Given my history with previous Cherry Blossom races, my goal for this year’s race was simple: to finish! Finishing was going to be a PR at the ten mile distance regardless so I was laid back in terms of preparing for it. I wasn’t nervous or worried about finishing. I wasn’t injured and I’ve been training well so I knew I had a good race in me. Saturday I did some household chores (I was going to ride my bike, but seasonal allergies had too much of an impact so I stayed inside. I did manage an outing to The Home Depot with my family, but that was it) and just took it easy. That evening I started thinking about what I wanted to wear and how early I needed to leave to head into the city. Recently, I purchased a new running skirt from Lucy. I hadn’t tried it yet (Saturday night it still had the tags on it!), but I decided to wear it Sunday. For tops, I decided to go with a Fila tank top that I’ve owned for years. It is ridiculously comfortable when I wear it for long treadmill runs, but I’ve never worn it in a race or even outside. I keep saying that I’m going to wear it for a race and then I end up changing my mind. This time I decided that since I was already wearing a new skirt I should go ahead with the tank top as well. To this outfit I added my Zensah compression culfs, Feetures cycling socks (I have super sweaty feet!), my Asics Gel Kayano 20s and a race belt with a couple Gus. I was going to forgo running with a bottle and rely on course aid. After getting everything laid out, I spoke to a friend who mentioned how cold it was supposed to be Sunday morning. I hadn’t even bothered to check the weather. I get so hot quickly and easily that I figured I would be fine. I did decide to add a throw-away shirt and jacket as well as an ear cover since my ears tend to bother me easily.
Race Morning I had set my alarm for 4:30 with the intent of taking a morning shower. Instead, I decided to lay in bed until 5:00. I dressed quickly and grabbed some breakfast – a protein bar and some sliced strawberries. I also had a bottle of water waiting for the drive in. Once I ate and dressed and grabbed my gear (Garmin, heart rate monitor and remainder of strawberries), I headed in the city around 5:30. Traffic was light and I made it from my house to the city in about 35 minutes. Score! The plan was to park at the Reagan Center (close parking, always spaces and warm/clean inside bathrooms), but I found street parking two blocks from the Washington Monument and decided to grab a spot there instead. I set in my car for a bit and decided to head over to the staging area around 6:45. When I got out of the car, I realized that regardless of the temperature I was already too warm so I left my throw away jacket in the car. I walked across the street to the Washington Monument and headed to the port-o-potties. No lines – score! Even though it was early I decided to run to warm up. I did about a mile around the grounds of the Washington Monument and then headed back to the port-o-potties one last time before heading to the corrals. By this time, the queues were crazy long! While I waited, the corrals opened, the pros started and the announcers started the first of the corrals. I wasn’t going to take any chances though! Finally, I made my way to the corrals. I was in the second to last corral thanks to last year’s DNF. But I moved to the corral ahead without any issue. While I stood waiting for my corral to begin, I realized that my heart rate monitor wasn’t reading. I tried adjusting it and it picked up my heart rate for about 3 to 5 seconds and then it dropped. What the heck? I fiddled some more and, again, my heart rate started to show, but then it dropped off again. While the corrals in front of me started, I began to worry about my Garmin not functioning properly. I train exclusively with heart rate. How was I going to pace myself without heart rate data? In texting my husband, he hypothesized that the heart rate monitor would begin working once I started running because of how quickly and easily I begin to perspire. I decided to trust in that, which was just as well because it was finally time for my corral to start. And we were off! The Race My first though was how crowded the course was. I hoped it would thin out and I focused on not tripping. As my husband predicted, my Garmin HRM started tracking my heart rate once I started running, but it was clearly inaccurate. For the first mile, it showed my heart rate at 47 beats per minute! That’s lower than my resting heart rate and not an accurate reflection of the work I was doing. I realized that I would have to run on perceived effort and/or pace, which I don’t typically do. Oh well! My main goal was to finish and I knew I would achieve that. I began doing some quick calculations in my head to figure paces for meeting my informal goal time. The pace strategy I decided on was relaxed and achievable and my goal time was certainly doable. However, I did not count on the course staying so crowded. I spent so much time running around people and getting caught behind groups of people who were running or walking 4 or 5 – or even 6! – people across. That seriously messed with my pacing. My other complaint/concern was getting behind someone who would decide to start walking and wouldn’t look behind him/herself – or give any audible signal of intent – to make sure it was safe to do that.
Because of course crowding, I avoided the first and second aid stations, but knew that I need to stop at the third station that was near mile 6. However, at the point, the course was narrower and the water stop area was littered with discarded cups. Getting over to the tables to get water was nearly impossible given the crowds so I forged ahead and decided to take in a peanut butter Gu and hope for some water at the next aid station. The run along Hains Point is one of my favorites in the city; I heard many complaints about how the road is so straight and boring with nothing to look at. I love running along the water, feeling the breeze and not having to think – just putting one foot in front of the other is so relaxing. It was around this time that I realized my right IT band was beginning to hurt. No doubt my right foot was in some discomfort (rock in my shoe!) and I was compensating. Coming up on mile marking 7, I realized that my right butt cheek was beginning to hurt (piriformis?) and my gait was impacted. I didn’t want to stop and get out the rock because I had less than 5K to go and I was afraid that I wouldn’t start running again. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Finally, at about 7.5 miles into the course, I was able to get a cup of water. A runner veered across the roadway and ran into me, which resulted in me dumping half the water down the front of my shirt. What little bit I did drink was cool and refreshing and helped wash down the rest of the peanut butter Gu. From this point until the end of the race, my goal was to keep my pace under 9:00 minute miles and to finish strong. At mile 8, I turned up the volume on my iPHone so that I could hear music playing since I don’t run with headphones. When The Charlie Daniels Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia came on, I picked up the pace a bit more and realized that I was going to finish strong. Finally, mile 9! What an uphill finish? This is not what I wanted. Oh well! I shortened my gait, kept a high turnover and powered up the small hill. At 800 yards out, I thought to myself, “So close! Sprint to the end!” I thought about sprinting that last half mile but realized I didn’t want to kill myself so I saved the spring for 400 yards out. And, finally, I finished! It only took three years to cross the darn finish line. As I finished, I realized that I felt strong and still had gas in the tank. When I saw my final time, 1:46:xx, I was disappointed. I had ran entirely too conservatively based on perceived effort and I negative split the race by 6 minutes! On one hand, I was pleased to finish the race, but I was frustrated by not trusting my training and my body’s capabilities to run faster than I did. To round out the morning, I met up with a friend to collect my finisher’s medal and check our final times. I was quickly cooling down and I started shivering pretty aggressively. My piriformis and IT bands were in agony at this point so I decided to head home. Thanks for a fun race and the opportunity to finish. Given the course crowding (over 17,000 runners), I won’t enter the lottery for this race again. Instead, next spring I’ll register for the GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler and aim to set a much better PR there.