The Casual Runner

Review of the 2017 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

April 2, 2017

Washington, D.C.

Why I Decided to Run This Race

I became a full-time resident of Washington D.C. in 2016. As I’ve covered in the Lawyers Have Heart 10Ks in 2015 and 2016, I love this city and now get the chance to run in races that I might not have been otherwise able to if I had to drive back to Ohio at the end of the weekend. As a new resident, I wanted to get an early jump on running in the District as soon as possible. The Cherry Blossom is the first big “event” on the D.C. running calendar, as far as I can tell, and I was fortunate enough to win a spot in the race through the lottery last December.

Other than it being the first opportunity to run in D.C., I wanted to see for myself what the hype was around this race. When I attended Georgetown University in college, I had heard of theCherry Blossom 10 Mile Run as a great race for distance runners (which, I did not consider myself at the time). The reviews around these parts, however, have been mixed.  Mike let us know his opinion with the 2016 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler while Jennifer gave us a very different view of the same race.  Like any good attorney, I abhor a split in authority. So, I decided to take it upon myself and resolve the debate once and for all: is the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run a neat event? Spoiler: absolutely.

Getting There/Lead Up to the Race

A race scheduled for the first week of April means that training needs to occur during some rather unpleasant months. I have been burned in the past by under-training for races like the 2015 Green Cathedral Half Marathon. That said, this race is not a full blown half marathon, and when I have hit walls during halves it was usually around the ten-mile marker. So, the Cherry Blossom also serves as a useful first race of the season to kick start training. I agree with Stephanie when she ran the 2015 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler: “Aw, crap I gotta train…but I know I won’t die at the end.”

Race Expo/Swag Review

As it had been in the past, the race organizers conducted the Race Expo in the National Building Museum on the Friday and Saturday preceding race day. I typically don’t go to the expos; I am not a big window/booth shopper and am content to do the day of bib pickup if permitted. However, the venue is an underrated attraction in a city filled with cool museums and monuments. And, based on my experience, it seems that the race improved the volunteer presence to go to the bib pickup area with a foot path that would allow you to avoid ever setting foot in the vendor area of the expo (though, I did wander around for a bit to ensure a complete review).

As had been done in years past, pickup times were broken out on Friday and Saturday based on your last name. My sense is that, if it can be helped, Saturday is a far less crowded time to go. I went with my wife towards the end of her allotted window for pickup and just before mine, though nobody gave us any issues. The volunteers were all very friendly in directing us to the bibs and shirts, and we never had to wait more than 30 seconds anywhere. The highlight of the expo was a monitor that scrolled a good luck message as you left the bib pickup area.

This is definitely a “green event.” Aside from various sustainability advertisements and booths that I spotted, the swag bag was sparse on the coupons that traditionally are included in the event bag. Instead, these were included in a virtual event bag emailed out to participants the week of the race. I preferred this method of delivery, since I typically do not use most, if any, of the promotional materials.

This seems like the appropriate place to weigh in on the “a-la-carte” nature of the Cherry Blossom. As other race entrants have observed, many of the options in the race registration can be either purchased or upgraded. The stated goal of keeping costs down is admirable, but when you tack on things that I’d consider standard in race swag (a finishers medal and a tech shirt), the total cost for me came out to $83 bucks. Granted, part of that includes the price for upgrading my standard cotton to a tech shirt. On the one hand, it’s fair to point out $63 for a medal, bib, and cotton shirt would be an okay price for an event of this size. On the other, I’ve run half marathons in far smaller communities that included a free finisher’s medal and a tech shirt in the price of admission—and at a price point even cheaper than that $63 figure. Given the size of the field for this event, this may be an area the organizers can improve in the future.

The Gear

I wound up getting pretty lucky for the forecast: temperatures in the mid-40’s but dry. I went with a t shirt over a long sleeve tech shirt, shorts, and my iPod nano.

The Pre-Race

I live within walking distance of the starting area, so thankfully I didn’t have to wake up super early in the morning. I enjoyed a nice relaxing warm up walk along the Smithsonian Mall on my way to the race. It was then it became clear that the racers were in for a treat for the weather. By the time the sun came up, it was already in the mid-40’s without a cloud in the sky—had the race been only a few weeks (or even a few days) ago, the enjoyment of the race would have been a different story. Same goes for the cherry blossoms. I had mostly written them off in March due to the fact that so many bloomed in late February during an unusual warm stretch. In the spirit of the race, however, the trees seemed to get a second wind and appeared in full bloom for the race.

In the past, writers indicated that the Cherry Blossom had some difficulties with the starting corrals being too crowded and getting released in too quick a succession. In my opinion, it felt like these issues were addressed this year. Granted, I like to line up towards the back of my corrals at races, but it didn’t feel exceptionally crowded and I never felt shoved like I would fall over. And, the pacing in between corral releases was more spaced out this year—if anything, I was anxious to have my race start!—and the initial part of the race didn’t feel dangerous.

Along the Course

The course itself is a who’s who (a what’s what perhaps?) of popular D.C. landmarks. The course first runs west on Independence Avenue, skirting just outside the reflecting pool between the Lincoln and World War II Memorials. Runners then take a quick there-and back across Memorial Bridge, getting a nice view of the entrance to Arlington Cemetery. From there, the course turns up north along a stretch of Rock Creek Parkway underneath the Kennedy Center, before doubling back and running along the Potomac on Ohio Avenue. You turn around once more, head back east along Independence Avenue (getting a brief glimpse of both the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the District of Columbia War Memorial) along the Tidal Basin and around the Jefferson Memorial. The last four miles are surrounding the East Potomac Park, running and out and back towards Hains Point and back towards the finish line. Especially big shout out to the people who set up a Oreo and Beer table at the Point; you get me.

This may sound like a mouth full, but that’s only because there’s so much to see in a 10 mile course. But, I neglected to mention perhaps the best Race Icon of them all: the Cherry Blossoms were in amazing bloom for the race, and the part of the course out to Hains Point deserves a particular mention because that is where the greatest number of trees were. That part of the race was a pink corridor this year. Even better: you won’t feel as tired running it all. This is a flat, and fast, course. There were almost no hills to speak of aside from the last mile, which the elevation chart showed a 30 foot climb in that stretch. But, given the race organizers placing encouraging signs calling out the remaining distances (1200 meters to go, 800 meters to go, etc), combined with all of the fans cheering you on during this stretch, it hardly felt like that taxing of a climb.

Best Race Signs

Gold: My refrigerator runs faster than you (and my refrigerator runs like crap)
Silver: Don’t worry, I spoke to the Russians. They said you’re going to win.
Bronze: Bernie would have run

The SMOpinion

Count me among the chorus that considers it a minor irritation that you have to pay for your finisher’s medal. Out of all the purchase or upgrade options, this one strikes me as the least defensible. Part of it may be being cheap, but having to purchase the medal that I get for finishing makes it feel less “earned” than when it’s given to me gratis. If costs are a concern, then the organizers should consider just raising the entry price, and giving the medal for free. Maybe this is splitting hairs, but to me it doesn’t feel the same buying something that is awarded to you.

Aside from that mini-tangent, the SMO itself is quite a fine medal. It appears to be far larger than previous year’s version. The medal itself is a large, heavy piece of metal containing the race name, the date, and a cherry blossom tree in full bloom. Bonus points for the hot pink – it really makes this medal pop! The ribbon for the medal was a plain piece of yellow fabric.

The Post-Race Experience

As runners crossed the finish line, they were treated to the announcer issuing congratulations to random runners in the pack (“I see we have a runner from Ohio here – O-H!”). The racers had to walk a fairly lengthy path back through the starting corrals before turning onto the field surrounding the Washington Monument. With a change aimed at improving past critiques from last year, however, there was a large crowd of volunteers stationed in the first part of the corrals offering both water bottles and heat blankets to the race finishers. Once on the lawn surrounding the Washington Monument, additional water bottles and snacks were offered at a pair of lengthy two-sided tables. And even further towards Constitution Gardens, runners who purchased their finisher medals could go pick those up. Ideally, this distribution would be more tightly packed together. That said, I am sympathetic to the size of the race field, and congratulations are in order for having the proper priority for these things: water/blankets, then snacks, then SMOs.

The crowd of runners post-race was in very sunny spirits—matching the perfect temperature that the race day offered. As was expected for near peak bloom, there were many photo opportunities with the cherry blossoms surrounding the finishing area, and many people were posing and/or offering to take racers’ photographs.

Playlist Peak

Instead of my usual mix, I decided to jam to the Hamilton soundtrack because I was lucky enough to get tickets to see the show in Chicago later this month. It was also a fitting score, given the plethora of national monuments I passed throughout the race. The only downside was that I was not near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial when “What’d I Miss?” came on. Instead, I was on the course when it happened (the course when it happened // the course when it happened)…

Looking Back Now

The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race is one of the most covered races here at Casual Runner, judging by my brief skim of our archives. Past impressions may have been mixed, sure, but this year the race showed that it has one of the highest ceilings out of any races that I’ve ever run and displayed what a truly awesome racing experience it can be when everything is clicking. As much as I’d like to play the “ah, I see they’ve considered our feedback and corrected course vanity card (organizers, feel free to feed our ego if that’s true!), the truth of the matter is more likely that many of the elements for success are already built in to the race—fast, flat course; great distance; popular tourist attractions as race icons located in a large city during early spring when the cherry blooms are potentially in bloom. It’s when these last two, random elements come together (the weather being amazing and the cherry blossoms’ growth) that pushes it from a good race to a great one, and I am so pleased I hit the lottery twice—once when I got a bib and the second time when I showed up on race day.

We have even more great articles from previous Cherry Blossom 10 Milers, make sure to check them out!

2016 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler: Jennifer’s Recap, Mike’s Recap

2015 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler: Stephanie’s Recap

 

Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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