I don’t do things more than once. I don’t rewatch movies or TV shows, I don’t reread books… and I don’t run the same races more than once… with a few exceptions. When it comes to the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, I am a repeat offender. A serial runner. A frequent flier.
In my eyes, this is the best race ever implemented.
Getting in – what you need to know
The race date is determined months ahead of time by each year’s predicted peak bloom… and it is eerie how often it is correct… especially given how peak bloom date predictions change every week during winter. However, even if peak bloom is wrong – and even if it is right but the wind blows the blossoms away the day before the race (2016), the course remains beautiful.
To register, you enter through a lottery in early December and find out on December 15 if you are in or not. The National Park Service limits the entrants to 16,000 every year. If you don’t get in via lottery, you can still run with a charity bib or get lucky enough for someone to transfer their bib to you during the transfer period. It is a “no frills” race so the cost of entry is low (around $35 compared to the Marine Corps Marathon’s $176.70 entry fee) and you can choose to add on a medal for $14, and / or upgrade your shirt from cotton to tech for $14, and so on.
The race is timely. I ran a Rock and Roll half marathon in Seattle where the start was delayed so long that I had already drank all my water and had to pee before I even crossed the start line. I apparently wasn’t the only one because the lines for the porta-potties were too long to wait at for the first 7 miles. That’s right, I held it in for 7 miles. The Cherry Blossom starts when it says it will start. The corrals are on time, to the second – everyone crosses the start between 7:30am and 8:00am. Elite runners and honored runners start before the corrals.
There is a 2 hour 20 minute time limit to the course, and the event ends promptly at 10:20am. You can cross the finish line any time before 10:20am, but if your personal time is over 2 hours and 20 minutes, you are disqualified in the official results. That translates to a maximum 14 minute per mile pace.
Packet pickup / the expo
In addition to being my favorite race, The Cherry Blossom also holds my favorite expo. The Rock and Roll expos are bigger, yes, and have more gimmicks – a mechanical shoe to ride, treadmills to check your gate, teeth whitening stations… but the Cherry Blossom has a more familiar feel to me (less commercial) and speakers / running celebrities you can meet and speak with. It was here that I got to meet and speak with Kathrine Switzer in 2017. Runner Meb Keflezighi has also begun frequenting the course – last year he raced, this year he paced.
Because I love the expo, I volunteer at it every year and am given a guaranteed race entry code to bypass the lottery. I have gotten in via lottery every year and given away my entry code to someone who was not as lucky. I volunteer on the Friday before the race and go to the awesome volunteer party after my shift. Unlimited pizza, beer, live music, and, now that we have been doing it a few years, familiar faces.
Day of the race
The metro used to open in time to take it to the start of the race… but thanks to “safe tracking” whatever that means, it has not be operating in time for the last two years. We now reserve a parking space on Spothero somewhere by the mall and get there around 6:45am. It works out well. We walk down, check our bags, use the porta-potties, take some photos, and line up in the corrals.
One thing you can never prepare for with the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is the weather, which varies wildly from year to year given wild DC Spring patterns. Two years ago, the winds were so high that they had to take down all race signage (mile markers, start line, finish line…) and all water stations were cut down save for those that went in underpasses. The trees were blown clean and thus barren of blossoms.
This year was chilly, but the blossoms were absolutely perfect.
We got there at 6:45am. I went to use the porta potty and when I came out everyone I came with was already gone. Our running team separated into their corrals and I did not see them again until after the finish. Having a few minutes to myself to clear my head, I decided to keep my jacket with me during the race. Every year, I keep it with me and then take it off after 1 mile when I warm up.. I know I will be warm enough after 1 mile, but I get worried about becoming too cold waiting for my corral to start. I secured my bib to my leg instead of my shirt so that I would have the freedom to have layers. I surrendered my bag to the bag check tent without issue – in it, I had a change of clothes with which I would go to brunch afterward. I walked to my corral, lined up, and turned on my GPS watch – the TomTom Spark + Cardio. It caught signal right away and I was relieved. This watch either catches right away or never. We have a tolerate/hate relationship – right now, it was at tolerate. I was ill-prepared for the run this year, due to a hectic and depressing winter, during which I did not run at all, and so I was keen on finishing the race only.
I crossed the start at 7:47 with a 17 minute delay – I kept this in mind so I could look at the race clocks at the mile markers to calculate my race time and pace in case my watch didn’t work as it should. The first mile felt great. Cold, but great – a mix of I wasn’t warmed up yet, but I also wasn’t tired yet. At 1.6 miles, as I predicted, my watch lost signal and I was no longer able to rely on it for anything other than actual clock time. “Tolerate” turned to “hate.”
This year’s course was a little different the previous years’ due to construction on Memorial Bridge. Instead of crossing the bridge, we ran past it and up to the Kennedy Center before turning around. Other than that, everything else was the same… down to the beer and Oreos guy at the turnaround at Hains Point. Hains Point is normally everyone’s least favorite part of the course because it is considered boring – 4 miles of no spectators and only island, river, and trees. I actually enjoy this part of the course because of the peaceful atmosphere. You are more than halfway finished, you know the island is the last part of the course, and you have all these beautiful trees to look at. Sometimes, you can see a photoshoot happening on the island, and this year we saw a bride. I am currently reading Deena Kastor’s “Let Your Mind Run” and she has a strong theme of keeping a positive perspective which you can practice applying at Hains Point 😉
When I finished, I was thrilled to see my husband and my mom in law waiting for me at the finish line. My father in law had been tracking us via the app and told them I would be finished soon. We walked through the finish area together and gathered granola bars, cottage cheese, a reusable water bottle, bananas, heat blankets, and one medal that we share.
The weather warmed up after the race and our team went out for brunch after. We still had some leg strength so we made an obligatory stop at the white house for a DC photo with our medals. Rest of the day was all movies, take-out, and traveling home for our team members.
Look out for us at next year’s event!