The Casual Runner

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run

Event: Cherry Blossom 10-Mile
Event Date: April 12, 2015
Event Location: Washington, DC

Guest Contributor Stephanie Jose.

Stephanie is a proud Hoya from Georgetown University who lives and dies with Georgetown Basketball every winter and spring.  This also explains her love for Washington, D.C., especially in the spring time. Originally a native of Northeast Pennsylvania, Stephanie and her husband and fellow Casual Runner Seth now live in Princeton, New Jersey. 

Why I decided to run this race:

  • Ten-milers are my favorite type of race to run. The distance is long enough to serve as a get-back-into- shape training goal but still have a good time during the race itself. Read: “Aw, crap I gotta train…but I know I won’t die at the end.”
  • DSC09212My husband and I have friends in Baltimore who are also Casual Runners, and more running friends who were due to move to DC. That made six of us.  Also, our group Hood to Coast application was turned down and we wanted a race that we could enter as a group.  (Enter. Not run together.  Being friends with people who run really fast mile splits teaches one about recognizing one’s own limits.)
  • DC in the spring! With cherry blossoms!  It makes up for the summer months of the year when the British really earned their hazard pay.
  • My husband and I had run this in 2012 and had a great time. It was also our fastest 10-mile times ever.  PR, here I come!

The race Expo

Here’s my take on race expos: a good one is the one I don’t have to attend.  I don’t need new shoes, running shorts/skirts/shirts/goofy hats, car stickers, wireless headphones, sports drinks, energy bars, or cheese (yes, you read that last one right).  I don’t want to have to dodge overeager sales people or listen to the pitches, much less talk to them.   (I know. I’m a real joy at parties.)  Unfortunately, race bib pickup was only available at the expo on the two days before the race.  I do understand the necessity when there are more than 20,000 runners signed up.  Just don’t make me walk a gauntlet of vendors.

DSC09408The expo for this race was in the National Building Museum, which is very centrally located.   The expo was in the Great Hall, out on the main central area of the building.  Packet pick-up was on the second floor.  If you really wanted to, you could walk around the perimeter, take the stairs, and head over to the pick-up area without having to avoid eye contact with a single booth person.  There were quite a few volunteers stationed around the building to direct folks to pick-up.  And despite all of the e-mailed warnings about lines (apparently the line extended outside the building on Friday afternoon), at 3 pm on Saturday I was able to walk right up to the table, grab my bib, t-shirt, and pins with no waiting.  I even picked up my friend’s packet, heeding all of the requirements about showing ID and e-mail permissions. So although I might gripe about having had to carve time out before the race to pick up the bibs, at least it was organized and arranged to be as quick and efficient as possible.

Swag review

Again, the organizers thought this through really well – all racers received a virtual swag bag, which was an e-mail with a link to the various offers. Now, I don’t know how most people feel about the swag bags but generally I sort through 20 pieces of paper and postcards, pick up what’s mildly interesting, and set it aside to gather dust somewhere.

This way was pretty great – I paged through the handful of offers (discounted race entries, running shoe ads, 20% off Gatorade powder – hey, a free Uber ride!) then closed the window and kept the e-mail.  Trees and time saved.  Also, as a person in business – I’m sure the advertisers appreciated knowing exactly how many views their ads received and how many clickthroughs, vs. throwing money at paper ads for which the results are difficult to measure.  Everyone wins.

Getting there/the lead-up to the race

A great thing about DC is that it’s a city that can handle thousands of people heading toward the Mall, doing their thing, and heading back out.  The Metro isn’t perfect and it’s had its problems, but in this case it got the job done.  And because the parking around the Mall is so notoriously nightmarish, everyone knew it would be foolhardy to try anything other than mass transit.

DSC09412(Getting into DC the day before from I-95?  During peak bloom and in the middle of the Cherry Blossom festival?  Totally different story.  A calming down period over drinks was needed to restore sanity.)

The gear

Nothing special.  I don’t dress up and don’t have special gear for races.  What I train in is pretty much what I run in, so I had my Avia capris, New Balance running shoes, and new tech shirt (thanks, Mom!).  My Brooks running jacket acts as my kangaroo pouch and holds everything – ID, credit card, Metro card, hotel key, you name it.  I made sure to have my sunglasses, ancient iPod Shuffle, and race bib.  My only advice, learned the hard way a few years ago: don’t wear brand new shoes for longer races.

The pre-race

This race is huge.  The bib numbers went up to 23,000 and nearly 18,000 finished according to the unofficial results.  That’s a lot of people in one place.  The scene at the base of the Washington Monument was a little overwhelming – announcements blaring, people everywhere, gear check that way, bathroom line this way.  We focused on getting through the crowd but one announcement caught my attention: there was an accident on one of the roads and the course had been rerouted.  “The run is now less than 10 miles due to the rerouting. Your splits between miles 4 and 6 are going to look weird,” warned the announcer.  A cheer went up from the runners who had been worried about finishing.

Kudos to the organizers for reacting so quickly and acting to preserve the race as best they could – it’s pretty impressive that they were able to map out a new route.  But I’ll admit that the news of the shortened course was disappointing.  I wanted my 10-mile PR!

Runners were sorted into one of six corrals based on previous race times; professional runners were to start at 7:30am, then one corral at a time every few minutes afterwards.  In the crush of people trying to get to the starting point, I completely missed the color-coded flags that signaled the start and end of specific corrals.  This left us near the back of the pack, starting in the second to last corral.  Whoops.

Along the course

Once we did finally get underway, the day was perfect for running.  It was 50 degrees and sunny, and the cherry blossoms were at the one day in the year where they look so fluffy and pink that it’s impossible for them to be any prettier.  It would have been hard to order up a better day for being out on the Mall.

But…remember all the people I mentioned?  This race was crowded.  Starting in a different corral than the intended pace speed didn’t help.  Lots of bobbing and weaving and running on curbs and grass along the way to get past the throngs of people.  I’m not casting blame – I understand the economics of a race mean that the organizers have an incentive to sign up as many people as they think the course can handle.  But at a certain runner density, the number of people has an effect on race experience.  This didn’t cross that line, but the line was visible from this vantage point.

DSC09215The route runs along the Tidal Basin, across the Memorial Bridge and back, out underneath the Kennedy Center, then back around the Tidal Basin down to Hains Point and back to the start.  It was honestly tough to tell where the reroute happened because it was so seamless.

Playlist Peak

The best moments in these races are unplanned, when the music and pacing find just the right moment to sync up.  My fastest mile arrived early at mile 2 to 3.  We’d crossed the Memorial Bridge and looped back and were streaking toward the turnaround underneath the Kennedy Center.  My pace felt good, running in the grass to get by traffic, when another gear kicked in.  The chorus for “Accident” by Doomtree shaved off a few seconds alone: “This is the life, the free nobody else gets.”  (No, you probably haven’t heard this song.  But you should absolutely give it a listen.  Then listen to everything else this group puts out.  I’ve even provided a helpful link here.)

I will contrast this with the pre- and post-race playlist that blasted through the loudspeakers at the start/finish line, in which there are only two songs in the world, and they are both by Taylor Swift.  You know the ones.

The SMOpinion

Unlike many of the Casual Runners out there (and the good proprietors of this site) SMOs aren’t terribly important to me.  I don’t throw them away, but don’t really seek them out.  This medal was optional upon registration, $13 for a standard medal and $20 for an “enhanced” medal, which includes a strip with your time.  Not requiring all of the runners to buy one was a pretty smooth move.  It saved me $13 and the medals go to people who really care enough to pay for them.

That said, if one were into medals – the design this year was kind of neat.  It matched the free t-shirts.

The post-race experience

The final measurement for the course was 9.39 miles.  My GPS watch said 9.51 miles, for which I will attribute the difference to all of the bobbing and weaving.  Gear pickup was quick, I took my bottle of water, banana, and Larabee bar, and we walked out of there in search of breakfast.

Looking back now

Cool feature: there’s a link on the website to “View Race Results as Graphics.”   It shows you how you placed relative to the entire field, your gender, and your division.

All things considered, I would absolutely do this race again.  It’s a very well-organized race at the perfect time of year in a city that I love.  Things I would do differently include the timing of getting into and out of the city that weekend and getting my damn corral right.  But for those of us who need a spring training goal to get out and run during the darkness of winter, this is my new go-to.

If you are interested in reading more about other races in Washington, D.C., be sure to check out Mike’s review of the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon: Part 1 & Part 2.

 

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