Monday, April 7, 2014

Race Report: Cherry Blossom Ten Miler

The pack around 2.25 miles, just opposite the Lincoln Memorial

The weather was perfect. And, I had no excuses...except for all those that I had already made inside my head. A week ago, I realized I wasn't close to being ready to race ten miles. I knew I was nowhere near PR shape, but still, I always like to give Cherry Blossom a good run and I feared even that might not happen. With that in mind, I spent the last week resting up and running a couple of key, last minute tune-ups to at least put myself in contention to have a good race. While that was going on, I traded a barrage of emails and text messages with frienemy Bert Rodriguez, who is also a shadow of his former self, and Jerry "Outlaw" whose star seemed to be rising in the last few weeks. I wanted to run 5:20 pace, but Bert persuaded me to run 5:15s for 3 (15:45) then make a decision. After some pushing back, I finally relented - 15:45 for 3, then check. At best, I thought I would be able to hold that pace and run 52:30. At worst, I might fall apart, but was confident I could at least average 5:20s…or 53:20. 

But first, The Week...

On Monday evening, I ran an easy 6 miles from The Line. Once again my knee was really hurting and this of course added to my pre-race Cherry Blossom woes.

On Tuesday morning, I ran an easy 8 in North Bethesda.

On Wednesday morning, I ran a  2.25 mile warm-up then proceeded to run 2.5 miles at Cherry Blossom pace - or 5:20s. I ran 13:23 for the workout and felt beat, which once again made me pessimistic about race day.

I took Thursday off.

On Friday, I ran 1 minute on/1 minute off x 6 in an effort to wake up the legs. I also "woke up" my knee. 7.5 miles.

On Saturday, I ran a shake out 3 miles then volunteered at a Rock Creek clean-up later that morning. I iced 3 times throughout the day. Ice doesn't always seem to help with injuries, but it most certainly helps with runner's knee (at least it does in my instance). I put my legs up later in the day and went to sleep early. 

Race Day...

I warmed up for 3 miles, did some light stretching and strides then was shepherded out of the elite tent over to the starting line. I was feeling good. I was excited. And I was confident, despite my recent shortcomings, because, after all, it is Cherry Blossom. Naturally, the race would be far more competitive this year since the USA Ten Mile Championships were being run simultaneously and it was great to be part of that atmosphere. The extra competition also meant the race would go out fast, which is already easy to do. I had to chillax that first mile.

The horn blasted and the first wave of 15,000 runners surged forward towards Independence Avenue. After a few minutes I reeled myself back and found old Bert Rodriguez and glued myself to his hip. GRCers Paul Balmer and Evan Jurkovich were there as was Howard County Striders' Carlos Renjifo and the great master runner Philippe Rolly. There was also a giant* of a runner who I couldn't place at the time. I tucked in behind Bert and Philippe and told myself "these guys aren't the fastest runners in the race, but they're among the smartest. Stay here!" Outlaw was already 10-15 seconds ahead. We did our own thing and let the lead pack inch away and in the process our small pack waxed and waned. We hit mile 1 in 5:09 (GPS) - fast, but not suicidal considering there is some downhill. As we rounded the rotary in front of Arlington Cemetery I could hear Bert counting the runners.  I saw Outlaw fighting with the Kenyan Wilson Komen 15-seconds ahead. I was surrounded by a large pack. The race was going to be interesting.

We hit mile 2 in 5:09 and I felt pretty good. Our pack worked together and we ate up a runner here or there. At least one joined our pack, but I was trying to stay focused on Bert. Shortly after we made the 180-degree turn under the Kennedy Center, Bert surged. Damn him. It was far too soon. In retrospect, he might not have been surging at all, but instead trying to gain some momentum after the slow turn-around. Our pack covered his move and shortly thereafter we were all together again. My GPS had some trouble under the Kennedy Center, so my mile 3 and 4 splits were off, but we hit mile 4 in about 20:43. Our pack caught Wilson around 4.5 miles, but he found a new gear and joined our pack, which numbered about of 6 or 7.

We passed the symbolic half way mark a few ticks over 26:00 (25:50 on my GPS) and then, like usual, I began to have some trouble. Bert surged. The pack splintered. I was hurting. I did my best to relax and let other people do the surging and instead drafted off the pack. Mile 6 was a 5:14 and mile 7 was 5:11. By then, Bert and Carlos had put some real estate between us. Paul and Evan were doing their best to check their move. I drafted off the end and attempted to get my lungs back instead of slugging it out in front. I have had success with this tactic before in this race and hoped it would work again. Gone were all the crowds and instead the air was replaced with the sound of flats striking the asphalt and my own breath. Just after the turn around at the end of Hains Point, I put in a surge and dropped Philippe and in the process caught the giant. The giant was huge and I kept trying to place him...all to no avail. Who was this giant? It was windy, so I surged again, away from the giant, and tucked in behind Wilson, the tall Kenyan. Relief from the least for a moment. I was hurting pretty good, but was still feeling in control. I could see Bert, Carlos and everyone else in front of me. I hit mile 8 and looked at the clock. I did some quick math and determined that I "only" needed to run a 10:30 for the last 2 miles in order to run 52:00. Damn. That would be easy, I thought. I'd been running 5:13s or so already and I always have SOMETHING at the end. I took a quick glance at my watch, the only time I did in the race and the GPS indicated I was running 5:23 pace. Damn it! It was windy, yes, but it was time to double down and fight like hell for another ten minutes. I pulled away from the giant and the Kenyan, caught Sergio Reyes (who was obviously having an off day and was just trying to finish) and raced like hell for the Washington Monument, which was now coming into view above the Cherry Blossom trees. I could see Carlos coming back. Paul and Evan were likely going to catch him. Could I? Although the pace didn't indicate it, I felt like I was moving again and was catching up, but shortly after I hit mile 9 (a 5:23) my wheels began to come off. My old buddy Christiam was yelling at me and told me I had just a half mile to go, which was helpful, but I was really feeling the impact of the last 9 miles. I could hear the huffing and puffing and the footsteps of the giant behind me. There was someone else with him (perhaps two people) so I knew the last two minutes of the race would be interesting, albeit painful. Out of the corner of my eye, the giant stormed past, as did Howard County's Mark Buschman. I found a new gear - my last gear - and tore up the race's final hill, just before the decline to the finish line. My surge broke the giant, but not Buschman. In fact, the surge broke me and I stumbled down to the finish line a couple ticks above 52:30, which had been my pre-race goal.

Although I had run a tough last couple of miles (both 5:23s), I felt as if I had given the race all I had. It's similar to the time I'd run last year and the year before and I feel as if I am in far worse shape this year, so this bodes well for things to come, I hope. With that said, I need to work on fixing my knee so that I can get back to hard training again. I haven't run more than 67 miles a week since the fall and I've only put in a few 7-day training weeks. I also had fun out there. I can't recall the last time I had fun in a race, but it was great to duel with so many friends 

Lessons learned:
- workouts are great indicators, but don't get too down if you're not running great workouts. I've been running for damn near 20 years and for some reason I have to remind myself of this!
- the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler is "magical"- it's a fast course with great competition and (usually) great weather. 

*the giant was former UMBC Retriever Andrew Madison. Had I seen his face I would have known that earlier, but didn't see him until we both cross the finish line. 

Past Cherry Blossom performances are below. Since my first race, in 2007, I've only missed one year, 2011, due to injury. My official time this year was 52:32. 

201310MKlimJakeM320:52:255:1517/7215M30343/1455North Bethesda, MD
201210MKlimJakeM310:52:325:1624/7195M30346/1490North Bethesda, MD
201010MKlimJakeM290:50:565:0622/6910M25299/1475North Bethesda, MD
200910MKlimJakeM280:51:295:0926/6652M252914/1420North Bethesda, MD
200810MKlimJakeM270:52:375:1623/5904M252913/1150North Bethesda, MD
200710MKlimJakeM260:52:535:1734/5217M252911/919North Bethesda, MD

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