The National Anthem went up behind us. The wheelchair race start came and went. 7:35. Five minutes to race start. One, two, 10, 12, 17 people still ahead of me. I looked at my watch one last time, then back at our friends. "I'm out. Good luck, guys."
And with that, I trotted off toward the starting line of my first Cherry Blossom 10 miler. The last "major" D.C. race left to tick off my resume.
Months ago, when we entered the lottery for Cherry Blossom, I had no expectations of getting in. I figured we could enter and if we got in, great, and if not, well, Boston was only two weeks away...somehow I'd survive. But of course we got in. And that sent a shockwave through the "Holzwart Distance Project" coaching staff. Unbeknownst to me, my dad and Uncle were having behind-the-scenes conversations about my racing so much so close to Boston.
|The Cherry Blossom Gang|
Following my tuneup half marathon just eight days prior to Cherry Blossom, I too began to draw on their angst. After several phone calls, I decided to take two days rest, get an easy run in, then take work off on Friday to get a 16-miler in (my last long run before Boston) and use the Cherry Blossom to push the pace and mimic the last 10 miles of the marathon.
I got through the 16 on a hilly out and back that had me questioning just what the hell was I thinking running 10 miles on Sunday.
So, I trotted up that short hill to the starting line, short warmup, no dynamic stretching, and simply hoping for the best.
The book on Cherry Blossom is that it's a flat, fast course that -- as the name suggests -- features the Cherry Blossom-lined D.C. streets. At worst, I thought, it was a chance to take in the pink-petaled trees without the hassle of fighting the tourist invasion and enjoy a nice Sunday run. Best laid plans...
At the gun, I got swept up in the opening surge and did my best to work my way to the perimeter of the crowd. As the adrenaline began to wear off from everyone else, I was starting to find my stride about a half mile in and became increasingly frustrated with those who hadn't. At one mile, I finally had some breathing room and set out comfortably across the Memorial Bridge. I took a quick glance at my watch to gauge pace: 6:35. So much for easy.
Coming across the bridge, the elite men were already working their way back across the river. I searched for my running partner Rohan who had other ideas in mind beyond a leisurely Sunday stroll. He sought the elusive sub-60 10 miler time. I hoped not to see Rohan up with the elites, blowing up from the start, and was relieved when he was no where to be seen.
Back in the city, the groove continued as we made our way out and back along the Potomac river, the Kennedy Center to our left. It was here that I saw Rohan and we exchanged a quick point of acknowledgement and knowing glance. He looked strong.
What I found frustrating about Cherry Blossom was that for the first 5 miles, the course doubles back on itself quite a bit with three out and backs. I felt myself counting down to mile 6 where we'd take on the dreaded Haine's Point loop that Marine Corps Marathoners known as no man's land.
At mile 5, I was still waiting for the fatigue from last week's effort and Friday's long run to kick in, but instead I felt myself surging. It was also here that my bladder surged and I remembered that I still hadn't used the bathroom before the race. Do I pull off and go? I thought. Do I just go while running? Then we came to a water station and I thought, Ooooh, gatorade. And then I was fine.
Just beyond mile 5 with the Jefferson Memorial to our right, a pack of tourists decided they had to cross the street at that moment and, like a panicked squirrel, stop in the middle of the road. Even in a road race you can't escape the tourists during the spring.
I rounded Haine's Point and saw the Washington Monument poking above the skyline in the distance. Ok, that's where we're going, I told myself. At mile 8, the fatigue settled in. This is where it got me in the Army Ten Miler in the fall and I remember going to the well at mile 9 to get my own sub-60...but this was a different race.
When mile 9 came up, I locked onto a runner ahead of me and let him pull me to the finish. The Monument rose higher and higher as the crowds came back. One final hill to go, I pushed repeating, Strong legs, strong legs, strong legs, with each stride. I crested the hill and saw the finish. "Let's get this over with," I muttered and unleashed whatever kick I had left. Click! I brought my hands to my head for a moment before glancing at my watch: 63:30.
|Rohan joins the sub-60 club.|
Then I came upon Rohan. "Did you do it?" I asked.
"I did it," he said. "59:50. I wanted to retire from running for good at mile 8...but I did it."
We cheered on the rest of our friends after that and relished the sun beating down on our cooling bodies.
With a few days to reflect on the race, the only word that comes to mind is: unremarkable. I found myself largely ignoring the Cherry Blossoms and was working inside my head too much to even appreciate the course. I'm glad that I ran it and can check it off my list, but given the choice between the Army Ten Miler and Cherry Blossom, I'd "choose [Army] any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays," as Lt. Weinberg said in A Few Good Men.
And once I grabbed my bottle of water, I finally got to use the bathroom. There wasn't even a line.