projected finish time was if we'd maintained the same pace for a full 10 miles, and mine was within the maximum allowed time. Of course, it's possible that the only reason I was able to relax and focus and perservere was that I knew I had extra time to work with, so it's not guaranteed that I would have finished the whole race under normal circumstances. At the very least, though, I know that I could have done it -- it was POSSIBLE, even with my slow pace, gimpy knee, and training struggles. That knowledge is enough to boost my confidence and pride in myself.

Now, I'm not sure how to score this race in terms of meeting my goals. I definitely went beyond my "reach" goal, but I technically did not achieve my "whatever I called it" goal because the race was not a full 10 miles. Maybe I'll call it "Reach Plus." Meanwhile, it's still my goal for 2015 to complete a 10-mile race, so there is work still to be done to accomplish that!

In case anyone is curious, I really tried to take better care of myself post-race this time, since I've screwed that up a lot in the past. When I couldn't locate the free food (I think it was mostly gone by the time I finished the race and picked up my medal), I ate a breakfast bar that I'd brought in my bag. I sat on the ground and rested while I ate, but got up and walked to the Metro before I got too stiff and sore. At home I was careful to eat and re-hydrate, but I was still pretty useless for the rest of the day like I normally am after a race. I wasn't quite as worn out as I was after Iron Girl, but definitely moreso than after any other previous long run or race. For the next few days, I was VERY sore (including my right bicep....huh??), but the aches just reminded me of my awesome race experience and made me smile. :)

[This is where I stopped writing so many months ago. I'm not sure why I didn't publish the post -- maybe I wanted to add a summary at the end, or to edit and improve some of the wording throughout. Whatever the reason, it never got published, and I abandoned the blog. I didn't write a pre-Iron Girl post OR a race report, so I really have some catching up to do. At least now I feel like I can close the door on my first 10-miler attempt before I make my second. Army 10-Miler preview post to come tomorrow or Saturday!]

EDIT: PHOTOS!!! I just remembered why I didn't publish this! I was waiting for a good time to sit down and add PHOTOS!!!! SORRY! I even bought some photos from the race. I will try to add them one day soon. Man, I am out of practice with this blogging stuff!!!

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