So, after 3 weeks of not running at all, and an only mostly-healed ankle, I made the decision to indeed run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. Some of my reasons included wanting to get what I had paid for, not knowing if I’d make it into the lottery in future years, not wanting to miss out on the big event, but mostly, I really really really wanted a long run in the beautiful weather.

The cherry blossoms hadn’t quite peaked yet, but little buds had finally appeared. DC received the cherry trees as a gift of friendship and peace from Japan in 1912 (LOLPearlHarbor29yearslaterLOL [too soon?]) and they’ve been the deciding signal that Spring Is Here in my hometown ever since. As cranky as we get here in DC when tourists come from all over to see the blossoms, I kind of also like it. I can’t think of a more emblematic symbol of Spring than DC’s cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin.

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Image credit Ian Sean Livingston, April 10 2014

Unfortunately with the god-forsaken winter DC had this year, the blossoms didn’t peak until this past week, and I’m writing this post 8 days after the race. I’m sure it’s difficult for the race schedulers to try and organize this race keeping in mind when the best scenery will be for runners, but lucky for me I didn’t have to make a big trek out of it for a spring racecation to do the 10-miler and see the blossoms. So I didn’t mind that they looked more like this.

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See those sad little sprigs in the background?

I was glad to run yet another race with Alan at the start line, even though we never run the same pace and he always ends up either waiting for me at the finish or booking it to make the metro. Like with the Army Ten and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in the past, I had a 4:30am wakeup call to get dressed and ready to go. The weather was going to be a little tricky based on leaving before sun up and running until past 9am on what called for a high sunny day. I decided to stick it out with my capri leggings but added removable layers on top. Most important is always my breathable long sleeve – my gray Nike top pictured above is hands down my most favorite cool weather running attire.

I had charged up my watch and packed my checked bag overnight (Ibuprofen for any finish line ankle pain, topical analgesic lotion to cool any swelling, the obvious personal items that needed security in a place I couldn’t lock them in my car, etc), so once I’d pinned my race bib on I was ready to go.

Unfortunately I hadn’t bothered to make sure there were bagels in the house before leaving, plus our bananas were looking a little suspect, so I hit the 7-11 for an egg sandwich and two fresh bananas. It’s funny how I am so exacting when it’s a half marathon, but only 3.1 miles fewer and I’m like “meh, I can handle it.” Gotta love the 10-mile distance; it’s probably my favorite just for the running experience, though half-marathons are always a bigger to-do event wise.

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Our welcoming sight

Something about the banner that read “WELCOME RUNNERS” filled me with joy. I hadn’t run in 3 weeks. I hadn’t been talking to runners for 3 weeks, feeling like I had nothing new to contribute except “yup, still on mandated rest. Do you wanna talk about my Communications paper?!” But seeing the sign, trotting along in my Asics toward the starting area, back in my running clothes, I felt home again. Among my people. The running community.

Alan was a bit later showing up than me, and it was prettttty cold before the sun came up, so I spent the time keeping my sweatshirt on before I checked my bag and gently sort-of-kind-of followed the Gold’s Gym warm-up/pump-up led session by the Monument. I wasn’t sure how my ankle was going to fair – it felt a little weak. I had been doing the doctor-ordered strengthening exercises of drawing the alphabet with my toes and so on, but I had definitely been favoring my left leg as of late. In the days leading up to the race I was doing 1-2 mile walks around my neighborhood just to remind my ankle had to do more than just walk from my cubicle to the bathroom or my cubicle to my car. But it still felt a little shaky.

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Ready to start! Yes, I wear eyeliner during races. It doesn’t run and I like to show up in my official race pictures instead of looking ghostly. Sorry, not sorry.

Finally the sun was up and we were called to our corrals. Alan was two corrals ahead of me, so we parted ways and I found some free space in my green corral. I lined up right next to a girl wearing a Charleston Half Marathon shirt! I was so excited to meet someone else who had randomly also run that rinky dink little race. We discovered we’d both set our to-date PR’s at that race, so further endorsement from me to you to run the Charleston Half if you’re looking for a flat, fast, PR-friendly course.

The race began and I started out easy breezy, trying not to pound the pavement too hard. We first wound around to the Arlington Memorial Bridge and I took my first walk break after the mile 2 marker. I was already feeling winded, whereas at Rock ‘n’ Roll I ran the first four without a walk break and felt strong. 3 weeks off will certainly give you a wake-up call when you do start running again.

I passed the 5K marker around the pace I set for my first 5K ever, maybe around 35 minutes? But by about the end of mile 3 I was feeling strong and the next few miles I kept around a 10:30-10:55 pace.

ImageIf I had had no injury and had kept up my normal training regimen, I would have definitely been aiming to PR my 10-mile time. I had PR’d at the Reston 10 on an extremely challenging course, and I would have loved to shoot for a steady 10:30 pace and hit 1:45 for my overall time. But with my ankle I wasn’t going to push it. I’m not sure if I could have run faster without causing major pain, but I wasn’t willing to risk it. I trucked along closer to an 11 minute pace and enjoyed the beautiful day.

ImageBeautiful is an understatement. The day was PERFECT. The sky was crystal clear and there were moments of warm sun followed by refreshing breezes. For a town built on a swamp, we had a day with very little humidity!

Heading around to Hains Point past the 10K mark (at an 11:05 overall pace, which I maintained for the rest of the race) was the highlight of the race for me. Alan mentioned later he hates that stretch of the race, but for me, it was relaxing. The roar of spectators and the hype of the race announcers is great and all, but being out by water was what I wanted. These 3 1/2 miles of the race were easily my most comfortable. It reminded me why I love running. Just being out there, hearing people around me laughing and carrying on, watching the water go by, seeing a few people play with their kids and their dogs in the park, I just became very grateful that I had the opportunity, the luxury of time, which so often as a grad student and full-time professional, I lack, to get out there and absorb DC in the spring.

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Alan texted me as I passed the 9 mile marker that he had finished, but I assumed he’d finished long before I made it to 9 miles. I was tired at this point but mainly ready to rest and ice my ankle. I love the ten mile distance – I crossed the finish line, though the last 200 meters had been uphill, feeling tired but strong, knowing I could have gone for the last 3.1 of a half marathon if I’d had to, even on some brutally woken up lung power and achy legs.

I finished in 1:50:58, a little over a minute and a half slower than my Army Ten Miler time, but most importantly, not my slowest 10 miler time and after three weeks off and a shaky ankle. I can’t spend too much time regretting the injury taking me out of PR range — injuries happen. As the amazing Deena Kastor said in The Spirit of the Marathon, and I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t have the doc up to transcribe it at the moment, it’s amazing I can rack up plenty of mileage per week for months and months and then injure myself doing something as silly and every day as – for her it was stepping on a pinecone in her backyard, for me, stepping off a curb clumsily, and then boom, you’re out. But it happens. You make what you can of it.

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Before trying to find Alan I made my way through the crowds surrounding the Monument to get my checked bag back and pick up my medal. I am IN LOVE with this year’s medal. I’ve seen some of the past years’ ones but I have to say, maybe I’m biased, but I like mine a whole lot more.

ImageI did eventually find Alan, his uncle, grandma, and sisters, hanging out by the Monument just resting, which was great. I didn’t have any plans for the rest of the day other than to do homework, and I wasn’t exactly anxious to get to that (though I should have been), so I just hung out and watched the crowd. So often after races I feel this anxious need to just book it, or feel like I’m missing something if I don’t get the complimentary beer or take in the finisher line party. Cherry Blossom was a little more low key than that. Everybody was just enjoying the weather and having just run 10 miles.

It’s a nice way to start a Sunday.

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If you can get into the Lottery, or wait a year and volunteer for guaranteed entry for the following year, I can’t recommend Cherry Blossom more highly. The Expo, the medal, the organization, the green initiative, the vibe of the race was all A+. Special thanks to the volunteers, DC police, and race organizers! 

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