My third race of the year is in the books! The Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is the first race I ever ran. I was under prepared and it wasn’t pretty. Last year, I struggled to cross the finish line in 2:14 minutes, 6 minutes short of not being considered an official finisher. I left the race feeling defeated and knew I had two options moving forward. I could feel sorry for myself and give up. That was the easiest thing to do. Or I could accept the fact that I hadn’t trained enough and decide to work harder so I could do better next time. If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you know I chose the latter option and I’m glad I did. This year, I walked out of the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler with a sparkly medal AND a feeling I had rarely experienced post race. I was kinda proud of myself…
My main problem with running was always more of a mental hurdle than a physical one. Ideally, I’d love to turn off netflix, jump off the couch and run a marathon. Wouldn’t we all? But that’s not how it works. You’ve gotta couch to 5K to a turkey trot, train up to a 10K, actually run (that’s a big one), consistently (also big) and then run some more. You have to decide that running is important to you and prioritize it in your life accordingly. And that’s what I did. I started tagging along with some running groups, which was very difficult at first since I’m both a slow runner AND an introvert. I struggled to keep up for a while, to make small talk but then both got easier. I ran/walked the Disneyland Paris half marathon (recap here) and mostly ran the Marine Corps Marathon 10K in the fall (recap here). I applied to be a social media ambassador for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. And I was selected!
Being a social media ambassador came with some cool perks like skipping the lottery process altogether, new tennis shoes and most importantly for me the opportunity to participate in one of the Potomac River Running’s training programs and blog about the process (added accountability is not negligible!) I’ll dedicate a whole post soon to discuss the advantages of joining training groups or social running clubs, but for now I’ll just mention a few points quickly. First of all, it was great to be surrounded with people who were struggling a bit like me. Sure running with more experienced, faster runner forces you to push yourself a little bit more, but it can also be very discouraging to always feel like the slowest one. Sometime it’s just nice to be with people more at your level (or pace I guess). Second, this winter SUCKED. Let’s be honest, there were plenty of cold rainy Sunday morning when I would have stayed in bed instead of going out for a run if it hadn’t been for my training group. I know I wouldn’t have stuck with the long runs the way I did if it hadn’t been for the extra incentive and motivation the group provided.
I stuck with the sunday long-runs, progressively increasing the mileage, Monday fun-runs with Pacers and cross training at Cyclebar NoMa. I ran the 17.75K “access granted” race (recap here) a few weeks before the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile run and felt pretty good coming out of it. That race is a tiny bit longer than the 10 Miler and way more hill-y so it definitely gave me a nice confidence boost, especially since I still had three weeks to train. But then I strained a muscle in my upper thigh and had to stop training and exercising altogether. Whatever confidence I had was completely shattered. I even debated downgrading to the 5K. Ultimately, I decided to stick with the run after participating in a shake-out run organized by Garmin and The DC Run Crew at the Potomac River Running store in Chinatown. It didn’t feel great but I thought I could at least limp my way across the finish line a little under the 2:20 cut-off time.
With that in mind, I decided I needed a plan to make it through the race, and that plan involved sticking with one of Gold Gym’s pace group for as long as I could, at an “easy” 11:30 that would still get me to finish the race in around 2 hours but wouldn’t be too strenuous. I still have a hard time pacing myself so I figured I’d let someone else do the work for me this time. On race day, my friend Caitlin and I walked over the starting area (the race starts and ends around the Washington Monument). We had brought old Icelandair airplane blankets to keep us warm while we waited in our respective corrals. Caitlin was red, of course, she’s a fast one. And I went over to the green corral to find the 11:30 pace group.
I don’t know who the runner on the picture above is, but I stuck with him for 7.5 solid miles and that was a smart move for me. At mile one I wanted to die (I’ve always been a little over dramatic). At mile two my knee started to hurt and I considered stopping at the first medical tent and quitting the race. But then I realized I actually didn’t feel *that* bad and that I just needed to shut down my brain for a bit, which is actually quite hard when you’re not running with music, and focus on that neon yellow shirt in front of me, making sure I always kept it in my sights. I got into a pretty good grove. I was able to see my own pace and time thanks to my brand new Garmin (another perks of being a social media ambassador for the race) and started to realize that I could potentially finish the race in less than 1:54 (my fastest time on a ten mile course ever) and maybe even close to 1:50 if I picked up my pace a little bit, which I actually felt good enough to do. There were just two things standing in my way: 2.5 miles and the fact that I had to pee 😉
I had stopped at most water stop along the route. While it was freezing that morning, once we got moving it was actually a beautiful, sunny day and we got warmed up pretty fast. I knew I wanted to make a quick bathroom break but all the porter potties had super long lines. And then I spotted it behind the Batalá drummers: an actual real restroom operated by Parks Services. I figured there’d be at least 5-6 stalls and the line wasn’t coming out the door so I made a break for it. I lost a few minutes, of course, but I also lost the pace group at that point so I was on my own for the rest of the run. Looking at my splits (which is super easy with my Garmin!) I can see that I ran the last two miles at my fastest pace (10:35/mi and 10:12/mi) chasing for that elusive PR I keep hearing other runners talk about. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make it. I crossed the finish line at 1:55:35, a minute shy of a PR and 5 minutes past my initial race goal of 1:50. But it still felt great. I shaved off 19 minutes from my time last year despite dealing with quite a few setbacks. Of course I couldn’t help myself: what if I hadn’t stopped to go to the restroom? To say hi to Rachel when she was handing out water? To snap a photo of this awesome oh-so-DC sign?
Would have done better if I had been able to complete my training the way I wanted to in the final weeks? The answer is probably yes, but the truth is I’ll never know so I’m really trying to push those thoughts out of my head once and for all. I did well! I put in the work and it showed. For once, I feel good after a race! Well, mentally at least. My body is a whole different story 😉