Friday, April 17, 2015

Race Report: Cherry Blossom (Not Quite) Ten Miler

Sometimes even the flattest courses can have lots of ups and downs: moments of hope and of doubt, mental high fives and battles with demons. The Cherry Blossom Ten Miler was one of those races, but—in a weird twist—some of the biggest ups and downs came after the race was over.

An absolutely gorgeous race day.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Young
Because of an accident on race morning, the course had to be rerouted between miles 4 and 6. When the organizers made the announcement before the start, they didn’t know how much distance would be lost; they guessed somewhere between a quarter and half a mile. (Major props to the organizers for how they handled the situation, making last minute changes and still starting on time.)

My goal for the race had been to break 60 minutes. I had never run sub-6:00 pace for any race in my life (5Ks, 10Ks, anything), but I figured (hoped) I was roughly in the shape I was in before Army, where I ran 60:19.

Army went well because I got behind the No Negative Self Talk idea and didn’t berate myself over the pace as I went. But I also had no real goal for Army, and this time the goal was clear: must run 6:00 miles (and at least one 5:59). I worried I’d freak out over the pace (Too fast! Too slow!), especially since splits that start with 5 still seem crazy fast to me. And freaking out is the opposite of No Negative Self Talk.

But then the course got shortened. Setting a PR wasn’t an option anymore; whatever I ran wouldn’t really count. I still wanted to run sub-6:00 pace, but without an official distance it seemed the pressure of hitting that pace exactly was off a bit. Would that be good or bad? I didn’t know.

In another last minute, pacer-sent-from-above moment, Sebi—one of the GRC guys who’s coming back from injury—said he was game to run 6:00s, so we set off together. We hit the first mile a hair fast and the second a hair slow, but by mile 4 we were a couple seconds under 6:00 pace. I was feeling good—which was shocking as my watch kept flashing those seemingly impossible paces that started with 5.

After mile 4, the reroute started. We knew by mile 6 we’d be back on the regular course, but the miles between were no man’s land. Or no pace land, anyway. I consulted my Garmin a bit, but the pace it told me for the 5th mile was so fast I knew it wasn’t accurate. (I go by the mile markers in races, because Garmins can be frustratingly off.) “Mile” 6 was essentially a blip, not an entire mile and no way to know our pace.

But then we were back on course, heading down Hains Point through a canopy of cherry blossoms. It was beautiful, and I felt like I was still in a pretty good spot. I didn’t really know our pace from miles 4-6, but mile 7 was perfect: 5:59. I had to assume we (and by we, I mean Sebi) had kept perfectly on pace.

When we turned around the tip of Hains Point, I started to fall apart a bit. I had been grateful for Sebi’s presence the entire time, but by mile 8, I was indebted to him. Without him I think I would have lost focus or given up, but I just concentrated on sticking by his side.

With Sebi, in the 9th mile.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Young
I assumed we had to still be on pace for a sub-60 equivalent, but really I had no idea. Those lost miles between 4 and 6 started to plague me; we could be ten seconds under or twenty seconds over. And we (and by we, I mean me) were slowing; mile 9 was the slowest yet.

I was possibly risking my sub-60 equivalent, after having felt so great at the beginning of the race. But the reality that it would be a sub-60 equivalent, and not a sub-60 was sinking in. The demons were talking. This doesn’t matter, who cares, it won’t be a PR anyway. Still I wanted proof I could run 6 flats in a race.

I tried to pick it up as we got closer, but it didn’t seem to be working, my legs didn’t seem to be churning. There’s a slight hill up to the finish, so slight it barely makes a blip on the elevation chart. I tell myself that I run hills well in races so I tried to push my way up it and then keep sprinting for the line. But the not-even-a-real-hill took everything out of me; I was barely moving by the top. Once I could see the finish I finally mustered a sprint and made it in 56:16.

But what the heck did that time mean? The effort felt sub-60 worthy, and everyone I complained incessantly to (I just want to know I ran sub-6:00 pace!) agreed that it must have been. (Possibly to shut me up, which is fair enough.)

Later in the day, they announced the course was 9.54 miles. At first I was ecstatic, I surely ran sub-6:00 pace! I didn’t do the exact math right away, but just let myself be thrilled. I had exceeded my expectations. This season is off to an amazing start!

But the next morning, the 9.54 distance seemed questionable for a couple of reasons: 1. My Garmin said 9.49 and it always overestimates distance. 2. That distance would mean I averaged 5:54 pace, but there was no way I picked it up in the last mile enough to do that. In fact, I was pretty sure I hadn’t picked it up at all. Could I have run miles 4-6 crazy fast? (Was my Garmin split for mile 5 correct?!) It seemed unlikely.

And it was. By Tuesday, they had officially re-measured the course as 9.39 miles. I ran the equivalent of 59:57, aka extraordinarily close to missing sub-60. I wonder what would have happened if it had been a full ten miles. I would have had to run over half a mile farther in a race where I was struggling in the end, but, ironically, I think the full distance would have helped. If I had been calculating splits in my head or had seen the clock at 59:XX, I have to believe I would have dug a little deeper in the last mile, knowing how close I was to missing my goal. The demons would have still been out, but I would have had more ammo to silence them.

It turns out that I did what I wanted to do: I ran a race at sub-6 minute pace for the first time in my life. But this week has been so up and down (OMG, I’m in better shape than I thought! Oh wait, no I’m not…), now I’m no longer satisfied with that. Remember that glorious, fleeting moment when I “ran” 5:54 pace? Yea, that was nice. Ah well, next time. [Shoves more fuel in the fire.]

GRC Women post race.
Dream big,


  1. Bonus for meeting your sub-6 goal in such a ceremonious race. Congrats! (I think I prefer having the official distance safely sub-Garmin-distance...I know I'm pocketing a legit result, if a wacky result. Silver linings, eh?)

  2. What a crazy race and post-race day of up and downs! I'm thrilled for you to have gotten your sub-60 result - and even though it was not official, I know (and you know) that you would have done it on the longer course as well. Congrats on running sub-6 miles of so long - that's pretty amazing. I am struggling to hold that pace for my 1000m repeats so my hat is off to you!! :) Great job, Teal!!

  3. I'm excited to cheer you on in this week's Broad Street Run, sure to be 10 miles long!

  4. Teal, just want to drop in and say I enjoy your blog! I can relate to you in a lot of ways - I am also a DC area runner. I ran 2:52 at CIM and 1:20 at the DC RnR this year and will be shooting for sub 60:00 at Broad Street. I, however, do not have the coveted sub 2:43 yet! Would love to meet you in Philly, maybe I'll see you there. - Sarah B.

  5. Sarah, thanks for following! I'd love to meet you at Broad Street, too. If you see me, please give a shout or say hi! And good luck! Let's go get that sub-60 :)

  6. Awesome! I will look for you!