This post is brought you by the letters P and R. That’s right! I had a fantastic race at the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run despite some wonky weather that brought 50 mph winds and a sub-freezing windchill.
More than 16,000 runners finished the race around Washington, D.C. on Sunday, April 3. I headed to D.C. with my husband and a dozen friends who decided to make a weekend of it.
This was my second time running the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. In 2012, I found the course far too crowded and no cherry blossoms on the trees. The second time around, there were still no cherry blossoms—what had been left from peak season blew off the trees the night before in 50 mph winds. There was not a one to be found.
But I headed to Washington, D.C. earlier in the week and had the chance to see them during a gorgeous run around the National Mall, before they all blew away. Phew!
Where I Stayed
I’ve come to love visiting Washington, D.C. It’s a truly fantastic running town.
This is my third trip to the city in the last year, and my husband Phil’s umpteenth. I’ve stayed at three different hotels in that time; Phil has stayed at a dozen different properties in the city. Our go-to hotel has become The Carlyle Dupont Circle, a Kimpton Hotel.
We stayed there four nights this trip (three on our own dime, and one courtesy of Kimpton). This is my second time staying at Carlyle.
Rooms are clean, comfortable, and have a cozy robe, which I always wear.
Plus, they have complimentary coffee and tea every morning, and a gratis wine hour every evening. Wine o’clock, anyone?
The hotel is both fit-friendly and pet-friendly, my two favorite features.
Carlyle makes it easy to stay active in Washington, D.C.
- The general manager leads a 3 mile run from The Carlyle Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6:30 a.m.
- The front desk offers also running maps of the city.
- You’ll find a yoga mat in your room and a yoga studio in the fitness center.
- The fitness center is open 24-hours.
- Free hotel bikes are available for a ride around town.
I haven’t stayed there with Cinderella yet, but Kimpton has one of the best pet policies I’ve ever seen:
- All dogs are welcome, regardless of size, weight and breed.
- Dogs stay for free. None of those pet fees other hotels charge.
- Forgot a bed, bowls, food, or plastic baggies? All are on hand.
- There’s a dog park one block from The Carlyle. In running terms, it’s a 100-meter walk.
Location For Runners
The DuPont Circle Metro station is a 5-minute walk, a third of a mile away. I took the Metro to the Expo and back. It was a 15-20 minute trip door-to-door.
The starting area of the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is 2 miles away. It’s either 20 minutes by Metro or a quick 10-minute cab ride on a Sunday morning.
And any day of the week, it’s a great location for hitting lots of DC’s running trails. The White House is a mile warm-up away.
The National Mall–and its 5-mile loop—is just another half-mile beyond.
The Rock Creek Park Trails are less than a mile away. From there, you can run 11 miles on the main trail, get off-road in Rock Creek Park, or connect to the 185-mile C&O Canal Towpath in Georgetown.
At this point, I’ve run parts of them all from The Carlyle Dupont Circle. And that’s just mentioning a few of the trails you can easily get to from D.C.’s city center.
Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
I appreciated how well-organized the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run was this year compared to my experience in 2012. Back then, the course was so crowded the entire race that both my husband and I were physically unable to run as fast as we wanted to. This year Phil and I had no problems, and both ran huge PRs as a result.
What keeps luring me to the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is the promise of those beautiful trees in bloom. They line pretty much the entire 10-mile route. Sadly, I have yet to experience it on the run.
But even without the cherry blossoms, this is a fantastic course.
It’s pancake flat, except for a few tiny—and I mean tiny—bumps over a bridge you cross twice and an incline into the finish. The course changes elevation a mere 31 feet.
And it’s delightfully scenic. With a start and finish at the Washington Monument, runners head out to the Lincoln Memorial, across the Potomac River and back, under the shadow of the Kennedy Center, around the Tidal Basin and past the Jefferson Memorial, and finally complete a full loop of Eat Potomac Park before returning to the Washington Monument. Monuments, cherry trees, and water views abound. It’s a downright fun course to run.
Bib pick-up at the National Building Museum was easy. They also had a small number of vendors if you needed any last-minute items. And like so many places in Washington, D.C., the building itself is beautiful.
I headed there with my friend, Cindy, who was anxious to meet Meb Keflezighi. He was giving clinics at the expo on both days, doing meet and greets with runners, and running the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run with the 1-hour pace group as a training run. I’ve interviewed Meb a few times as a broadcaster and emcee. But Cindy has never met him, so we waited in line for a photo and autograph.
The race used a wave start with six corrals leaving 3 to 5 minutes apart. While the first few miles were certainly packed, it wasn’t anything worse than any other major race. I had enough room to run. By the middle miles, space really opened up.
An added bonus this year was the official race app. Finding the info I needed on the app was super simple, especially compared to the race website, including weather, bib numbers, results, key locations, transportation info, pace groups, FAQs, maps, schedules, and more.
Organizers had an added challenge this year with heavy winds and gusts topping out at 50 mph. The night before the race, runners received an e-mail:
“Based on high wind warnings of expected wind gusts in excess of 50 mph, and in the interest of the safety of our runners and volunteers, the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Run is implementing a range of race day adjustments…
We are asking all of our participants to understand that these adjustments are being made for your safety while enabling us to conduct the race at all. These changes include:
- Elimination of all race signage and overhead structures at the start and finish lines of both races
- Elimination of all on-course signage including split time clocks
- Elimination of all tents on the Washington Monument Grounds except for the bag check tent and the main medical tent
- Elimination of pre-race warm-ups and post-race awards ceremony.”
This is all industry standard for high-wind conditions, lest mile markers blow away and knock someone out. It certainly made for a race with less pomp and circumstance. I only realized I was crossing the start when my feet hit the mat. It felt like a low-key race, except with 16,000 runners.
Organizers did a great job making up for the lack of mile markers. Volunteers stood where most of the mile-markers would have been shouting out, “Mile 3! Mile 3!” and so forth. I didn’t hear a few of them, but it was definitely helpful to let me know my GPS watch was on-target, since trees, concrete, and bad weather often interfere with the signal.
One change I wasn’t anticipating was a reduction in water stations. Instead of the five planned, there were three along the course. Thankfully, it was cold out so I didn’t need much water. I only stopped at the first two and skipped the third one, which came in the last mile.
After the finish, we got a heat sheet, water bottle, granola bar, banana, and cheese. Runners who opted to buy a medal picked one up then too.
That’s one of the things I love about this race. Organizers keep costs low by making everything but a cotton shirt an optional purchase. A tech shirt and medal are add-ons you can buy during registration if you want. I passed on each, but after I saw the medal had a purple ribbon, I slightly regretted my decision.
What I Wore
With a forecast for a temperature of 37 degrees, windchill around 20, and winds up to 50 mph, I decided to wear just about everything I’d brought with me.
I foolishly didn’t pack a windbreaker four days earlier because I didn’t know about the crazy wind. But I had some warm layers, gloves, and borrowed a warm headband and neck buff from a friend.
In the morning, I threw on one more layer in an impulse. It kept me warm the first three miles, but proved to be one layer too many. I ended up taking it off and tying it around my waist.
Here’s what I wore on race day (all freebies except my New York Harrier team tank):
Nike New York Harriers Tank
Nike DriFIT Wool Long Sleeve V-Neck
This might be the best I have ever—ever!—felt during a race. I knew I was in good shape going into Sunday. It’s the most fit—and healthy—I’ve felt in a long time. I really wanted to test my fitness and see where I’m at.
So I was a bit deflated when I heard about the weather and 50 mph wind gusts. The night before I started thinking that there was no way I’d PR, that the weather would just be too tough.
I barely slept at all that night. The wind kept me awake—howling, tearing down branches, and throwing debris around. I kept waking with a start, thinking something was about to crash through the window. It was so noisy.
Phil slept terribly too, as did most of my 12 teammates and friends who were also running the race. We compared notes after the race. The wind kept us all awake.
But once I set foot in the corral, I was oddly calm. It was cold and I chatted with a few runners waiting near me. We huddled in a penguin mass, the wind gusting now and then.
I decided to stick with my initial plan of running by feel and that’s exactly what I did. I was calm, cool, and collected. I glanced at my watch from time to time, but didn’t let it guide me too much. I started slowly and gently kicked up the pace each mile.
And best of all: it felt easy. Sure, the wind was a factor, but not nearly as bad as I expected.
By Mile 3, I actually felt warm. So I took off my outer layer and wrapped it around my waist. I still wored a tank, wool long sleeve shirt, light jacket, ear warmers, neck gaiter and gloves. Somewhere around Mile 5, the ear warmers and neck gaiter came off. Finally, I pocketed my gloves around Mile 7.
The course travels in every direction, so the wind—coming from the WNW—hit runners front every direction depending on where we were:
- Mile 1 was effectively a head-wind.
- Mile 2 was an especially strong cross-wind as we traversed the Memorial Bridge in an out-and-back.
- Mile 3 was a dead-on headwind.
- Mile 4 was a delightful tailwind.
- Mile 5 and Mile 6 were a mix of headwinds, tailwinds, and crosswinds as the course looped the Tidal Basin.
- Mile 7 to 7.5 was a delightful tailwind. But once we turned the corner of Hains Point in East Potomac Park, we were slapped with the worst wind of the race.
- Mile 7.5 to Mile 10 was dead-on into a headwind. Oof. That was tough going.
Here’s the actual weather for the day as reported by Wunderground.com.
Honestly though? Those last 2.5 miles were the only part of the race that felt like work.
Time just flew by. I kept tabs on a few runners around me who seemed to be traveling the same speed. I could tell a few of them were doing the same.
I fought on right across the finish line in 1:31:58 at a 9:11 pace. I crushed my 10-mile PR, set in 2012, by over 5 minutes.
My four-year-old GPS watch has stopped saving runs, so I don’t have all of my splits. Thankfully, the race results have some of them for me.
My first mile was 10:00 even, and I ran each mile progressively faster until I finished with an 8:28 mile. Boom! Each of my last four miles were sub-9. Double boom! And despite the headwind, those last windy miles were my fastest of the race. Triple boom!
I ran a 3:33 negative split:
Miles 1-5: 9:33 pace
Miles 5-6.2: 9:16 pace
Miles 6.2-9: 8:47 pace
Mile 9-10: 8:28 pace
Overall: 9:11 pace
We got some fun personal race stats from RunPix. Over those last 4 miles, I passed 565 runners, while only 90 runners passed me. I was in the top 23% of women in my age group, and top 25% of women overall. Major, major win for me.
I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. When it’s good. It’s good. What a relief after a rocky, rough year of running.
That was my first PR since the October 2014, when I set my current 10K PR during the Staten Island Half Marathon (and after which I blew up in the second half of the race). That was 56:44 at a 9:09 pace. This 10-mile 9:11 pace is an even better performance, comparatively.
I’m once again within striking distance of the sub-2 hour half-marathon I’ve been chasing for six years now.
Honestly, if Cherry Blossom 10-Miler had been a half-marathon, it might have been my day. With a finish just shy of 1:32, I had 28 minutes left on the clock until the 2 hour-mark. That means running 9-minute miles for the remaining 3.1 miles. I’m pretty sure I had that in me. I crossed the finish with gas left in the tank, as evidenced by those last four sub-8:47 and 8:28 miles.
But shoulda, woulda, coulda doesn’t count for much. I’ve got to actually run a half-marathon.
I’ve got two weeks until the Star Wars Half Marathon at Walt Disney World and and five weeks until the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland. They’re both flat courses, but could have very hot weather. I haven’t decided how I’ll run them, yet, and likely won’t until race day.
For now, I’m just going to keep working hard and building on my success at the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run. Holy moly, it feels good!!