Washington, DC races usually start early, and with its 7:30 am start, the Cherry Blossom 10-miler was no exception. This meant a 5:00 am wake-up, so I could make it down to the Metro by 6:00. As you know, I'm one of those "must get to the race early" people. I do NOT like to be rushed on race day. And while I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked, I was able to get up, dressed and have a good race-day breakfast (oatmeal - Thanks, Mom!) before heading out. Cherry Blossom 10-miler - here I come!
As I mentioned previously, the Metro is a great way to get to and from a race. I got on the train right at 6:00, and I guess they were waiting for an onslaught of runners to board, because we didn't take off for about 15-minutes, which is a long time to wait. In the meanwhile, I started talking to a few other runners around me. What else did I have to do, right? I mainly spoke with one woman in particular, who had really pretty red hair and who had done a lot of the DC races on my bucket-list. Talking to her definitely made the wait go by quicker. Once the train started, the trip was about 30-minutes downtown and we were let off right at the Washington Monument. I said goodbye to my new Metro friend and headed out to try to find my friend Jenny before the race.
I don't think I was prepared for how large this race was. I knew there were about 17,000 people running, but there were a TON of people wandering around the race site. I guess most runners brought a few friends and family members down to the site with them. Good news though - the race was prepared for it. They had several information tables spread out across the Mall and plenty of volunteers who were very helpful if you had a question. This race also had more porta-johns than I have ever seen before, which is something that runners really appreciate. The bag check was also large and well-organized.
Water for runners for after the race.
Gear check tent.
Unfortunately, my friend Jenny texted me right as I was checking my bag and said that she wasn't feeling well and was going to skip the race. Bummer. She's much faster than me, so I wouldn't have seen her much during the actual race, but it would have been nice to catch up. I was just thinking how I wouldn't have been able to find her in this crowd anyway, when I looked down to tie my shoe...and who was next to me? The red-head from the Metro! We went completely different directions when leaving the Metro and out of the thousands of people at the race, we bumped into each other again. We had a laugh about that, wished each other good luck and went our separate ways again.
After this, I went on a quest to find an actual cherry blossom. Unfortunately, due to the crazy weather DC has been having recently (it snowed just last week), the cherry blossoms hadn't bloomed yet. While Nashville is in full-Spring mode, DC still has a lot of bare trees. The best I was able to find were some buds. While still pretty, it's just not the same.
By now, the race organizers were asking us to get in our corrals. This race also served as the National 10-Mile Championships, so there were a lot of elite runners there. They, of course, were in the first corrals and started early. I was in the third corral for non-elites (out of five). What was interesting about the start of this race was that they didn't let the corrals advance to the start after the previous corral left. So when they finally released my corral, about 15-minutes after the official start, we had a bit of a walk to the start line. I was a little confused at first, because usually races do the "move up 20 feet and stop. Now move up 50 feet and stop" route with corrals. This time we just walked causally to the start and then started running. It actually worked about quite well.
However, what didn't work out well was my placement in the corrals. I think I was supposed to be in the 9-9:30 minute / mile corral. I know I was hoping to run close to 9:00 minute miles because the course was pretty flat. But the race was so crowded, that I couldn't get any kind of decent pace going. See the photo above of the start? That's about how crowded it was for the entire race. Wherever you went - there was someone there. Since I've run large races in DC previously, I was expecting this, but you forget how annoying it is until you are actually running in the middle of the crowd.
The actual race went well. Like everything I observed pre-race, the Cherry Blossom had everything well-organized. The volunteers were plentiful, the water stations were well-stocked and they had an appropriate number of restrooms along the course. The crowds were amazing, too. So many spectators. It was really great.
The race was also amazingly scenic. The route was pretty much a sight-seeing tour of DC. It would have been amazing if the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. My favorite part was running part past Jefferson Memorial. Of course, this is when crazy people started pulling out their cameras and started taking pictures WHILE THEY WERE RUNNING. Total peeve of mine. Come on, people! Have a little sense! You might think you're running in a straight line, but you're not. And with courses as packed as this one was, it's just downright dangerous to take photos while you're running.
One funny part happened around mile 7 when I saw, again, my friend from the Metro. At this point, I was really wishing I had gotten her name, but I didn't know it, so I had to just yell "Hey Metro Girl!" as I ran by while waving. No, I'm not a total loser. Sigh. At mile 8 was probably the favorite unofficial water station of the entire race - the "Free Beer and Oreo" stop. People kind of freaked out over this stop. There was another "Free Beer" stop along the course, which got some notice, but "Free Beer AND Oreos?" People just lost their minds. I actually saw one guy climb over a park bench to get to the stop.
And as far as my race personally, I just went along with the crowd. My legs were a little tired from the previous day's ride, but they weren't completely shot. It was good. I just used the race as a nice Zone 2 training run. (Oh yes, I talk in Zones now - but that's a topic for another post.) Since it was so flat and I wasn't pushing the pace, the only time my legs were really taxed was in the last half-mile, which had the ONLY hill of the race. The actual finish was flat though, so you could kick it in if you really wanted to. You know who wanted to? The girl from the Metro, who BLAZED by me with about 10 yards to go. I caught up with her at the finish and finally got her name. Everyone - please meet my new best friend, Becky.
MFF! (Metro Friends Forever!)
Y'all - she ran with her hair down like that the entire time. I can't even imagine... Anyway, after saying good-bye to Becky for the FOURTH time, I headed over to the medal tent. The CB 10-miler was different from most races in that the medal was optional and you had to order one when you registered for the race. I think it was about 10 bucks extra. They did the same thing with the race shirt. You were given a cotton shirt, but for a bit more, you could upgrade to a tech shirt (in first photo above). Since this was a bucket-list race for me, I upgraded the shirt and got the medal. Totally worth it.
After the race, I went to brunch with two of my favorite people in the world, Ron and Kirk, who live a few blocks from the race. I totally splurged and got Strawberry French Toast. And it was awesome. Overall, it was a banner day. I highly, highly recommend this race. Yes, it was crowded, but it was very well-organized and Washington, DC is just beautiful. Oh - and I actually found a cherry blossom. It's like they started blooming during the race.
If you live in the DC area, you should absolutely enter the lottery for this race. And even if you don't, it's a great weekend trip. DO IT!
Next up - Pedal for Paws Metric Century on Saturday! Should be interesting considering I haven't ridden further than 40 miles this year!