The Casual Runner

2016 Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run – A Different Take

Event: 2016 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run
Event Date: April 3, 2016
Event Location: Washington, D.C. 

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You can watch our event highlight video now! We also have videos taking you on a tour of the Monuments & Memorials and visiting the Giant Pandas and other residents of the National Zoo!

For different perspectives, you can also check out Mike’s Take on the 2016 Race and Stephanie’s Review of the 2015 Event.

Why I Decided to Run This Race

I’ve been trying to experience more local area races, and the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler was on my bucket list.  Although I didn’t expect to get in, I entered the lottery in December 2015 anyway.  As it turned out, several of my friends (including Mike and Candace) also got in, so we were able to turn it into a fun weekend in DC.

Getting there/the lead-up to the race

Since I had been training for the April 2016 Star Wars Dark Side Challenge at Walt Disney World, I was fully prepared for the 10 mile distance.  In fact, my training plan called for back-to-back long runs that weekend (5 miles on Saturday and 15 on Sunday), so “just” running a 10 mile race was actually a comparatively easy weekend.

Leading up to the race everything looked to be setting up for a great race experience.  The cherry blossoms hit peak the week before the race and should have lasted through the following weekend, the weather was warming up, the celebration village was set up on the Mall the Friday before the race and looked great, and the weather the day before the race was still quite nice.  But by Saturday afternoon runners I started getting emails and social media messages that due to expected high winds overnight and into the morning hours, the race was making emergency accommodations for safety reasons.  They ended up taking down all course signage (including the start/finish line and mile markers), canceling the award ceremony and kids races, removing all tents except the medical and gear bag locations, and drastically reducing the number of water stops.  None of us really knew what to expect when we showed up Sunday morning.

The race Expo

The race expo happened over 2 days at the National Building Museum.  I stopped by Friday afternoon right when it opened.  They had encouraged people not to come right when it opened—historically the only lines for bib pick-up happened right at expo opening each day—but I needed to catch a train home and I wanted to see one of the speakers, so it was worth it to risk the line.

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I arrived about 30 minutes before the pick-up opened, and there was a long line already forming—probably 100-200 people long.  But once they opened up (about 5 minutes early), the line moved quickly.  Bibs were broken up by number—1000 bibs per line.  I found it very easy to find where I should go, though it was still a little crowded just because of the overall size of the room.  There was one person in front of me, but even with that slight delay I had my bib within 2 minutes of entering the room.  Shirts were picked up downstairs at one end of the vendor area.  I walked right up to a table, they marked my bib, and handed me my shirt.  I had everything I needed before the clock officially struck 3:00 (the time the expo was scheduled to open).

This allowed me to hustle over to the other side of the expo floor, where Meb (MEB!!!!!) was scheduled to give a clinic and sign autographs.  I may or may not have a bit of a fan crush on Meb, so I was not going to miss my opportunity to hear him speak.  He answered questions ranging from his past Olympic experiences to his personal history to the recent Olympic trials.  He was gracious and personable, and it was awesome to hear him speak.

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And you’d better believe I got his autograph and took a picture with him!

The rest of the expo was pretty standard.  There were several booths of vendors that I frequently see at Disney and at other local races.  There was a pretty big selection of official merchandise, but I didn’t see anything I absolutely needed to buy.  I did pick up some fuel since I was running low and needed to stock up anyway.  The expo didn’t seem overly crowded and it was pretty easy to maneuver through.

Swag review

I upgraded to the performance shirt (I can’t remember how much extra it cost), which I like.  It’s a nice burgundy short-sleeve tech shirt.  It’ll probably be a semi-regular staple of my wardrobe.  We didn’t get anything else in our swag bags.

The gear

Last year a woman in my running/race costume group posted a beautiful costume that she created for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  Once I knew I was in, I was inspired to do something similar.  Due to the cold temperatures and wind, I had to layer up underneath my costume more than I’d wanted to.  But there was no way I wasn’t going to wear my costume.

The costume: Pink skater dress embellished with tulle and cherry blossoms, white sparkle skirt with built-in shorts, and pink Headsweats visor embellished with cherry blossoms.

The rest of the gear: Pink BMC arm sleeves, white long-sleeve undershirt, white Nike tank top, pink Adidas sports bra, pink Bondi Band headband, Injinji socks, Asics Gel-Kayano 22 shoes, Nathan hand-held water bottle, Garmin Forerunner 620, and Gymboss interval timer.

The pre-race

We left our hotel in Crystal City a little more than an hour before the race started.  Metro got us just a few blocks from the starting line, leaving an easy walk the rest of the way.  We got in line for the port-a-potties to take care of some last-minute business then we separated and went to our separate corrals.  I was in the last wave, so I headed back there while Mike and Candace took their places further up.

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One thing I noticed was that they were not checking bibs at the corrals.  I don’t know if this was because of all of the last-minute changes or if they just expect people to be honest.  I saw a lot of bibs in higher corrals then they were supposed to be.  And, honestly, I was tempted to do it myself since I knew I would be slow and could use the extra time on course.  Though I ultimately decided to stick in my corral and take my chances with the sweeper van.

Along the course

The race course is very similar to the Navy/Air Force half marathon course.  The only real difference is that the half marathon takes us a bit farther down Rock Creek Parkway.  Otherwise, they are pretty much the same: start by the Washington Monument, go out over Memorial Bridge toward Arlington Cemetery, a turn-around near the Kennedy Center, a brutal lap around Haines Point, and finish under the Washington Monument.  I do actually like this course, and having run it several times previously I knew what to expect and when, but I’m not sure how many more times I need to run both of these races since they are so similar.

For even more course details and different perspectives, you can also check out Mike’s Take on the 2016 Race and Stephanie’s Review of the 2015 Event.

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The absence of the course signage, time clocks, and reduced water stops was really interesting.  There were volunteers every mile to tell you where you were, and volunteers were really good about pointing us in the right direction so we wouldn’t get lost.  As a result, it felt to me more like a small town race that doesn’t have the budget for elaborate signage.  I thought the 3 water stops they had were more than enough.  All in all, I didn’t think the changes detracted from my race experience, and actually may have enhanced it a little since it was unique.

I ran this race way in the back of the pack.  I was a step ahead of the sweeper van the entire race.  And while us back-of-the-packers always have a different experience from the faster runners, I get the impression that for once we might have had the better experience.  I heard a lot of reports of crowding and bad behavior among the faster runners (for more on this, check out Mike’s take on the race).

In the back, however, the crowd really thinned out after the first mile and we all had a sense of camaraderie.  We cheered each other on.  We checked on each other to make sure we were all doing OK.  We used each other as pacers.  The volunteers braved the winds and kept their energy up all the way through the last water stop, so as to keep our energy up all the way to the end.

The SMOpinion

When you register for this race you have the option of not getting a medal, or paying for one.  I opted to pay for a medal and I’m really happy with the medal itself.  The design is unique and I love the colors.  But for something that I had to pay extra for, I’m disappointed in the ribbon.  Come on…if I have to pay for the thing, it really should be special!

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The post-race experience

It was only as a crested the last hill before the finish line that I really started noticing the typical we’re-ready-to-clean-this-place-up-even-though-you’re-still-on-the-course that us back of the packers are familiar with.  The barricades were being taken down at the last few intersections.  Although we were promised mylar blankets (it was still super cold and windy!), there were none left.  And I walked so far through the finisher chute without seeing water or food that I actually just gave up and left it so I could head into the celebration village where they were handing out medals.

Eventually I noticed out of the corner of my eye water and bananas waaaaaaay down at the end of the street so I hopped back into the chute and walked to the end of the block to get some.  I totally understand that we were the last runners, but it was a tough race and it would have been nice to have had the amenities we were supposed to get.

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Playlist Peak

I started out with “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, which is a great song for me to get pumped up for a long run.  Later, when the crazy headwinds were making some miles drag on forever, ”Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent came on and helped me flip the switch from cursing every second to appreciating the moment.  Finally, in the last half mile when those of us in the back of the pack were finishing up and they were starting to break down the course as we passed, “Schadenfreude” from the musical Avenue Q came on and made me giggle about how necessary all us slow runners are to make the fast runners feel good about themselves.

Looking back now

There were definitely some problems with the execution of this race, but overall I had a good experience.  I had a great time with the people around me and I like running through DC.  I thought the organizers took appropriate safety measures to address the high winds, though the lack of mylar blankets at the end was problematic.  I’m not sure I’ll run this race again because April can be an uncertain time in Washington DC as far as weather goes and I have other opportunities to run similar courses with other DC races.  But this race will always have a special place in my heart because I met Meb!

You can watch our event highlight video now! We also have videos taking you on a tour of the Monuments & Memorials and visiting the Giant Pandas and other residents of the National Zoo!

For different perspectives, you can also check out Mike’s Take on the 2016 Race and Stephanie’s Review of the 2015 Event.

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