Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

April is one of the most beautiful times of year in the DC when the cherry blossoms are in bloom around the monuments and East Potomac Park inlet.  One of the best ways to see them, as a runner, is during the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  This was my second appearance at this event; my first time was back in 2014.

The race is a popular one, and as such is done as a lottery.  Be sure to sign up for the email notifications so you are informed prior to the start of the lottery process.  If you want to run as a group you can setup a lottery group and have your friends and family sign up under that group.  That way if you win, you all run together.  Signing up as a group for the lottery doesn't affect your chances of being selected, but it does make sure you all get to run together if selected.

The event hosts a 5K race along with the 10 miler for those that aren't yet ready for the 10 mile distance or might be concerned about the pacing requirements.  For those opting in for the 10 mile race, the pacing requirements is a 14 minute mile.  Most races tend to come in around a 16 minute mile, so this is one of the faster minimums.  I guess they can only have DC roads closed down for so long, and the 5K starts after all the 10 miler waves have left the starting area.

There is no packet pickup on race morning so be sure to plan ahead so you can get your packet at the Building Museum prior to race day.  Since the race is early and Metro isn't always running early enough (it did my first time in 2014, but not this year), it may make sense to book a hotel the night before.  This makes the race less stressful overall as you can get into DC, check into the hotel, get your packet and enjoy a nice dinner and some down time.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn off First Street NE.  It was a nice hotel right next to a Starbucks and was walk-able to the Building Museum for packet pickup.  The walk to the starting line from this hotel, that early in the AM, was a bit much so we grabbed a cab.  If I were to do it all again, I would book a hotel closer to the starting line well in advance of the lottery draw.  If I didn't make it into the race I would just cancel the hotel, but this way I would have a better location to walk to the starting area and walk back after finishing for a quick shower.

The DC mall at sunrise is really nice.  This time of year the air is usually cools and crisp and today was no exception.  The weather was perfect for running.  I had on an old sweatshirt I could discard right before the race to stay warm, and I had a change of cloths ready at the bag check when I finished.

Sunrise on the Washington Monument

Bag check this time around was really well done.  There were several tents marked with letters.  You simply walked up to any tent, preferably the one with the shortest line, and handed over your items.  They gave you a wrist band with the identifying information to pick your bag back up.  After the race you simply returned to that same tent, showed them your wrist band and they handed you your bag.  This made for really short lines and a quick turn around.

The flip side the Washington Monument

The race starts in waves that are all based on the honor system.  For the most part runners seem to keep it honest, but as you would expect there were several runners that were in corrals that they probably shouldn't have been in.  During the first two or so miles things are definitely crowded so if you are attempting a PR you have to be alert and identify clear paths ahead.

Still in the crowd at this point

Aside from the initial crowds the first few miles, the race is really flat and fast.  According to Strava the total elevation gain is only 34 feet.  That is by far the flattest race I have done to date.  Water stops are plentiful and are spaced out relatively equally about every 2.5 to three miles.  As with most races they provide water as well as Gatorade.  And just like back in 2014 the group handing out beer and Oreo cookies was at the tip of the inlet.  Apparently a tradition for many many years.

Strava Elevation Chart

Crowd support is actually really great for this event and after mile four you really start to see a lot of cheering fans.  The closer you get back to the starting/finish area the more people you start to see.  There were high school bands playing around the inlet as well as a small Jazz group.  As you start to see signs indication only 1500 meters remaining it is hard not to kick it into high gear.  There is a slight incline for the last half mile, but the crowds really get your adrenaline moving so pushing up that last hill isn't as hard as a normal practice run would be.

Strava Race Map

The course really allows you to see several different monuments and parks around the Washington Monument area including the Lincoln Memorial, the Arlington Memorial Bridge, Korean War Veterans Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr Monument.  And of course the views as you go around the inlet are amazing.  Especially cool to look at is the housing/building for the Fort Lesley J. McNair facility across the inlet waterway.

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Finisher Medal

After crossing the finish line you are provided some water and make the long walk back to the runners area entrance.  It is here you can grab some food and additional drinks and if you ordered a medal, you can pick that up as well at a well marked tent.  If you do decide to get a medal and pay for a premium shirt the overall price of the event does go up, but the shirt is worth it unless you like cotton t-shirts.

Cherry Blossoms after the race

Overall this is a great event, and for anyone that loves the 10 miler distance, or wants to try and set a PR, this is a great choice.  The event is very well organized, and the area is absolutely beautiful.  Granted the cherry blossoms weren't stellar this year with the late cold snap and snow in the area, but it was still worth seeing.

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