Sunday morning I ran my fifth race of the year – the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. After last year’s experience, I had mixed feelings going into this year’s race. I was excited to give this race another chance, but nervous that I would have another disappointing experience. Overall, I did have a better experience this year, partly since I was actually placed into the correct corral (and wasn’t last year), but there were still a couple of issues that I had with this race.
This year’s CUCB experience started Saturday afternoon when Preston and I headed downtown to the expo. Just like last year, the expo was held at the National Building Museum, which was easily accessible by Metro. We were in and out of the expo in less than 30 minutes. Also like last year, the expo was small but well organized. After picking up our race packets, we circled the expo floor, and although I had hoped to pick up the new Cherry Blossoms Sweaty Bands, they were out of them by the time we got there on Saturday. To Preston’s amazement, we left the expo without spending any money. I was quite proud of myself!
Because of the road closures and how busy downtown was due to peak bloom of the cherry blossoms, we took the Metro downtown for the race Sunday morning. Immediately after we got off the Metro, I received a text message from my friend Kristen. She asked if I had heard the race announcement, that there had been an accident involving a pedestrian, and that the course was being diverted off of Independence Avenue and shortened due to the accident investigation. The race directors estimated that they had shortened the course by about half a mile. (Yesterday, the directors posted the official course measurement online, which was 9.39 miles.) While I was disappointed about the last minute change, I completely understood the need for it, and greatly appreciated how quickly the race directors took care of the unexpected change.
The race started and finished at the Washington Monument. Once we arrived, we quickly checked our gear bags and headed towards the corrals. We had left the house a bit later than we had planned to, so we didn’t get into the Green Corral until about 5 minutes before the start of the race. Since neither Preston nor I had planned on racing this race, he decided to run with me. In the corral we met up with Jenny, and at 7:43 am our corral was off.
The first four miles of this course, like many other DC races, takes runners past some of my favorite DC sights, including the Lincoln Memorial, across Memorial Bridge towards Arlington National Cemetery, along the Potomac River near the Kennedy Center, and along Independence Avenue. The course was diverted around the 4.5 mile point, where instead of continuing to run on Independence Avenue along the Tidal Basin, we turned and ran past the MLK Memorial and along a different part of the Potomac River. We were directed back onto the originally planned course route just prior to the mile 6 marker.
Once we were back on the planned route, we started the long run down towards Hain’s Point. Although the crowd support along miles 6-9.5 of the race was very weak, this wound up being one of my favorite parts of the course since the cherry blossoms were at peak bloom. The course down and back from Hain’s Point was absolutely gorgeous. At the end of Hain’s Point Batala Washington, an all female percussion band, was entertaining runners. Their music was beautiful and very encouraging!
Like last year, the course was extremely crowded. I remembered from last year that the crowd started to thin out after the first three miles. And although the crowd this year thinned out slightly after mile three, the course remained very crowded for the entire race. This made for a lot of weaving and having to sometimes complete my walk intervals on the sidewalk or the grass. This definitely slowed my pace down. Jenny and I discussed the course crowding after the race, and both concluded that part of why it may have felt more crowded was since we started the race a corral ahead of where we did last year.
Had I been trying to race this race, I would have been more frustrated by the crowds than I was. While the crowds definitely slowed me down, I wasn’t as frustrated by the crowding on the course like I was last year when I had been pushing myself for a good finish time. One other aspect that did slow me down was the heavy crowding at each water station. Volunteers were scrambling to keep up with the volume, and a couple of volunteers even noted that their stations were understaffed.
Preston and I crossed the finish line in 1:46:38, which based on the calculated course distance of 9.39 miles is an 11:21 pace. Last year I would have considered this speedy for myself, but this year is on the slower side. On Sunday I initially thought that I would have PRed this race, but after some clarification yesterday with race directors about a miscalculation of what my official race pace was, I was two minutes shy of PRing. However, I still met my C goal, which was to finish the race faster than I ran it last year. My estimated 10 mile finish time was 1:54:43, which would have been four minutes faster than last year.
After crossing the finish line we received water and a heatsheet. We had to walk back towards the staging area in order to get food and Gatorade, and I was disappointed to see that all they had for slower runners was a banana. A single banana after running over 9 miles is nowhere near enough. The lack of food was an issue at the end of the race last year too. When will the race directors learn that putting the food in a completely open area with zero control over who has access to the food (both runners and spectators) is unacceptable?
Like last year, this race had both pros and cons. Some of the positives included:
- Low registration cost (tech shirt, which I don’t really need more of, and finisher’s medal were upgrades for an extra cost)
- A well organized expo
- A flat course that takes runners past some of the must see DC sites, and was absolutely gorgeous this year since the cherry blossoms were at peak bloom (this was the first time since 2007 that the race was during peak bloom)
- Great volunteer support at the water stations and all along the course (no race is possible without the volunteers!)
- Loose enforcement of the corrals, which is an improvement over last year (Jenny had said the corrals weren’t enforced when she lined up, but a volunteer was checking bibs when Preston and I entered the corral)
- Free runner tracking (last year there was a fee for runner tracking)
- Quick response by the race directors to the emergency that necessitated a last minute change to the course
Some of the negatives included:
- Not enough corrals (over 15,000 runners divided into only six corrals made for an extremely crowded race)
- The water stations were super crowded and runners often had to wait for the volunteers to pour more water and/or Gatorade (more corrals and having fewer runners on top of each other could have easily alleviated this problem – several volunteers also said that their water station was understaffed)
- Unsecure finish area
- Not enough post race food, which was likely the result of it being unsecured and not in a runners only area
While there were some improvements made from last year, there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to the post race food. After last year’s experience, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to run this race again. Given how much I like the course and how low the registration cost was, I would consider running this race again. But also like I said last year, I won’t go out of my way to make this race fit into my calendar since it is far from perfect.
QOTD: What amount of food would you expect to see made available to runners at the end of a ten mile race?