I ran my first Cherry Blossom 10 mile race in 1998, 18 years ago. Back then, it was my longest race to date. I was delighted to finish in 1:19. Since that day, I’ve been gradually working away at improving my time. I ran 1:15 a couple of years later, then, after a hiatus from the distance while I moved up to the marathon, I ran 1:11 in 2014. Based on my training, I thought this might be the year to break 1:11 and get closer to going under 70 minutes, but the weather had other plans.
With strong wind gusts in the forecast for Sunday morning, I changed my race plan. I would still try to run close to my 7:05 goal pace, but the main focus was to use other runners to block the wind. I needed to stay with the pack, and if that meant running a little faster or slower than 7:05, so be it. The most important thing would be the draft.
I slept ridiculously well the night before the race. This isn’t normal for me. What’s even stranger is that the wind was howling all night, and kept many people awake. But I have a tendency to sleep through really loud storms, and often can’t sleep if it’s too quiet. At any rate, when the alarm sounded at 5am I felt refreshed and raring to go. After a quick breakfast of an almond butter sandwich, a few swigs of coffee (to get the system going) and a shot of beet juice (new thing I’m trying…supposed to increase size of blood vessels to improve oxygen flow), and some special time with my foam roller, I was ready. I picked up a couple of running buddies (the 3rd bailed due to the terrible forecast) and we zipped down to DC. After we parked, none of us wanted to get out of the car. The wind sounded horrific. I had parked next to a huge tree and questioned that wisdom for a few moments before deciding the tree was too big to get blown down. (A couple of trees across the street from my house weren’t so lucky…the wind ripped them down the middle, sending half the tree crashing to the ground.)
Eventually we ventured out of the car as I needed the portapotty. I employed my usual tactic of using the portapotties that weren’t right by the main staging area, and found them nice and empty and relatively odor-free. A few portapotties had been knocked down by the high winds, and I did have a vision for a moment of my portapottie being blown down while I was in there…
Our next stop was bag check. It was almost 7am and the race was scheduled to start at 7:30am. So it was decision time: am I wearing enough clothing to stay warm, but not so much I’m going to boil? It was about 35 degrees, but 25 with the wind chill. I was wearing a pair of Saucony bullet shorts (which are awesome as they have side pockets for GU storage), Swiftwick compression socks, Brooks long-sleeve, and my =PR= tank. I had a nike hat (more like a skullcap I guess) and some freebie USATF gloves. I had brought a pair of tights with me but decided to stay as I was, and I’m glad I did. I had a couple of throwaway layers which I planned to keep on almost until the start. Even on my warm up, though, I was feeling warm, so I ditched them but held on to a foil blanket that I’d kept from one of my marathons.
I stayed to the left of the start line as everyone generally congregates on the right, where the race staging area is. This gave me easy access to my corral (yellow, the first corral), while I still had a little area to warm up. After the national anthem I hopped into the corral no problem. Before I knew it, the gun went off and we were racing. I wasn’t actually sure when I crossed the start line, as the race organizers had to remove all overhead signage lest it blow away, and I didn’t notice the timing mat for some reason.
The lack of signage didn’t bother me otherwise. Instead of signs and a clock, there were volunteers at each mile, shouting out the mile number, and I enjoyed the human touch. Since most people now run with a GPS, it really wasn’t a big deal. The water stops were also reduced, which prevented the number of incidents of people cutting across the course and stopping right in front of you. I only use the water stop at mile 6 to take one GU, and that one remained, so I was fine.
Mile 1 always involves a good bit of jostling for space at Cherry Blossom. You get the people who clearly started way too far forward and are in danger of being mown down, and then you get those who started too far back and are trying to make up for it in the first mile by cutting everyone off and using their elbows as much as possible. Really. A space will open up. This isn’t track…that’s what I want to say but I save my breath.
I went through the first mile in 6:55 but didn’t panic or worry it was too fast. For one, it’s slightly downhill, and for another, there was no headwind. I figured I might need to bank a little bit anyway. As we crossed the memorial bridge in mile 2, I felt the wind for the first time. There was a pack in front of me, which I quickly caught up with and stayed with until we went around the circle at the end of the bridge. Running back was much nicer. 🙂
After exiting the bridge you make a left turn to run up Rock Creek Parkway. I went to spit in front of me but the wind was blowing sideways and I think my spit may have hit the person who was passing me on my right. Oops. Of course then I heard a “hey, Alison” and realized it was my =PR= teammate, Calesse…I apologized for the spitting incident and she said “don’t worry, I think only a bit of it got me” which of course made me feel worse! I’m not usually that gross. I completely blame the wind.
Cherry Blossom is a very flat course but it does have two tight turnarounds at miles 3 and 4 that suck. I try to come close the the turn and then go out wide, which I find is most effective for me, but of course there are lots of other runners around with various different plans, and so it doesn’t always work. Next up was Hains Point, which comes up just after mile 6.
Hains Point strikes fear in the hearts of many runners. It’s a peninsula, so there are few spectators, and it’s always windy. It can be a completely calm day and yet go to Hains Point and there’s a totally different weather system. Heading down to the point, the wind was at our backs and I was literally getting thrown forward with every gust. You would think, therefore, that my pace would increase, but for some reason it didn’t. After my opening mile I hung around 7:00 – 7:15 for the first 5 miles, but my pace had started to drop, possibly because of the extra effort of running against the wind. Miles 6 and 7 were 7:20 pace, then I pulled out a 7:12 for mile 8, which is surprising because that was at the bottom of Hains Point. Mile 9 was ugly. Going back up Hains Point, I tried to draft behind two big guys, but the wind was coming at us diagonally from the North West, and I couldn’t stay out of it. I’m sure being behind them helped somewhat, but it was my slowest mile, at 7:29.
With one mile to go and Hains Point at an end, I gathered every ounce of energy I had left. I managed to drop to a 7:18, which included the evil climb before the finish, and finished in 1:12:35. Was it the time I wanted? No. But I knew it wasn’t a PR day. My carpool buddies were minutes off their 10 mile PRs, and they run about 10 minutes faster then me, so I figured that just being a minute off my PR wasn’t so bad.
We celebrated conquering the windiest Cherry Blossom in history by grabbing our gear and getting back to the car as fast as possible. No photo ops, no stops. Kudos to the thousands of volunteers who stood out there for hours in 25mph sustained winds and 40mph gusts. You are true heroes.