Sunday, April 2, 2017

Motivated by a Mug: Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Race Report

Dear Fast Runner,

As part of the 45th Running Celebration of Credit Union Cherry Blossom, we are awarding mugs that read "I would have won this race in 1973" to all males who finish faster than 1973 winner Sam Bair's time of 51:22 and to all females who finish faster than Kathrine Switzer's winning time of 71:19. You are receiving this message because the seeded time you entered on your entry form for the 2017 race is within two minutes of these times. This means if you have a good day, you could win one of these mugs, so we wanted to let you know about these special awards.

I received this email three days ago, and determined that I HAD to have one of those mugs.

Today was my 6th time running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I first ran it in 2007 in a time of 1:21:23 and my current 10-mile PR was on this course from 2014: 1:15:26. I had beaten this time during three half marathons, and during a training run, but of course, these weren't "official" PRs. Therefore, I didn't think I was being presumptuous by buying PR Cake ingredients last weekend. (Greg and I have a tradition of making PR cake with our times written on it.)

Throughout 2009-2013, I struggled mentally with the marathon, but the 10-miler remained my sweet spot. Therefore, in 2014, when I ran a time that was very similar to my past two times, I realized I had also plateaued physically. That's when I decided it was time to hire a running coach. A few months later, I began working with McMillan Running coach Andrew and my times have steadily dropped ever since.

Ever since I ran a 1:33:36 half marathon last spring, I set my sights on a sub-70:00 10-miler. I was going to shoot for this at the Army Ten-Miler last fall, but I wasn't able to run it because I had just recovered from mono. Part of the reason I chose to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon was that I would recover in time to run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.

I was excited to receive a "seeded" bib for this race: Bib #344. For a race of about 20,000 people, I
At the Cherry Blossom Expo, studying the elevation
considered this to be a huge honor. It didn't come with too many perks, other than starting at the front of the race and being able to get an entry without going through the lottery. I wasn't sure if I would qualify for a seeded entry, though, so I got in through the lottery anyway and received the seeded bib afterward.

In 2014, my goal had been to run a sub-7:30 pace. And according to my Garmin, I accomplished that. However, my official pace ended up being 7:32 because my Garmin logged the course as being about 10.1 miles. Knowing this, I did some research on Strava. I looked at the Cherry Blossom 10-mile "segment" and noted that to run an official time of sub-7:00, I would need to run a 6:54 pace on my Garmin. So, my new "A" goal became 6:54 Garmin/sub-70 official. And my "B" goal was to win the mug.

Before the Race
Because the metro wasn't running, Greg and I decided to get a hotel room in DC the night before. We could have probably reserved a parking spot in the city, but we live about 35 minutes away and we didn't want to have this added stress on race morning. Plus, having our own dedicated bathroom within an hour of the start time was nice!

For both the Myrtle Beach Marathon and Indianapolis Monumental, we arrived at the start line with just a few minutes to spare. I wanted to be more conservative this time, so we were in the corral 15 minutes before the start. This caused me much less anxiety! Greg and I both drank UCAN at 6:50, and at 6:55 we left the hotel and headed for the start line.

My plan was to go out at a pace of 6:50-6:53 and see how long I could hold it. I wasn't as confident about my ability to reach my "A" goal as I had been the week prior. On Thursday of this week, I ran a set of 8 x 200m and I felt really stale. In fact, by the end of the day I felt as if I was getting sick. I felt completely run down with a hint of a sore throat. I took an un-planned rest day on Friday, got plenty of rest, drank loads of water and was feeling decent by yesterday. Perhaps it was allergies. Perhaps I was still feeling the after-effects of the marathon. But whatever it was, I wasn't feeling nearly as peppy as I had been the week prior.

Anyway, shortly before the race started I ditched my throw-away hoodie and prepared myself mentally. I knew that miles 7-10 around Hains Point would be extremely challenging, and I told myself to keep pushing, no matter how hard it hurt.

Miles 1-4
The race started, and I felt decent. Not great, but okay. It was about 46 degrees, sunny, with a breeze.
Mile 1
I wore sunglasses, but the parts of the course that ran directly into the sun were difficult for me. All the runners in front of me looked like dark shadows and I could feel my face getting really warm. The race was surprisingly crowded. I remember spectating Greg at the Army 10-miler and he ran about the pace I was trying to go. And it looked like he had plenty of room around him when he ran by during mile 7. I found myself constantly weaving through people and it was difficult to get into a rhythm.

I had studied the elevation provide and expected the second mile to be slow, but surprisingly, it was one of my faster miles. My coach had advised me to push hard from the beginning and that's exactly what I did. It felt harder than expected to run the paces I was running, but I trusted that my marathon endurance would enable me to maintain these paces for 10 miles.

Mile 1: 6:55
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:50
Mile 4: 6:53

Miles 5-7
From experience, I knew that there was a moderate hill during mile six and that I might feel crappy at this point, but that it would feel better once I got to Hains Point at mile 7. There was a huge cheering crowd and it really energized me. I hit the 5-mile timing mat in 34:46, which had me on pace to run a 1:09:31. I was pleased with this and told myself to simply keep up the effort and I would reach my goal. However, it felt harder than expected. Based on last week's tempo run (4 miles at 6:49 average), I actually thought I would be able to run a sub-6:50 pace for this race. Additionally, I ran a 10K eight weeks ago on a very hilly course at a pace of 6:41 on un-tapered legs. So I really didn't expect these paces to be feeling as tough as they did.

During mile 7, I grabbed water from a water station and poured it over my head. And I noticed that I was definitely more comfortable in the shaded portions of the course. Sunshine and I just don't jive when it comes to racing. Unless it's below 40 degrees like it was at Myrtle Beach. I felt much better during mile 7 than I did during mile six, which (unbeknownst to me) was due to a tailwind on Hains Point. I felt like I had gotten a "second wind" and that I had my goal in the bag!

Mile 5: 6:52
Mile 6: 6:59
Mile 7: 6:56

Miles 8-10.09
But then, we turned around and there was a headwind on Hains Point. According the forecast, this was supposed to be a 7 mph sustained wind. But it felt much stronger than that. I appreciated the cooling factor, but I felt like I was fighting a formidable opponent. I pushed harder and reminded myself that I needed to stay strong and give 100% effort. So I increased my effort level and gave it everything I had, and was unable to get my Garmin pace back down into the 6:50's. I wanted to stop so badly. I felt awful. Every part of me was in pain. Based on how I felt, I knew it was unlikely that I would come in under 70:00. But I wanted that mug! I knew that I would be super disappointed if I wasn't able to attain my B goal.

During these last few miles, all I could think about was the mug. I realized my sub-70:00 was unlikely but dammit, I was going to be drinking coffee out of that mug come hell or high water. Mile 8 clocked in at 7:02.

There was another timing mat at mile 9 and I cursed it. Now there would be an official record of how slow my last mile was. Mile 9 clocked in at a pace of 7:14, and at that point my official race pace was 7:01 (which I learned after the fact, but had some sense of at the time). I was now on track to run a 1:10:08. BUT- I thought I could still run a sub-7:00 "Garmin" pace, similar to what I did in 2014 with my sub 7:30 "Garmin" pace.

Get the mug! Get the mug! At mile 9.6 we turned off of Hains Point and there was a sizable hill that was about a quarter of a mile long. Knowing how close the finish was and that I no longer had to fight the wind, I found another gear that I didn't realize I had and gunned it. After Hains Point, I had been on track to log a 7:25 mile and I knew I could sprint up that hill and make up some time. Amazingly, I had a burst of energy and average a 7:21 pace for that final mile.

But of course, there was the "extra." Strava logged my 10-mile time at 1:09:46, but officially, the sub-7:00 was a no go. Nevertheless, I was pleased to cross the finish line in 1:10:24.

Mile 8: 7:02
Mile 9: 7:14
Mile 10: 7:21
Last 0.09: 5:51 pace (downhill)

After the Race
Greg and I with our friends from the =PR= Race team
Due to my final kick, the first few minutes post-race were pretty brutal. I felt nauseous and totally knocked out. I caught up with Greg, who ran a 1:07:51. He's gotten so fast recently! And he was waiting with our friends Hannah and Alex. We met up with some other runners from the =PR= racing team and everyone seemed to have had really amazing races.

I had tossed my hand-warmers so my hands were quickly starting to get cold, so we hurried to the mug-retrieval area and I claimed my prize. On the walk back to our hotel, a random women asked if she could take a video of us talking about what we liked about the race. For me, it was the mug! Oh, and I guess the cherry blossoms, too. Greg and I then walked back to our hotel, showered, and had a nice brunch. I actually brought my mug to brunch and drank coffee out of it!

Now, time for some stats.

  • This race was a PR by 5 minutes, 2 seconds from my 2014 time.
  • I placed 26th in my age group out of 1,706 runners, running faster than 98.5% of them
  • My actual time was 1:10:23.84, but the official results rounded up to 1:10:24.
  • My 10K split was 43:18, which would have been a 10K PR as recently as last December.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I'm pleased with my performance. I did the best with what I had. Even though I kind of fell apart during the last two miles, it wasn't because I slacked. I think it was partially due to the wind, but primarily due to me just not feeling 100% for whatever reason. I honestly thought that sub-70:00 official would be well within my grasp, and I expected to be able to run about 8-9 seconds per mile faster. Stated differently, I didn't expect that I would blow up at the end given my paces for miles 1-8. Part of me wants to run the GW Parkway Classic 10-miler in three weeks for another shot. But at this point, I think I will just wait for the Army 10-miler in the fall. Which can be warm-- but I guess I will be acclimated and hopefully fitter!

The good news is that I ran a huge PR, shaving 30 seconds per mile off of my average pace. The PR cake will taste great this evening. I felt fast with my super-low bib, too! And I actually DID run 10 miles at a sub-7:00 pace, it just wasn't official. Or at least Strava thinks I did! And best of all, had this been 1973, I would have won the race outright.


  1. I would totally have gone for the mug! We have a couple local 10ks here and they always have the best AG prizes. So I'm motivated by that! Great job on the PR, too!

  2. Whoa, nice race, and way to get yourself one of those cool mugs!

  3. Awesome race Elizabeth! 5 min. PR is NO JOKE and my relatives splits mirrored yours during miles 8-10. That's a tough part of the course. You're in great shape right now. I like your idea of holding off on another 10 mile attempt until fall, but that's just my opinion. Revel in your PR glory and go eat some cake! You deserve it. Hope to see you at a race soon.

    1. You're right. I should "quit while I'm ahead" and enjoy the 5-minute PR for now, save the sub 7:00 for the fall or later. The cake was delicious, BTW! Congrats on your race!!!!

  4. Congrats!! Such a fast time and what a fantastic thing to get at a race as well. So cool!

  5. Great job! That wind is a killer every time. That mug is so awesome!

    1. Yes, every time I have run this race, there is always that nasty headwind!

  6. That's the best race award ever. I love mugs, and I REALLY love that one. Cute!

  7. I love how random things like this motivate us to push. Congrats on your 1973 win! :)

  8. Wow...congrats on another fine performance! Personally I don't think you "fell apart" last 2-miles...for the various factors you not...just a bit slower, but overall FT awesome.

    I take notice of how you make distinctions in pace relative to Garmin, Strava or official race time, and add that 0.09-mi as extra course distance. I measure race courses using calibrated bike method per USATF protocol. I assume that 10-mi race you ran was a USATF certified course. If so, the USATF standards for measuring courses require applying the "Short Course Prevention Factor" of 1.001 to the calibration constant. It in essence adds a bit of distance to the course length because USATF standards is simply ensuring the course is "at least the stated distance." Unlikely that the SCPF would result in a course 0.09-mi long, and usually the difference in what GPS based run watches record vs. what the stated race course distance is results from 1) GPS error and 2) how the runner runs the course relative to the tangents and how the CM measured the SPR "shortest possible route."

    Usually the mile splits on GPS run watches will come up either 1.01-mi at times and over the total course distance can add up to significant error. The best way to record your mile splits is set your Garmin or other GPS based watch off of "auto-lap"...then when you at the actual course mile marker....just manually lap the split. Then you have the "actual" speed/pace you ran each mile, as well as the average pace based on crossing the particular timing mats at points on the course.

    Hope this helps. ran a really fine race their and got your mug to boot! Irrespective of Garmin or official race pace! Congrats!

    1. It is impossible to run the tangents at this race because it's so crowded and is quite curvy in areas. I realize that this is the discrepancy and why nearly all runners on Strava with a pace of 6:55-7:00 did not run under 1:10:00. That said, the Garmin is the device used in training, so to measure the actual accomplishment relative to training, it's a worthy data point.

    2. Absolutely the Garmin or GPS devices are worthy data whether training or the race! I think my point is you can make it less confusing in terms of the race simply turning off auto-lap and manually lapping the mile splits as you cross or equal with the mile course marker. takes a bit of focus and practice to do the manually lapping on the run as you approach the mile marker...but it is accurate representation of the mile split...but it is not definitive since I don't know of many courses that certify the individual mile split distances in their races...only the total course distance. I still using a Garmin 310XT and it has a lap button I physically depress to make the manual splits. I am unclear on the newer generation watches that have "touch-screen" function if it dependable on the run when you sweating or wearing gloves in colder weather to do the manual split passing the actual course mile mark.

      The only reason I bring this up is because you were indicating the last 0.09-miles to the finish at some phenomenal pace and I don't doubt that if you were hard sprinting to the finish line....but that last 0.09-miles is simply the tail-end of 10th mile and you ran that far faster than the 9th mile or most of the 10th mile!

      Also...if you seeded and up front of the "pack"...not impossible to run the it becomes unclear to me why you had to weave through other runners....and the tangents and running SPR should be possible? doesn't ran really fast...exceedingly awesome performance in my humble opinion...and that end finish time garners you that mug that you win in 1973...great place to be! I only post these comments cause I know you like to "work the data" and it is similar with we share at least one trait!

      You are who you evaluate your running as you do and you have some awesome coaching to boot! So you really don't have to explain or hope you feel don't have to defend anything in your responses. You are doing some awesome running in your adventure "Boston-Bound." Keep your approach and approach your run just as your Boston Bound book and your Racing Stripes blog portray! I just offer some alternative perspective how to view the split data. And in the is simply the finish time defines the performance....or does it? LOL!

    3. I think you make an excellent point and I appreciate your perspective as a fellow data junkie. Thank you for reading and engaging in conversation!

      I actually am not in favor of manually lapping. I know some athletes who do this for the reason you suggest, but I'm opposed to it because mile markers can be off. Before I had a Garmin, my only option was to manually lap and if I ran a mile that seemed too fast, I would back off the pace, only to realize later that it was misplaced. Or, if I ran a mile that seemed to slow, it would get in my head. There was one race back in 2007 when I actually gave up mentally because I thought I was running so slowly. In reality, it was just a mis-placed mile marker. With auto-lap, you know that you ran a "Garmin mile" so the pace can actually be trusted. You just have to realize that your official goal pace will be several seconds slower than what's on your wrist! That's why I researched this ahead of time. :-)

      As for running the tangents, I still found this race to be quite crowded. 844 people finished ahead of me, and over 400 people finished within 2 minutes of my finish time. So there was a substantial bit of weaving, and it wasn't always possible to see where the tangents were. By way of comparison, the Myrtle Beach marathon was not crowded and the course was mostly straight- virtually no tangents! As a result, I ran 26.24 miles on my Garmin.

  9. I love that mug! I can definitely see why it was motivating :). Congrats on the big PR and pushing through on a hard race.