Thoughts on Cherry Blossom 2012 versus Cherry Blossom 1999
The course: I like the old course better. Sure, this one’s flatter and faster, but I prefer Rock Creek Parkway to Hains Point, and one of the things that made Cherry Blossom such a treat was seeing the elites tearing down Rock Creek Parkway toward the finish as we made our way up. Old course trumps new course.
The start location: The start, on 15th street right by the Washington Monument, is much more accessible than the old start on Ohio Drive. New start location wins.
The start itself: The wave system alleviates some of the congestion I associated with the old Cherry Blossom, where you would remain tightly packed and boxed in for much of the race. Now, racers are divided into six color coded corrals according to the predicted finish times they submitted, and each corral starts 3 -5 minutes apart. (Elite women start 10 minutes early.) While the corral system is as good as racers’ predictions of their times (i.e., not great), the wave start is a definite improvement over the old mass start. New start wins.
The expo: The old expo was in the Doubletree in Crystal City. Parking wasn’t easy but it was possible, and getting to and from the venue was a cinch. The new expo is in the stunningly beautiful National Building Museum, but parking around the museum is almost impossible, forcing people to metro. Result: A wash. Metro is possible to both locations while parking at both is a hassle.
Cherry Blossom 2012
Pulling off a race with 15,000 runners in Washington, DC is no mean feat. By now most of us are well versed in the Hot Chocolate debacle. The thing is, the organizers of The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile know how to do this. This was the 40th running of this annual event, and it seemed (to me) to go off without a hitch. Since I was driving, I knew to get down early for a primo parking spot; I had no problem getting a spot a block north of Constitution and just off 15th st. From there it was a quick walk to our (my) first stop – the portapotties. At 6:15am there was no wait, so this was a good time to go. Only problem – it was still dark, which made navigating inside the portapot a bit tricky. I’ll have to remember to bring my headlamp for such occasions. Using my phone for light is not an option – I’m too afraid I’ll drop it in the hole.
It was a chilly morning so I kept on my two throwaway layers until almost race time. The lovely RunWiki insisted on taking this picture of me in all my layers:
Underneath all this bulk I was slightly better dressed in my Potomac River Running race team singlet, Brooks Infiniti bra, Brooks Epiphany boy short, 2XU Elite Compression race socks, and Brooks Racer ST 5s.
Thanks to Dash for taking this and many other pictures. She took about a billion photos of the race! Far better than the official pics. And, I think my form has improved since the last time I ran this race:
Getting into the corral for a race this size is always an adventure; I don’t like to be trapped in all those bodies for too long, plus I always have my last minute portapotty visit to make, so by the time I squeezed through the fence for the yellow corral, it was wall-to-wall people. I was actually feeling a little claustrophobic when a volunteer yelled for all the runners with yellow bibs to follow him; they were putting up the temporary fence that would divide the yellow corral from the red corral (corrals are sent off in waves 3 -5 minutes apart to ease congestion) and we were about to end up behind it. When we moved forward I noticed a huge empty space over to my left, away from where runners were entering the corrals, and so I headed over to that area where I could breathe.
It wasn’t long before the gun sounded and we were off. The first mile of big races like this is a dodgefest; I focused on relaxing and trying to stay comfortable, not getting boxed into the curb, and not wasting too much energy. It was very similar to the Army Ten Miler, which I ran last October. The negative of these races is that you have to do a lot of dodging and weaving, but the positive is that you are, in some ways, “carried” by everyone around you, making the effort easier. Mile 1 went by in 7:15 which was perfect as I was aiming for an overall time under 1:13.
For most races I look at a map of the course ahead of time and have that map in my head when I’m running. I like to know where I am and what’s coming up. I knew we would be running Hains Point in the second half of the race and so when we came up on Ohio drive I thought we’d be running all the way down East Potomac Park, but then I saw runners coming back the other way and realized it was a turnaround. Because I was distracted I missed the 4 mile water and so didn’t take my Roctane GU. I didn’t have an exact plan for taking my GU, but knew I only needed 1; at ATM I made the mistake of taking a 2nd GU late in the race that really bothered my stomach. So this time I waited until mile 5.5 and then started taking the GU, knowing there would be water at mile 6 to wash it down. The first cup I grabbed had about 2 drops of water in it, so I had to grab another to make sure I had enough.
When you’ve got this many people around you there are lots of distractions. There are slogans on shirts to read, noisy runners (footslappers, heavy breathers, gaspers, groaners), and those with such bad form you wonder how they’re running at all. One particular lady whom I ran alongside for a while was heelstriking and leaning back so far I wanted to suggest she look into Evolution Running, but she was wearing headphones, plus I figured that during a race wasn’t the best time for a discussion on form. Still, you see everything at these races…it really is very interesting.
Around mile 7 we entered Hains Point. This was a tough part of the course for me because I knew I needed to start picking up the pace if I wanted to stay under 1:13, but I found it mentally challenging. I’ve run Hains Point on much windier days with no-one around me, but for some reason I hit a low point here. The footslappers and heavy breathers really started to irritate me more than usual, and I found that I had to focus hard just to stay on pace. I felt much better once we made the turnaround, and as we exited Hains Point there were some drummers who were excellent, which really helped. When I hit mile 9 I decided I’d run the last mile as hard as I could. I kept my eyes fixed on the guy with the shirt that said “Cherry Tart” who must have been friends with “Eat my Cherry” and “Cherry Garcia” who were also running. I started passing people (including Cherry Tart) and looked at my Garmin to see I was running in the 6′s, so I decided I’d try to keep the final mile under 7:00. I was doing great until I hit the hill at the end (I also had the elevation in my head and knew it was coming) and started feeling as if I was about to puke. I pushed up the hill as hard as I could and then there was a short dip to the finish. My last mile: 7:00. My final time: 1:12:43.
Mile 1 – 7:15
Mile 2 – 7:09
Mile 3 – 7:04
Mile 4 – 7:14
Mile 5 – 7:16
Mile 6 – 7:16
Mile 7 – 7:11
Mile 8 – 7:14
Mile 9 – 7:12
Mile 10 – 7:00
Did you run Cherry Blossom? Have you run it in the past? Do you prefer the old course? Do you plan to run it in the future?