Wx - Ideal; cool, sunny, no wind
The Cherry Blossom Ten Miler is (IMO) the best race in Washington DC. It is fast, it has prestige and it comes at a great time of year. I put it on my race calender every year.
Like the Washington Post and New York Times, rival Bert Rodriguez and I shared our Cherry Blossom race strategies (e.g. – front pages) before we went to race (or to press). We’ve battled it out every year over the past four years during this race but, in doing so, we push each other to new limits and we record new PRs. 2010 of course would be no different. The local press said Bert and I were two of the local favorites and this year there would be money for the top 3 Americans (but to qualify for el dinero one would need to finish in the top 15 overall). Bert and I settled on 5:04-5:05 pace, though I thought we might be able to go a little faster. Either way, we agreed to hit the first 5 miles in 25:20ish and then see what we had left in the second half. Bert noted he would try to “go” around 5 miles. I privately told myself I would “go” around 8 miles. Race plans can go the way of the dodo once the gun cracks, so it was important to keep calm and keep cool.
It was time.
The horn blasted and a wave of Ethiopians and Kenyans swept down 15th Street and, within a moment, the pack was almost out of sight pounding down Independence Avenue. I got a great start but knew it was a tad too fast. The pace felt easy, but it should have this early in the race. Actually this was the point after racing a number of faster 5ks and 5 milers this spring. I looked around for Bert and when I found him whispered “too quick”. I am not sure if he heard me, but he backed off either way. I hit mile 1 in 4:56…about 8 seconds too fast. I looked over my shoulder and saw Bert shake his head and make a grunt. I shrugged my shoulders and started to blaze into Virginia. Maybe we would have one of those days. Wilson Komen, Jerry Greenlaw and elite American Dan Kahn were just ahead of us and I wanted to catch that train in case they started to move. I passed Kahn and then hugged the rail on the Arlington Cemetery round-about and started chugging back into Washington. I hit mile 2 in 10:05. Damn, we had slowed down. Bert, who was now on my shoulder, said “that’s more like it”. Not wanting to settle this early, I threw in a surge and by the time we crossed the bridge, we had caught Komen and Greenlaw. Together the four of us cruised down the Rock Creek Parkway and u-turned under the Kennedy Center. We hit mile 3 and the Greenlaw asked what we split.
I sputtered “5:05”.
Then after hearing countless spectators cheering for “Bert”, Greenlaw asked, “Which one of you is Bert?”
I threw in another surge.
By mile 4 (20:19) we no longer heard Wilson or Greenlaw on our shoulders. We were coming up now to the halfway point. I checked my competition after looping around the 180 degree u-turn just east of the Lincoln Memorial. The only man I noticed was Aaron Church. His eyes met mine through my shades. We didn’t speak but it was as if he said “yup, I am here”. Church appeared to be the only one catching up to us. I turned my attention back to the Pacer on my left and pressed for the half way mark.
I had hoped to hit mile 5 in 25:20 and I hit it in 25:21. Right on schedule. I felt good and was looking forward to getting onto Hains Point (mentally, the last section of the race). I glanced to the right and to the left and took in the sunshine and the cheers. All of a sudden, I realized Bert was 3 strides ahead of me. When did this happen? I dug in deep and tried to pull him back, but he appeared to be surging. What was he doing? Why so soon? Then I remembered that he TOLD me he was going to do this. Why was I surprised? I struggled to reel him in and, in the process of doing so, I began to labor. Soon I had a nagging stitch dead center in my chest. The harder I pushed the more it felt like someone was working an egg beater drill into my sternum. “Relax” I told myself, you only have 25 minutes left to run. You can run through any pain for 25 minutes”. True, but I didn’t want the pain to get any worse. Ahead of me was Bert and ahead of Bert was young Graham Bazell, who appeared to be falling back…but slowly. I hit mile 6 in 30:27 and shortly thereafter I came up to Bazell (10k in 31:32). Bert was once again in my crosshairs. Forgetting my stitch for a moment, I threw in a surge but didn’t seem to gain any ground. Soon I heard breathing from someone behind me. I knew it was Church. It had to be Church. He had walked me down last year on Hains Point and we had come into the finish line together. This year he was early. “C’mon buddy” he yelled as he galloped by on my left. I didn’t answer as I was now struggling a bit, but I was glad it was, in fact, Church. He is one of the most gentlemanly runners I know. We were now running into a slight headwind and I was trying my best to burry that stitch. Perhaps Church was the key (a Church Key?) to catching back up to Bert?
But, I was still falling back. Ahead of me were two friendly foes. Both were locals and both were Americans…and they were both pulling away. I clearly remember telling myself “you can do this”. I had never recovered from a move like this (both Bert and Aaron had passed me outright) before in a race, but I would be damned if I were going to throw in the towel. I had closed the gap on my frienemies ever so slightly by the time I rounded the tip of Hains Point. Our strung out trio was walking down the Moroccan Fadil, who, in his dull orange uniform, stuck out amongst the green of Hains Point. Once we turned the corner the wind was at our back. Mile 8 was approaching and, if it was accurate (40:34), I realized I wasn’t far off my goal pace (40:30). Bert and Church were inching closer to Fadil and my stitch, for the time being, had abated. It was now or never. I quickened my stride and soon fell upon Fadil like a tiger. He matched my stride for a minute but it was clear he was suffering and he soon fell back. Before I knew it I was right on the coattails of Bert and Church who were now slugging it out. I looked up into the sky and saw the Washington Monument. 8 more minutes of running and you’re there. Bert appeared to double take when he saw me on his shoulder…the first time since mile 5. Church barked more encouragement as I sailed ahead. However, neither Church nor Bert were done. Less than a minute later Church again came bounding by on my right and Bert stormed up on my left. Feeling comfortable and confident we had dropped Fadil, I tucked back again and waited for mile 9 to make another move. Church increased his lead while Bert appeared to be suffering. Again I came up alongside Bert. I passed him without hesitation and confidently told myself “nail in the coffin”. He didn’t go with Church when Church passed him so he probably won’t go with me, right?I was wrong. Again, Bert responded with a surge. Not only did he come up along my side, but he pressed on ahead. He would kill himself surging like this, I thought. If I can’t break him, I might as well encourage him. I muttered a “let’s go” and got back on his shoulder for the umpteenth time. Our trio zipped by mile 9 and into the last stretch of the race. Bragging rights, honor and a ticket to the Peach Tree Road Race (top local finisher gets a trip to the esteemed July 4 race in Atlanta) lay just ahead. It was time to man up and see who had what. Church was pulling away. Bert was a stride or so ahead. I hooked right onto East Basin Drive and left Hains Point behind me. See you next year Hains Point. I passed Bert again and charged like a madman towards Independence. Again, Church was in my sights. I could do it. Bert stormed back. He would surge himself to death, I continued to tell myself. I lassoed an imaginary rope around his waist and said “not yet”. We battled uphill towards the Washington Monument and towards Church. Not an inch! Not an inch!
The finish line smiled in the sunny distance. We were shadowed by tall buildings and we longed for the sun. The end was near and the pain would be over soon, but there was still more pain to come and more asphalt to cover. I was all in, but my legs were no match for Bert’s 1:52 800m speed. He crested the summit and ran down Church like a man possessed. I did my best to follow and in doing so found my way under 51:00 for the first time for 10 miles (in fact, we all PRed). I hadn’t caught either Bert or Church (they both bested me by 4 seconds) but I can’t say I didn’t give it my all trying to…or can I? It’s a terrible thing to lose a kick and I played the last 1/3 of a mile in my mind repeatedly in an effort to see what I could have done differently. I don’t know. For now, all I can say is maybe next year…
Kudos to Bert and Aaron. They made the race what it is suppose to be...a race.