2022 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Race

2022 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Race

Last fall I finally got to race the official Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 mile course. This year, I FINALLY was able to run the race on the course in the spring. It was nice for the race to return to its place as the “Rite of Spring”. Although the cherry blossoms reached peak bloom a week before the race, they still made a nice, pretty setting for the race.

It was also the first time I had someone I knew watching me at the race. My mother, who had wanted to see the cherry blossoms in DC for nearly a decade, came this year in order to also watch me race. She was right at the beginning of the race as I took off. Thanks to the fact that the course has tons of loops, she was also able to be at a few other locations and also be near the end when I finished as well. This was great for mom’s enjoyment and also getting some great photos (which will be sprinkled throughout this post) as well as seeing the beginning and end of the race. The only bad thing (and that’s stretching the word “bad” a bit) was that she was in very crowded areas so I didn’t see her or even hear her calling for me. So this photo is an amazing coincidence that I’m looking right at her.

a photo of me running (also other runners and spectators)
I didn’t hear my mom calling me, but ended up looking right at her! (Taken by Carmen Mesa)
gym bag full of racing gear with the event's big on top

Pre-Race

I love getting my bag ready the night before. it really brings a certain finality to things. The race will be here tomorrow.

As with last year, I was using runCoach.com to train for the race. There are many ways to train for a race, but I find this one to work very well for me. I’m not sure if it’s because this year I was doing a bunch of NYRR races, but for my long runs, it never got anywhere as long as it did last year where they had me doing up to 12 miles. Nonetheless I felt extremely well prepared for the race.

Pinning on my Bib in the Reagan Center garage
Pinning on my Bib in the Reagan Center garage

As I did last year, I woke up at 0445 with a goal of leaving the house by 0515.  I had one measured cup of cereal and forced my body to empty out so that I wouldn’t have to stop at a porta potty during the race. Something happened with my mom’s alarm (maybe AM/PM confusion?) so we left a little closer to 0525. We drove to DC and parked in the Reagan Building. Got my bib attached to my bib belt, put my cell phone in there, and we headed upstairs. I took another chance to pee since I knew it wouldn’t be crowded. Heading out onto the sidewalk I felt slightly chilly – I was wearing the Tracksmith Merino Wool Thaw shirt, Thaw half-tights, and Thaw cap. I knew I’d be OK once I got warmed up and the sun came up. 

Last year I didn’t have enough faith in myself to do what runCoach recommended and have a 10 minute warm up before my race. I thought I might waste energy I needed for the race. But this year I’ve been actually doing the 10 minute warm up before my NYRR races without any negative consequences. So I ran my 10 minute warm up around the base of the Washington Monument. 

Afterwards I made one more trip to the restrooms near the base (much closer to my yellow corral than the porta potties) and then it was announced that it was time to fill the corrals. 

I had my raisins with me, but so close to the start I decided not to eat any. I put them in the half tight’s pockets in case I needed them later.

Many thousands of runners begin to cross the starting line

The Race

The horn goes off; you start your watch; the adrenaline flows

It was great this time to be up front where I could see the elite women take off for their start at 0718. As I waited there while we went through the various festivities and ceremonies before the whole race and between the women’s and men’s starts, I found that even though I’d already peed 4 times before the race (and drank less than a cup of water before the start) I had to pee. Well, I wasn’t going to leave the corral, so I hoped it wouldn’t get bad enough that I’d have to stop at one of the course porta potties. I might need to do that at a half marathon or full marathon, but I was going to try not to do so for this 10 miler. As a consequence, I only grabbed water at 2 of the 4 or 5 water stations. I wanted to stay hydrated, but I didn’t want to have to pee so badly it was a choice of stopping my race or peeing on myself.

This race was my first time using Garmin’s PacePro feature. Previously I’d just used the watch and checked my pace vs the pace I was trying to achieve. This is OK for a simple or short course, but harder the longer the courses get and if they have hills or other things that would keep you from running an even pace. The other thing is that either you need to have run the race before and recorded a GPS track OR someone else has to have done so and made it public. This allows you to tell Garmin your finish time and Garmin looks at the course, elevation, etc and comes up with a pace per mile for you. You can also tell Garmin if you want to do positive or negative splits and work harder on hills. I left it at neutral for everything for this particular race. What worked best for me is that it keeps track of how ahead or behind you are for the entire course. Once I reached an ahead of 4-5 seconds during a hill where I ran a little faster, I decided to try and maintain that by staying on pace for the rest of the laps. The only disappointment was the fact that we went under a few overpasses and that messed with the GPS. For a car they would have been no big deal. But at human speed, it caused PacePro to lose track of where I was for a bit and that meant it was up to me to try and keep pace by keeping my legs at the same speed. Sometimes it took 30 seconds to get it back, sometimes a minute or more. Easier at the beginning than at the end. Overal, it was a bit positive and I will DEFINITELY use it for any race that I’m running for the second (third, etc) time. 

The course was great other than mile 6 seeming to have way more potholes than any other mile on the course. It was hard to make sure not to twist my ankle or fall. Since I’d just run the course this fall, I still remembered a lot of details about the end. As we did the final southern loop, I felt great. Unlike last time I didn’t feel like dying around miles 7-8. I started feeling a little tired at mile 9 / 15k mark, but I still had energy to push it hard at the end. I felt good at the end with my legs slightly sore. It might just be me or maybe a few folks finished at once, but I didn’t hear my name at the finish line (and they WERE announcing folks). That was a slight bummer as it’s my favorite part of finishing a big race.

I thought about maybe consuming the raisins around the halfway point of the race if I felt like I was flagging. But, as has been drilled into my head over the last few weeks, NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. And I hadn’t done any training runs where I ate raisins while running. So I just left it alone. 

The race went extremely well for me. Last fall I wrote in my blog post that it would be incredible to go from 1 hour 14 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes. It would have required me to go from a 7:30 mile to a 7:05 mile. And yet that’s exactly what I did. It was the most incredible surprise and points to the fact that I may not yet have discovered my running peak (having come to this so late in life and on my own without a true coach. According to the records kept by Garmin I also got new PRs for my 5K and 10Ks. Since that’s not something that typically happens in a longer race (where one has to conserve energy) I think it means I should be able to get some nice PRs later in the year when I do my scheduled 5K and 10K races. Looking at my Garmin watch now, based on what Garmin knows about my fitnes level it predicts the following for me:

  • 5K – 18:42 – 3 minutes faster than I ran at the Washington Heights 5K in March
  • 10K – 39:42 – 7 minutes faster than I ran the 10K in February
  • Half Marathon – 1:31:27 – I have not yet tried an in-person HM at race pace, so I have no comparison here. I believe runCoach predicts a 1:37 HM for me.
  • Marathon 3:30:33 – I haven’t tried yet virtual or in person

Results

Those are results to make one proud! (not even counting dropping 4 minutes off my time!) For the age group that’s top 14% (148/1053). Gender is top 13% (838/6315). And overall top 7%!! (1085/14665)

Garmin Data

Let’s first take a look at the GPS track:

2022 CU Cherry Blossom GPS Tracks over Sat Map
2022 CU Cherry Blossom GPS Tracks over Sat Map

Taking a look at my heart rate and and pace as recorded by Garmin:

Pace and Heart Rate
Pace and Heart Rate

You can see the pace was incredibly stable. And you’ll see that soon on the image comparing my splits to the PacePro recommendation. It looks as thought my heart rate was relatively low for the first half of the race. After that it picked up quite a bit, but seemed to stay pretty stable. Here’s my time per heart rate zone:

Heart Rate Zones
Heart Rate Zones

When you look at the PacePro splits below, be aware of the GPS caveats I mentioned above. After all, the watch thinks I maintained a 7:01 pace while the official race pace is 7:05.

Garmin PacePro Splits
Garmin PacePro Splits
me crossing the finish line with another person. Other runners behind

Post-Race

It’s over. Time to think about your accomplishments and plan for next time.

After the race was over, mom and I took some photos and basked in the glory of the end of a race, especially once in which I’d earned a new PR. Then it was time to head back home. By the time I got home I was famished! I had a full bowl of cereal with a focus on Kashi Go Crunch Peanut butter and Trader Joe’s Just the Clusters Pecan cereal (I like to pour a mix of cereals into my bowl for a mix of textures and tastes) A couple hours later I had a lunch of some bratwurst that I’d grilled the day before in a sub roll. I didn’t eat the bratwurst yesterday since eating fatty foods can lead to unfortunate results during a race. 

I had some of the usual tibial tendon inflammation that I get when I race really hard so I took a couple ibuprofen that morning and iced my ankle before bed. The inflammation stuck around for a few days, but had mostly faded by Thursday. My legs were a little sore going up the stairs, but by Tuesday my legs were fine.

What’s Next 

What’s literally next is a half marathon in a couple months. But, thinking about my running as a whole, I’d like to see how fast I can push myself on my 5K and 10K. I also have another 10 mile race later this year and I’d like to see if I can bring my time down even lower. I didn’t feel “dead” at the end of the race, so there might be room to veer into the sub-7 minute mile pace. If I can eventually get to a 1 hour 10 mile race, I think I’ll be very happy with myself. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Cherry Blossom run. Part of me thinks it’s silly to imbue any particular number with any significance. Why is 50 more important than 49 or 51? But part of me is still a human with human psychology and would like to try and be a part of that milestone. The race organizers are also planning something special to commemorate. We’ll see if I win that lottery selection.