Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 2015 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler. Err 9.39 Miler.

The 2015 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler was the first race in which I ever “won” a bib via lottery.  I was so excited the day I received the email telling me I had been picked to run the race! I was in the mix!
“Congratulations - you were chosen in the lottery for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.”

Granted it was a mix of 15,000 runners but it was the first one I had been chosen for and I felt so proud to be picked to run this famous DC spring race.

The way I figured it, I had already won just by being picked! But now I had to figure out how to race this iconic Ten Miler well.

No problem, race registration included a training program presented by New Balance. I had used the perfect and fabulous Hal Higdon plans for my previous 5 Half Marathon distance races, but I thought, why not give New Balance a try for the Ten Miler? The NB plan is easy to follow.

Each day they send you your plan  and you do it. And I thought, if I just follow the plan, I’ll be a star at Cherry Blossom.

For example, here’s one from early on in training:

February 2, 2015
Distance: 2-4 miles
Goal: Easy conversational running 
for the entire distance.

And here’s what I noted that day about it:

"Look at my nifty Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Training Program from New Balance! And now imagine me running w/o breathing heavily. Ha ha! I’m out of breath from just laughing about  it. Plus I’m working and I’m staring outside at a blizzard. Not sure how I'm going to get these 3 miles in today but I'll make something happen."

You know what? It’s tough to train outside in winter. I had yet to own a treadmill and at the time I lived in a tiny town in Virginia wine country that had no gym. But somehow I made it through a couple more snow storms and lots of freeze-your-eyelashes winter sunset runs, and before I knew it, not only was the race upon me, but I had signed a lease on an apartment in DC as well. I’d be running the race in my again-soon-to-be-home-town. I was going to be a local runner in a famous DC race. I was really in the mix.

But when I headed into the expo, I felt suddenly more than slightly intimidated by tons of people whom I surmised to all be the best runners in history, who likely had lots of experience running the flat and fast streets of DC. They were all surely faster than me, fitter than me, and I felt like they were all staring at me, wondering what I was doing there. I was a mountain girl, used to running trails on huge inclines over roots and rocks and uneven terrain, rather slowly. 

Of course, this is a ridiculous fear of mine. I had already won the lottery and was awarded a place in this race, right? I couldn’t help myself though. The fear of not being a good enough runner, not “belonging” in a race often overwhelms me. I appear confident on the outside most of the time, but inside I’m terrified that I don’t belong, that I’m not a good enough runner to race with everyone else.

There are 15,000 people of all running levels who participate in Cherry Blossom. I know this on a conscious level. I know I’m somewhere in the mix consciously.  But still, I have to remind myself to push the subconscious doubt away. I took a deep breath, put my shoulders back and down and told myself I belonged there and to enjoy it as a racer, as someone who had been chosen to be there and to run this race. 

Once I allowed myself to feel that way, I spent some time at the expo, soaking it all in. It was so great – hosted in the incredible National Building Museum and filled with lots of free running swag, and tons and tons of excited runners.  

I wore my I Run Steeps shirt to the expo. Trail Runner humor. I don't belong here! Ha ha! Gulp.

I woke up on race day ready to go. It was a gorgeous morning and just moments after I arrived on the National Mall, amongst thousands of runners milling around, I saw my friend Chuck Love. What great luck! Chuck is an AMAZINGLY fast runner. I'm always impressed by his feats of speed and his sweet and funny demeanor, even with the stress of a race in front of him. I wished him the best as he headed to the front of the race chutes. Next I found a group of ladies from my running group My Running Girlfriends. We had been lucky that several of us had been chosen for the lottery. We also met up with MRGF Beth, who had not been chosen in the lottery, so she was volunteering this year in order to secure a bib for 2016. I made a mental note of that genius idea, and proceeded to my starting chute with my friend Tora.

As we were lining up, murmurs were going through the crowd that the course was being shortened because of an accident on one of the bridges that the race crosses. Instead of 10 full miles there would be a cut in the course and it would end up being 9.39 miles.   

This news wasn’t that big of a deal to me (other than sorrow for those involved in the accident). I quickly decided there was no need to alter my race plan. Sure, I would push a bit more at the end, and maybe take a gel a little earlier. But otherwise I would stick to my plan and just execute it a bit faster. Many other racers were freaking out about the mileage shortage. I felt badly for their frustration, but I kept thinking to myself, we’re lucky to be running at all. We are all so lucky to be here. I’m not a competitive racer so my pacing wasn’t exact enough to be screwed up by the change, and mentally I figured, hey – shorter distance – that’s a bonus in some ways, like, we get to the beer faster. And as my first ever 9.39 mile race, It would be my 9.39 Miler PR for sure any way it turned out.  

With a total of 15,000 runners, everyone had warned me that the start at Cherry Blossom is a nightmare, and that you find yourself winding and weaving and walking through throngs of people for a long time before you find the space to hit your pace.

Did I stress about this? No WAY! Anytime I’m in a race where I’m “in the pack” I’m psyched. I choked down a gel and before I knew it, my heat was called to begin and we were off in a huge group, shuffling through the starting gate. I was able to quickly pick up to my pace, and then something amazing happened, I ran shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people for 9.39 miles.

To try to explain the joy that a Back of the Packer feels when she is actually in the pack would be impossible.   I would venture to guess that it’s the same feeling that a front of the pack runner feels when she finally breaks free from the pack and is out there in front alone, on the road to winning. It felt so good to be in the pack. To be racing with people who run my pace, to be surrounded by so many who were going for the same goal. 

I passed people, people passed me, I passed them again, I listened to conversations, and felt great. I was a part of the pack. A pack of runners! Maybe I did belong in this iconic race after all!

I do all of my training runs alone, which I love, but for some reason, racing amongst others just feels so good. Perhaps this one felt even better because in many of my races I’ve been alone, at the back of the pack. The spectators were amazing too – so many people lined the streets and bridges of DC on that pretty spring morning, cheering us on. I smiled for 9.39 miles. 

I came running into the finish chute to see my training partner Matthew, and my old friend Sarah who had come into DC just to see me race. That in itself absolutely made my whole day. All runners know what it’s like to finish a race without a spectator there for you, and all family-members-of-runners know what a pain in the ass it is to get up and go to a race to see your loved one for just a moment on the course or maybe not even at all till the end. I am forever grateful to anyone who comes out to my races and seeing Sarah there just melted my heart and made my smile even bigger.

Sarah came into DC via the dreaded subway to see me race - she deserves a medal as well!

And it was a PR! A 9.39 Miler PR, as well as a fast time for me in any race distance. The running crowd had carried me along and the spectators had cheered me on. I was a very happy runner.

My running group girl friend Mary Beth came to race from Roanoke, VA (bonus thumb in pic as well)  

The post race celebration commenced with beers at Elephant & Castle (thank you Elephant & Castle for opening early because beer tastes delicious at 10AM!) where I met up with My Running Girlfriends* and brunch with old and new friends, John and Kristina (John ran Cherry Blossom in an Oxford and khaki pants and looked quite preppily perfect doing so), and the most wonderful couple, Tania and Heather who I found out would be my new neighbors in DC, and who would both turn out to be major inspirations to me in my running future. We recovered with beers and we talked about our runs and how lucky we were to be chosen for this race. I was part of a pack. In the mix. I won the lottery. I am a runner.

With Tora and Mary Beth, putting our beers down for a sec to show off medals.


  1. Great report, great pics, and great job on your (9.39) PR! Seriously thought, training for Spring races is hard. Loved how much fun you had during the race -- you belong -- never doubt it!

  2. Thank you Tai Fung! Spring Training IS hard. So hard that I decided to totally skip the training portion of Cherry Blossom this year. It should be quite a show on race day! :)