Hello my friends! As you know, yesterday I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler! This race is one of my absolute favorites, and this year was especially beautiful thanks to blue skies and the cherry blossoms in full bloom!
This was my third time running this race (here’s my 2010 recap and my 2013 recap), but actually the first time that I’ve run it with the cherry blossoms out in all their glory. How gorgeous is this?!
I was originally planning to run the race with friends and not worry about pace; I’m doing the GW Parkway Classic 10 miler in 2 weeks, and was planning to try to race that one, instead. But then, unfortunately, my running buddies had to pull out – Ashley got injured last week and Kathleen had to work last minute. Bummer. 🙁 Solo it was!
When I found out on Saturday that I’d be running alone on Sunday morning, I decided to use it as an opportunity to race. It had been a REALLY long time since I’d actually raced a race – I’ve done a ton of races in the past couple years, but after the Richmond Marathon (fall 2013) and then the LA Marathon (March 2014) I was pretty burned out. As a result, the races I did between then and now (you can see all the races I’ve done and my finish times/PRs over on my running page, fyi) I focused instead on just having a good time! I ran with friends, took in the scenery, and didn’t worry about trying to set a new PR (personal record).
Full marathon training had also taken a toll on my speed, and I found myself struggling to do races/regular runs anywhere near the PR paces I’d set in the spring of 2013 (7:53 pace at the 2013 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and 7:54 at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon), even when I tried.
Recently, whenever anyone asked me about my race PRs, I would tell them, but always with the caveat that “that was really fast for me” and “two years ago” and “I wasn’t sure I could do that anymore.” Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe I had just had two really good races, and I wouldn’t be able to get back to that pace anymore. Maybe I didn’t want to try and disappoint myself.
As you know, I joined a Potomac River Running track group this spring, but over the past few months a bunch of the practices were snowed/iced out, and I was traveling a lot, too. As a result, the coaches and I still didn’t really have a good idea of what my threshold pace was and where I stood in terms of ability. I’d been feeling good at practice lately, but my longer runs hadn’t been super fast, at least until last weekend’s great 8 miler with Matt.
All that to say, I had no idea what I’d be able to do yesterday, but for the first time in 2 years, I wanted to actually try and find out. Even if I couldn’t PR, at least I’d know where I stood – and even better, I’d know I really gave it a shot. Let’s do this, legs. Bring it on.
The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler is really well organized, but also large, and I’ve learned in the past that the best approach with large DC races is to arrive ridiculously early unless you want to be stressed out/miss your wave start. I was up at 5:30, ate some sprouted grain bread with maple almond butter and sliced banana, and out the door by 6:10. I brought the other half of the (enormous) banana with me to eat at the starting line.
The race started at 7:30; traffic was light and Matt was extremely nice and won husband of the year by offering me a ride downtown. 🙂 The sunrise was gorgeous – it was going to be a perfect day for running!
I was there by 6:30 and had the entire place practically to myself. Perfect – no stress and no portapotty lines, either.
I had time to hit the portapotty twice, check my bag, and take a pre-race photo for Instagram (priorities) before heading over to the starting line. I was in my corral, ready to go, by 7:10. I need to get to races absurdly early more often, I think – it was so relaxing!
I wore a coat in the morning until checking my bag (which was easy/super well organized – thumbs up to the race organizers), then used my favorite trick to keep my arms warm while waiting in the corral before the start – cutting the toes off an old throwaway pair of Matt’s socks.
I was in the red wave, which was wave 2, right after the elite wave start. While waiting in the corrals, we heard an announcement that the race was unfortunately going to be shortened last minute by about 0.5 miles due to an incident on the course that required police to block off the area. I found out later that it apparently involved a pedestrian being hit by a car in the early morning. So sad – I hope they are okay! 🙁
This meant that the race would now be roughly 9.5 miles instead of 10. I was really impressed with how well the race handled it, changing the course last minute. Disappointing that this meant the race was no longer 10 miles, but they had to do what worked!
Before I knew it, it was time to start! Wave 1 headed off and Wave 2 was advanced to the start line. There were about 3 minutes in between waves.
And we’re off!
When I race a race, I always aim to start out as close to my goal pace as possible, then hold that the whole time, and do the last mile a little faster if I have any gas left. If I start out too fast, I’ll crash and burn, and I don’t like trying to start out slower than my goal pace and try to speed up to make up time later. I was aiming for around 7:50ish minute/miles, so I tried to settle in there. It was crowded, but I seemed to have started in the right area of the corral because I felt like everyone around me was right around the same pace.
Right away, I felt strong. The pace felt hard but not unmanageable, and I was breathing heavy but I felt like I could maintain it, so long as I stayed in the game mentally.
- Mile 1: 7:46
- Mile 2: 7:50
This race is a great PR course because it’s nice and flat, and the weather was perfect for racing – cool but sunny, which always cheers me up. Anytime I felt myself wanting to slow down a little, I reminded myself that it’s not supposed to feel easy. It’s okay to feel a little uncomfortable – just keep it up. I could do this!
- Mile 3: 7:44
- Mile 4: 7:58
I knew that around mile 6 we would head into Hains Point. This is normally kind of a boring part of DC races – it’s quite long and goes on longer than you think it will – but I don’t mind it because it’s right by the water and so pretty. And this time, we had the cherry blossoms guiding our way!
By this point I still felt strong and couldn’t believe that I was actually on track to do a race at a sub-8 minute mile again, for the first time in 2 years. Perhaps I had just needed to believe in myself a little – and really push myself. Just keep it up, Anne, just keep it up!
- Mile 5: 7:58
- Mile 6: 7:51
I have splits set up on my watch (I have the Gamin 910XT and love it) so that each mile it makes a sound and pops up with my pace for the previous mile. So helpful during races to make sure I’m staying on track! (Here’s how to set mile splits on a Garmin watch.) As for hydration, I had my Nathan Intensity vest on so I took constant sips from that during the race and stayed out of the way/avoided the water stops. I also slowly ate about 3/4 of a Clif Shot gel (mocha, with caffeine) from miles 4 to 8 before deciding I was done with it. I don’t like eating it all at once because it is a little bit much for my stomach.
I couldn’t get over how pretty the cherry blossoms were! Spring in DC is the best.. so happy winter is over! I continued to take in the sunshine and views and push myself to hold my pace anytime I felt myself slowing down a little. I would not give up!
- Mile 7: 7:47
- Mile 8: 7:53
Around mile 8 or 9, my favorite drum band was there to cheer us on! Love these guys – always so motivating. They were apparently out on the course at Rock ‘n’ Roll DC this year but only on the full marathon course, so I missed them! I always look forward to seeing them in DC races. 🙂
By the time we were nearing the end of Hains Point, I was feeling tired but strong, and I knew I could dial things up a little bit. Only a little longer to go – I could do this for only 15 more minutes, right?
- Mile 9: 7:38
I knew that with the course being short, we’d finish at about mile 9.5 on my watch. There was some slight uphill at the end that was tough but I really worked to make the last half mile an awesome one. Only a little while longer! I love saying to myself things like “only 2 more laps around the track” to make it sound more manageable. I also think this is where my speed sessions paid off – I focused on my form and on the tips my coaches have given me throughout the race, but especially on that uphill at the end. I shortened my stride, made sure to keep my hands down, and powered up it.
- Last 0.5 mile nubbin pace: 7:32
Woohoo – the finish line!!
According to my watch, the course ended up being 9.47 miles and my average pace/mile was 7:49, which would have been a new PR for me, so I’m going to count it! We’re still waiting on the official results – they are going to give us projected 10 mile finish times, as well as our exact distance/pace for what we ran. Either way, I was so proud of myself – I hadn’t seen a 7:xx average pace on my watch after a race in a LONG time!
This race got me really excited about getting back on the racing bandwagon this spring, and boosted my confidence to try to go for a new half marathon PR at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon I’m running in June with my friends from Brooks. It’s also nice to have a good benchmark for my coaches for where my ability level is right now!
Here’s to pushing yourself even though it’s easier not to. You’re stronger than you think, my friends!
Before I go:
- A huge thank you to the Cherry Blossom 10 miler press team for giving me a complementary bib for this race – I was lucky to be out there!
- Hi to the blog readers who I met at the race yesterday – thank you for reading and for saying hello! 🙂 Loved meeting you!
- Thank you, as always, to all the volunteers who were out supporting us on the course yesterday – and to those out cheering us on!
Who else raced this weekend? How did it go?