Wednesday, April 17, 2019

2019 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler- My Race

April 17, 2019.The 47th running of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Miler took place on Sunday, April 7th. A 'Bucket List' race for most runners, Phil Stewart and his team do an incredible job. The race is really well organized. Although the Cherry Blossoms had officially peaked on April 1, the unusually favorable weather meant there were still plenty of Cherry Blossoms on many trees. Runners especially appreciated having the Cherry Blossoms on the trek out to Hanes Point and back, arguably the toughest 4 miles of the course, as a welcome distraction. I heard comments that "It was almost magical!"

The Race had recruited their usual set of very strong Elite Open runners. What is less well known is that the Race makes it very easy for Elite Masters Runners to obtain seeded entries to line up right behind the Men's Elite racers. Since this is a bucket list for most serious runners, that is very welcome, and attracts a much more geographically diverse field than might be expected. In addition to plenty of runners from D.C, Maryland and Virginia, the Masters Age Division podiums included runners from Arizona, California, Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, Tennessee, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Ontario in Canada.

My Race The seeded entry allows runners going for a fast time and an age division award to run free from the start without worrying about crowded conditions slowing them down. The horn sounds, the Elite Men race off with dozens of fleet Masters runners streaming along behind them. I had obtained such an entry at the age of 73 based on being a 3-time National Champion (twice at the Half Marathon and once at 10 km) with wins at other prestigious races like the Beach to Beacon 10K, and a history of fast times in my late 60's. But with a series of hamstring injuries over the last few years, the best recent time I could point to was a 1:13:40 third place finish at the 15K National Championship last October. I got a very nice note back from the Race Director, Phil Stewart, who granted my request for a seeded start and hoped it would help me to re-establish myself as a nationally competitive runner in my age division.

With my entry confirmed, I Hot-Wired a hotel at 15th and L, about a mile from the start so I could jog to the race. It was actually pretty cool; the Hotel's's been around for over a hundred years.

It had a cool, retro lobby:

The Metro was not operating on Sunday before the race starts, so being within a mile or two to the starting area was important. I like to drive, so hopped into my car for the 7 hour drive from Indy to Frederick, MD where I stayed Friday night. That way the long part of the drive is 2 days before the race. I am also careful to stop a couple of times and do stretching exercises while getting gas, and maybe buying a sub sandwich for the road. I did a quick shakeout run with a few stride-outs and then dinner. Saturday I drove into DC, about an hour, and parked in a garage a few blocks from the hotel that was open both Saturday and Sunday, so I could get out--a lot of parking garages in DC are closed on the weekends or even if open on Saturday, might be closed on Sunday--so you have to check. This was Central Parking and I could reserve online which showed me it was open from 10 am on Sunday.

My hotel was able to give me an early check-in which was nice. Even though it was a little over a mile to the Expo and the Packet Pickup, I decided to walk rather than take the Metro. Some of my runner friends say they try to keep off their feet as much as possible the day before the race. But some of my best runs have seen me, on the day prior to the race, doing a long-ish walk or carrying stuff up and down several flights of stairs, etc. I am careful not to overdo it, but ordinary walking seems fine, even up to a couple of miles. Of course I prefer if those walks can be in the Blue Hills outside of Boston or along the beaches and marshes near Virginia Beach. But walking around DC was like going back in time. I studied for a Master's degree at Georgetown in the late 60's and stayed around for a couple of years beyond that--no Metro then; I walked a lot in those first couple of years before I got a car.

The day of the race everything went smoothly. Luckily the weather was near perfect--mid 50's, partly cloudy but no rain, and little wind. I had my 'throw away' over-shirt and warmup pants from Goodwill to wear over singlet and shorts, and my gear check bag with my non-throwaways [usatf xc long-sleeve tech shirt from Tallahassee and Nike warmup pants] for after the race. That was mostly because I anticipated hanging around after the race. Otherwise I could have just run back to my hotel in singlet and shorts. It was almost 60 by the time we finished. As pre-arranged by messaging, I met up with the Atlanta Track Club crew who were there to run in the mixed team competition--Mike Anderson, Ken Youngers, Jeff Haertl, Laurie Wharton and Casey Teeters.
Atlanta Track Club Mixed Team for Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run-2nd place--L to R: Casey Teeters, Jeff Haertl, Ken Youngers, Laurie Wharton, Mike Anderson [Photo by George Banker]

Hanging out and warming up with them made the pre-race a lot more fun!

Very soon it is time to get into the Yellow Corral behind the elites. Mike and Ken escort me up towards the front of the corral and then the horn sounds. We start at a walk but within a few strides, we are running. The ATC bunch take off and I move into a better pace for me. There are plenty of other runners around me but it does not feel crowded. One of the things about starting towards the front for an old guy, even a pretty fast old guy, is that for the first couple of miles, a *lot* of people are passing you. So it's important not to get discouraged by that. And after a while you do eventually start to pass people. Also you can use some of those passing, at least for a few strides to check to make sure you're keeping your pace up. You can try to stay with someone for 50 meters or so before letting them go. Someone had said the Cherry Blossoms peaked almost a week before, but I saw a lot of gorgeous Cherry Blossoms, especially on the way out to Hanes Point and back from miles 6 through 9.

This was my first time running a race with a GPS Watch. I used to be 'old school' and just had a watch with a timer and relied on mile markers. But it is true that I do not always spot the mile markers at races. It was nice to have the GPS vibrate at the miles so a quick glace could show me where I was. I was hoping to get down around a 7:45 per mile average pace. But at my last few races, a Half Marathon, and a couple of Cross Country races, I had averaged over 8. And my 8K effort three weeks earlier had only been at 7:35 pace. After a mile it showed 7:29. That seemed about right; the first mile seemed a bit downhill overall. I knew I would slow down naturally over the next couple of miles; I just hoped I did not slow down too much. When the next couple of miles came in around 7:40 it seemed things would be okay. But in the back of my mind was the doubt. Would I start to fall way off pace after mile 5 or 6? One of my goals had been, as a minimum, to be under 8 per mile at the half way point and then see what I could do from there. I hit that one okay with a minute and a half to play with if I needed it. Of course I hoped to come close to 2.5 minutes under by the time I was done. 

Everything clicked along nicely through mile 6 but then the GPS told me Mile 7 was up in the 7:50's. I thought that was okay; I did want to be able to finish strong if possible, not be shuffling in over the last mile. And that's the way it worked. I had miles 7 and 8 in the mid 7:50's, mile 9 back to the low 7:40's and the last mile in 7:28 (grade-adjusted 7:23) despite it having the only uphill of any note on the course. Unlike in USATF National Championships, where runners indicate their age and gender on a back bib, M70 for me, there are no visible indicators at these races. So when I saw a guy ahead in the last mile who looked like he was perhaps in his 70's, I made sure to pass him. Of course, a minute or so later I saw he had apparently done the same calculation as he sped past me. I hoped he was a mere 69 or below. 
Cruising Across the 2019 Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Finish Line in my Ann Arbor Track Club singlet in 1:17:29 [Photo Credit: Marathon Photo]

At the end of the race I could find my time. My GPS said 1:17:32 but the official time was 1:17:29. But I had no idea how I had done relative to others in my age division. It was only later when I was already on the drive home and stopped for gas that I was able to see a preliminary result on line that said 'Unofficial Result Paul Carlin 1 M70-74---Sweet! 
Running @ Washington, DC, 4/7/2019, by The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile
Chip time


Gun time

07:47 min/miles
Age Grade
Indianapolis, IN
NameSplits km.mi.PositionPace Time
5K3.11 mi189607:45 min/mi00:24:06
10K6.21 mi238207:44 min/mi00:48:02
15K9.32 mi233307:46 min/mi01:12:21
Finish9.96 mi07:47 min/mi01:17:29
LegLeg TimePosTotal timePos 
 3.11 mi00:24:06189600:24:06
 6.21 mi00:23:56238200:48:02
 9.32 mi00:24:19233301:12:21
 9.96 mi00:05:0801:17:29

Division M 70-74: 1st

53 finishers behind. 0% ahead.

Note: The race announced a few days after the event was complete that construction had forced them to alter their route, which had been known already, and that they had carefully measured to retain the full distance run, which we would have assumed, but that on the morning of the race, a set of cones for a turnaround had been misplaced. The course was, inadvertently, 80 yards short of a full 10 miles. Hence all the times referenced in this article are actually for a 9.96 mile race. The race suggested that the actual time for a ten mile could be estimated by the following adjustments:

Difference between time for 9.96 miles and 10 miles
Add 14 seconds to official race time
Add 17 seconds to official race time
Add 19 seconds to official race time 

The Race agreed to honor the cash prizes for course records and such. But the mistake fell heaviest on Stanley Kebenei, an Open athlete who broke the American Record of 46:13 set by Greg Meyers in 1983. He ran 46:00. The adjustments above suggest Kebenei would have come in right around 46:12 or 46:13 had he covered a full 10.00 mile course. He will have to come back next year with renewed resolve.

To get an Age Division win at such a prominent race when still on the comeback trail is doubly sweet--Lucky that none of the really top Aces showed up. As noted above, it makes sense to think of this time as being roughly equivalent to a 1:17:47 or so on a true 10 mile course. It's another good step on the comeback trail. My best 10 Miler last year was 1:22+; that would have been faster if not for severe Anterior Tibialis pain over the last mile or so. But it would not have been 5 minutes faster. That was another nice facet of the race for me-no pain of any sort during or after the race. Let's see if I can keep it going for the rest of the year.

The post-race activities were handled well. I somehow missed linking up with the Atlanta bunch. This being my first time at Cherry Blossom, I think I took a wrong turn when I followed some other runners through an opening in the fencing and exited from the finishing chute before I should have. But I still managed to come back through for my Mylar blanket and water, bananas and granola bars, etc. The race was all I could hope for. I would come back in a minute!

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