Monday, April 04, 2005

cherry blossoms (not yet)

The 2005 Cherry Blossom Festival has begun in Washington, DC. But the blossoms are not out yet. Too cold? I am no expert. The cherry trees are budding, but not even the first haze of pink blooms emerging is visible around the Tidal Basin. Maybe in a few days.

The only festival event I have ever taken part in is the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run – in 2001, 2003, and this year. Last year, I was about to give birth, but I did go for a walk among the blossoms two weeks before the little guy arrived ("arrived" is so not the right word). And in 2002, I had run the Washington DC Marathon only two weeks before, so I assumed I would be incapable of a 10-miler. I would run it every year if I could.

Runners have to sign up by the end of December to get in to this famous race. Ten thousand people ran this year. As a result, it is a pain in the ass to get to the starting line. (Heck, it is a pain to go to "packet pickup" to get your number and T-shirt the day before the race.) The closest parking is a mile away. The logistics for a big race like this one require much planning.

But I am crazy, so I thought that mile walk would be a good warm-up. And I needed it on that April 3rd spring day of 40 degree temperatures and gusting winds. Nasty. But not as nasty as it could have been. At least the skies had stopped pouring down rain on the DC area. Damn unpredictable spring! It was supposed to be 60 degrees and sunny.

Let me start off by saying that I didn't get to sleep until 11 pm the night before and had to wake up at 5am. But 5am was really 4am because the clocks had "sprung" forward. So to get to the race, which started at 8am (ahem, 7am), I had to leave my house at 6:30am (5:30am). I must have at least an hour to have coffee, breakfast, some water, read a bit, whatever, before I lace up the running shoes and go to a race. So, five hours of sleep. But those hours were interrupted at least three times by my son needing comfort, milk (he is still breastfeeding), snuggles. He has an uncanny sense of when I need sleep, and then he makes sure it doesn't happen.

I am always early. I wanted to be walking from my car to the race at 7am. I worry about port-o-john availability and about checking my bag of warm dry clothing before the starting gun goes off. (I have never missed the start of a race.)

I was there at 6:30. (I know, I said I was leaving at 6:30. I left a bit earlier.) I sat in my old Jeep Cherokee on Maine Avenue near the Waterfront Fish Market in SW DC. The fishmongers were arriving and just beginning to set up.

On my way to the start, I jogged/walked along the flooded Tidal Basin. The water was muddy and practically white capping (yes, in the Tidal Basin!) in front of the Jefferson Monument. Much of the sidewalk was covered with water. Such a different view from two years before, when the sun was out and the pink blossoms ringed the basin.

The beauty about running races in downtown DC is that all the monuments have bathrooms. So I didn't have to worry about lining up for the row of port-o-johns. Instead, I lined up for the warm, cozy, clean FDR monument toilets.

And I checked my bag of clothes a good twenty minutes before the start.

The race ended well. I felt like crap for the first 5 miles. I was tired and hungry. Never a good way to feel when attempting to cruise along under eight-minute miles. I don't think I warmed-up enough, or I didn't sleep enough or eat enough. My goal was to finish in under one hour and twenty minutes, which would mean a mile pace under eight minutes (or "sub-eights" as those – we – runner-types might say).

But I did it. Only once did my watch tell me I’d run a mile in over 7:45. I felt great after I had my GU – a carbohydrate gel infusion that comes in a little silver packet. It worked – psychologically I think, since I felt energized immediately. The last mile was tough, but I was flying and ran it in 7:25.

My finishing time: one hour, seventeen minutes, and thirty-eight seconds. I was 240-something out of 4300-something women. This was the first Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in which the women outnumbered the men. We kicked ass!

I used to really care about my race times – then I slowed down a bit and cared (a little) less. Now I care again. And for some reason I am as fast as I ever was. In fact, this was my best 10-mile time ever. Only once before have I run a 10-miler in under one hour and twenty minutes. (Though I have run a half-marathon, 13.1 miles, in under eight-minute miles.)

I have gone on too long. Time to get back to editing.

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