Friday, April 13, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Cherry Blossom

Photo Credit: RunWashington
Three weeks ago, while I was wallowing in my disappointing workout, I got an email from the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race saying I qualified for the elite women’s start, which would take off 12 minutes before the men and the rest of the field. The email—which I almost deleted without reading it, whoops—immediately lifted my spirits. It was an opportunity to be treated like a star, and even though I would get my butt kicked by the actual stars I knew I wanted to do it.

But I wasn’t sure if it was a bad idea; I’d likely be dropped in the first ten meters, was it worth being stuck in no woman’s land for 10 miles just to feel special? So I asked Friend of the Blog/Neon Angel Kerry, who’s run it a couple of times, if it was dumb to start with the elites, only to feel elite, when I was surely going to be dropped immediately. But she assured me that was exactly why you do it, that we deserve the special opportunity, and if I was in sub-60 shape I should go for it.

Breaking 60 minutes was my goal, but I hadn’t yet said it out loud and as I typed it back to Kerry, it became real: Oh, geez you really think you can break 60? That’s crazy.

At the beginning of the season, I thought this was one of the races I could go for a PR, but that seemed less and less likely lately. I figured a 10K PR was much more in reach, as my 10K PR (37:08, or 5:58 pace, from the first part of a half marathon) is actually a slower pace than my 10 mile PR (59:24, or 5:56 pace). (Which is why I remain super bummed to skip the opportunity to race a 10K.)

In the week before the race, I tried to wrap my mind around why, even if a 10 mile PR was a bit ambitious, sub-60 wasn’t totally crazy. I wrote down my rationale: I ran sub-60 pace at Cherry Blossom in 2015 and I’ve run some* faster workouts and a faster half marathon this season. (*It’s never ALL. Some workouts are faster, some are slower, and a lot comes down to which you focus on. I actively try to focus on the faster/glass half full ones.) As my confidence grew, the possibility snuck in of maybe—on a perfect day, if I feel unexpectedly amazing—maybe, just maybe going for a PR.

And I let the deadline for opting out of the elite start quietly pass.

Race morning was cold and there were about 40 other women freezing their buns off in the advanced start, all of whom looked intimidating. But I talked to one who had a similar goal—start at 6:00 pace—so that made me feel a bit better. I wouldn’t be totally alone from the gun.

Within the first quarter mile, two packs formed: the lead pack, trailing the press truck and motorcycles, and a “chase pack” of five or six women, including myself. I laughed to myself when my internal monologue called us a chase pack, as if the race was televised and the commentators had any reason to refer to us. Which of course they wouldn’t have, because we weren’t so much chasing the leaders as a self-selected group of women who clearly all had the nice round goal of 60 minutes on our minds. I was psyched that, not only was I not alone, there were a couple of women with the same idea. At a turn around near mile 2, we broke up a bit, but I stuck by Rochelle Basil, who had seemed to be in control of our little pack. 

At three miles we were exactly on 60-minute pace, but I fell back a little from Rochelle. I didn’t want to lose contact too soon as I worried that might lead to me giving up a bit and falling off the pace, so I was glad when I was able to reel her back in. As I pulled back alongside her, I began to feel better and around mile 5 ended up passing her.

Photo Credit: RunWashington
As we ran back down Independence, the sun was in my eyes and I could barely see in front of me, but as we turned to head south along the Tidal Basin I finally spotted another ponytail ahead. She was far off but I sensed I could catch her so I focused on her and just kept churning. I was feeling good and the next few miles were sub-six minutes. Maybe I could PR after all?! Around the 10K, I thought, Hmm maybe this is where I get my 10K PR… and I may have sped up a hair for a few strides to hit the 10K timing mat three seconds faster than my old PR.

Mile 7 was a 5:48 and I was flying high. I am going to PR! I suspected I might be running fast because the wind was at our backs, and things might drastically change when we rounded the tip of Hains Point and started heading north, but I was actively repelling all negativity so I didn’t dwell on it. Instead I focused on how good I felt and how much I was surprising myself. I’m in better shape than I thought!

Somewhere in this stretch I caught the woman ahead of me and started focusing on the next one, which was Susanna Sullivan, one of the top runners in the region. Could I catch Susanna Sullivan?! She must be coming back from something. (I later read that link and yes, she is.) I couldn’t really believe I was just behind her, but she was the next ponytail so catching her was my new focus.

As we rounded the turn at the bottom of Hains Point, reality set in a bit. The wind was in our faces, but I was willing myself to stay positive. By mile 8, I had averaged 5:56 pace and I just needed to keep that up for two more miles to PR. I had figured any chance of a PR would mean wildly picking it up at the end, but I didn’t need to do anything too crazy, just maintain. I kept my sights on Sullivan.

But my ninth mile was 6:01. Just like last time, I was unraveling a bit and it was clear the wind had been helping and was now actively hurting. Okay, well now I do need to kick it in a little harder. One more mile, pick it up. But I couldn’t, or I wasn’t anyway. There were signs for 1200 meters to go, (C’mon, GO!), 800 meters (GO GO GO!), and, while I felt like my effort was increasing, I wasn’t sure I was going any faster. I seemed to have nothing. The men had started passing me around mile 9 and they were flying by. Beforehand, I had wondered what effect that would have: if getting passed by someone at essentially an all-out sprint would (a) encourage me to pick it up or (b) crush my spirits, but it was actually (c) no effect whatsoever. The finish line being so close also had no effect. The last mile, often my fastest, was the slowest of the day.

So I did not PR. I lost it in those last two miles and finished ten seconds over. It was incredibly frustrating because I came so close and I really thought I had it. I keep missing my big goals by a hair (sub-2:50 in November’s marathon by 20 seconds, sub-1:20 in March’s half by 27 seconds) and I absolutely cannot miss my next big goal by a hair: ten seconds, twenty seconds, whatever. But on the other hand, only in my really optimistic moments did I think a PR was possible at this race. My PR came from the spring of 2015, when I felt fit and fast, fresh off qualifying for 2016 Trials, and with the added motivation to beat my brother. This time I surprised myself a bit, especially with how good I felt in the middle miles while knocking off sub-6 minute miles. (Yea, the wind may have helped, but shhh!)

Even though I was alone for the second half of the race, I have zero regrets about doing the advanced start. Being in the elite start reminded me that I really want to be in more elite starts, to deserve to be there, and to be mixing it up more with the top locals and top Americans. I want to be able to hang with the Susanna Sullivans and not just when they are coming back from something.

I needed that reminder, because it's time for me to stop making excuses or doubting myself because I’m coming back from something, namely having a Baby. A month or so ago, Husband asked if I was still using Baby as an excuse. He was just curious: did I feel like I still was being held back a bit/recovering from pregnancy? I said no. That was my excuse last season, but this season I'm back to running times and doing workouts that are pretty close to my old self, even my old self at her best. And I’m sick of putting an asterisk on things, “This is the best I’ve run since Baby.” (Please note: every woman is going to have a different timeline and road back, this is just my own personal experience and I realize I’m lucky to be where I’m at. But every woman should feel totally comfortable with taking it at whatever pace she wants or needs to!)

But… sometimes I do doubt myself and think, Well, I just had a Baby, I don’t deserve to start with the elites/there’s no way I can run that fast/a PR is out of the question. During the race, I was thrilled at the idea of PRing because that would prove (to myself more than anyone) that I am faster than ever, not just the fastest I’ve been postpartum. Well... not quite yet.

Although I did technically get that 10K PR, so at least there's that.

Dream big,


  1. Hey, you broke 60, so, win! And you left nothing on the table.

  2. So honored to be a Friend of the Blog!! And proud of you for killing it in the elite start (where you belong!)

    1. Of course! And thank you for convincing me to start there :)