Wow, what an incredible weekend. When I initially signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, I had done so with the hope of running fast (relatively, for me) and strong (see text in previous parenthesis). But as the weeks went on and the runs became not only more frequent but longer, I started to break down – both mentally and physically in a lot of ways. It wasn’t until I ran 12 miles last weekend, totally on a whim and just for the fun of it, that I gained a new perspective on my game. I felt refreshed and anew, and decided to scratch my proposed mentality and to instead run the race for 5 practical reasons.
1. To rekindle my love of running.
2. To simply “take it all in.”
3. To run without pain (did not happen; more on that below).
4. To remember to relax my shoulders.
5. To break 1:40:00.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning: Friday, 4:00 train to D.C., wine in tow. OK, 2 mini bottles of wine in tow.
I needed to get out of the city by the time Friday rolled around. So whereas a 3-and-a-half-hour train ride would normally be something I dread, I prepared for the trip with Pinot Grigio, which would eventually end up spilling all over Noah (I said sorry; I really didn’t feel that bad)…
…and turkey and muenster cheese roll-ups.
Before I knew it, we were headed down south, the scenic train ride bringing an instant sense of inner calm.
After a sloppy fun night out in D.C., during which I drank more than I have in the past 4 months or so in under 4 hours, I woke up Saturday morning thinking, Damn, I probably shouldn’t have done that with the race tomorrow. Regardless, by 9:30 Noah and I were up and at ’em, and after scarfing down 2 homemade pancakes with maple syrup (going back to parents’ houses is just fantastic like that), we went down to the river to take a nice run/walk to simply loosen up our legs. It wasn’t Central Park, but the greenery was just fine.
We spent the rest of Saturday just wandering around D.C., hitting up the expo to grab our race bibs and throw-back t-shirts (um, hi rainbow)…
…and, naturally, stopping by the orchid show at the botanical gardens. If you didn’t know it before, then now you do: I love close-up pictures of exotic flowers.
Saturday afternoon warranted a serious nap to fight off any residual hungover-ness from the night before. Again, not my best decision, but I was going to have to live with it. On the night before the race, we went out to a cute little French restaurant where I dined on my usual pre-event meal: lentils, salad and a bread basket. By the time we got back to Noah’s parent’s place, I was ready to pin up my shirt and hit the hay. We had a 5:30 wake-up call after all.
Waking up in the dark on Sunday morning was somewhat brutal. I was both excited for the race and decidedly bitter that I was no longer fast asleep. That said, it wasn’t long before I got over said sentiments and took a shot of espresso, followed by what’s becoming my standard breakfast before a race: half of some sort of “healthier” muffin (that means it doesn’t have chocolate chips) and half a banana.
No longer than 40 minutes later, Noah and I were driving up to the start of the race near the Washington Monument.
No, the sky was not yet bright.
Now, for the part you’ve all been waiting for: my official recap of the 2012 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. Let’s start at the very beginning. As expected, the race was insanely packed with something like just under 17,000 participants. To put it bluntly, the first 2 miles were insanely slow and difficult. The crowds were too dense to weave in and out, and so for the most part, it required patience – and a lot of it – on the part of every runner.
Fortunately, the first 5 miles were also the most scenic, taking us past a number of monuments, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Memorial Bridge (everything seems to be a memorial of some sort in D.C., doesn’t it?).
Here’s where we’ll need to return to my aforementioned goals. Between the 1st and 5th miles, I had accomplished numbers 1, 2, and 4. I was enjoying myself, taking in all the scenery, and had remembered to shrug my shoulders every few minutes or so in order to ensure they stayed relaxed and free. As for number 3, “no pain,” I can’t say as much.
I’ll be honest: Things got pretty weird fast. What’s that inexplicable tightness in my calf? at mile 1 turned into Why won’t that inexplicable tightness ease up? by mile 2 to Will this inexplicable tightness never end? Is this real life? by mile 3. I haven’t had any significant calf or Achilles problems since the Queens Half Marathon last August, and while I was implementing every practice I could think of to propel myself forward (breathing, shifting my focus, and making a solid attempt to land softly with every stride), the unwelcome feeling seemed to be sticking around. I think it had something to do with those first 2 painfully slow miles, though I guess you can never be too sure. There are so many confounding factors when it comes to race day that you can never blame one concern on any single element.
Fortunately, while the tightness didn’t ease up, I also didn’t really let it get to me either. In my mind, I only had to get through 10 miles which, while by no means easy for a race-novice such as myself, was still far less tedious than my previous 2 events. More importantly, it’s those last 3.1 miles of a half marathon that really seem to get you; and so I knew I could make it to the end of the 10-miler despite the lingering discomfort.
Perhaps more surprising than the twinge itself was that the pain in my calf never really slowed me down. In fact, quite the contrary, it apparently sped me up. I’m not sure whether running at a greater speed actually made my legs burn less or whether I was just thinking Hm, the quicker I finish this the sooner I can stop running, but either way, it resulted in a pleasant surprise.
I had wanted to finish the race in 1:40:00 in order to stay on track with my first half-marathon pace of 10-minute miles (I have no idea what my time was for the second race since it was switched to a “fun run” due to the blizzard-like conditions). Instead, after pushing myself pretty hard for the duration of the run, I finished in 1:35:20. Actually, I finished the first 5 miles in 50 minutes, which means I ran the second half of the race in about 9-minute miles.
Now looky here. That’s something I can definitely get down with.
All in all, I loved the 2012 Cherry Blossom 10-Miler course. It was extremely interesting, the first 5 miles taking us through several smaller legs of D.C. and the final 5 which took the form of one giant loop around the tip of East Potomac Park. And although there really weren’t any Cherry Blossoms as said race should have had (thanks a lot, global warming), it was definitely a fast, easy course that I could see myself doing again. The fact that it was completely flat (save for the final half-mile or so, where I may or may not have been tempted to throw up; spoiler, I managed not to) didn’t hurt either. I can’t say that it was the easiest run of my life, but goddamn it that was hands-down the hardest I’ve ever run. All that, after telling myself I’d just go into it with a laid back mindset.
Now, I’m no authority on running, but I think I’m on to something here. Maybe the moments we surprise ourselves most are during those times in which we set ourselves up for quite literally doing the best we can – whatever that means on a given day. I’m convinced that had I gone into this race with high expectations, I could have so easily underperformed.
It’s natural to place an overwhelming amount of pressure on ourselves to be the best we can – to break records and set PRs every time we lace up our sneakers. Don’t get me wrong. That’s a significant aspect of running too. I’m just saying there needs to be a balance. Because while there will always be an opportunity to find disappointment in those goals we set out to achieve and don’t, we also need to be able to find a ton of joy in the instances in which we surprise ourselves.
Considering that I was always the “slow girl” on the basketball court in high school, I’m totally pumped about my sub 10-minute miles. How did you surprise yourself this weekend – even if your biggest accomplishment was concocting the best mimosa ever?