Sunday, April 5, 2020

Virtual Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

This morning, Greg and I ran the Virtual Cherry Blossom 10-mile race. The race was canceled due to the coronavirus, but they offered a virtual option. The virtual option allows you to run 10 miles anywhere and submit your results to the race. On Tuesday, they will publish the results on their site.

I wore my bib from 2017

Initially, we were planning to run this race on the W&OD trail with our friend Amber. She's the one who ran the 10K with me a few weekends ago. But she lives in Maryland, and for obvious reasons did not feel comfortable traveling to Virginia for a virtual race. This made things easier logistically because it meant we could run on our local neighborhood route which is flatter and less crowded than the trail. Our neighborhood route has wide roads and plenty of real estate with no major intersections to cross. It does, however, involve a lot of weaving back and forth to cover a long distance:

Virtual Cherry Blossom Race Course

We did an out-and-back on this course so it would be "fair" from an elevation standpoint. We also said we would run 10.04 miles so it would reflect the actual distance of a 10-mile race. This route is made up of gentle inclines. There are no flat portions but the inclines and declines are not steep. There is one long hill and a few very short hills; everything else I would classify as an incline or decline. According to Strava it has a total elevation gain of 185 feet. Also according to Strava, the Cherry Blossom 10-mile course has a total elevation gain of 93 feet. So our route was about twice as hilly.

I should also note that these turns are not sharp; there is plenty of room to turn like how you would on a track. It was nice not having to worry about tangents!

My official10-mile PR was 1:09:54 from 2019, so that was the time to beat. However, I had covered the 10-mile distance as fast a 1:09:06 during a half marathon, so I really wanted to beat that time.

Before the Race
We treated race morning like we would any race morning. We both wore bibs, I had half a bagel with peanut butter. I drank a serving of Generation UCAN 30 minutes before we started. We left the house at 7:05 for a target start time of 7:30. It took us about 5 minutes to drive to our start line, and then we warmed up for a little over a mile. I wore my adidas Adios 5 shoes, which are the same shoes I wore in the 10K time trial. I debated wearing the Vapofly Next%, but I realized I got those mainly to be more competitive and it wasn't worth the injury risk on a virtual race.

It was 43 degrees at the start and sunny, warming to about 49 by the end. Winds were about 4-5 mph and noticeable in some areas. Thankfully, it seemed that any headwind I encountered was also on a downhill portion. On my personal race weather scale, I give it a 9 out of 10. To have gotten a 10, it would have either needed to have been overcast or 5 degrees cooler. Obviously, I am not complaining. A 9 is pretty darn good!

After the warm up, we were both wishing for porta potties, but there was nothing around. Ironically, there were bathrooms all around us. . . but they were inside strangers' houses! After taking a final swig of water, we locked the car and were ready to go, right on time at 7:30. Neither of us carried water or took any fuel during this run. I made sure to hydrate really well on Friday and Saturday, using Generation UCAN Hydrate.

Miles 1-3
The race started and Greg shot out ahead, as I knew he would. I thought he was capable of running a sub 6:40 pace based on his training. My plan was to start at a pace of around 7:00 and gradually get faster, resulting in a negative split. On my home turf, I know this course VERY well as I run it at least twice a week. I knew that the first two miles would be net uphill, so starting on the slower side would be especially important. I focused on keeping it controlled and relaxed. Normally the first two miles of a 10-mile race feel relatively easy and sustainable, but these first two miles felt like 10-mile effort right from the start!

Mile 1: 7:02
Mile 2: 6:56
Mile 3: 6:52

Miles 4-7
That 6:52 mile for mile 3 was a little faster than planned, but I just went with it. I knew that miles 4 and 5 would both be net downhill, so I expected my pace to get faster without having to exert much more effort. I ditched my gloves during the 4th mile. I tried to throw them into a bush, but they landed on the sidewalk and I hoped they would still be there when I got back. For a split second, I had the urge to stop the Garmin and move them, but then I remembered this was a race and I couldn't stop!

It was hard to motivate myself. I had to continually repeat "it counts" and if I set a PR it would count as a real PR. It would have been so easy to stop with nobody around! The mental game was so critical here as I had no crowds cheering for me, and no other runners to compete with. It was just me and my mind, all alone in this virtual race.

When I got to what should have been the turn around based on my mapping tool, my Garmin read 4.9 so I just kept going until it was the halfway point based on my Garmin. Shortly before turning around, I saw Greg, who was over a minute ahead of me at this point. I knew he was totally crushing it and was going to PR. Miles 4 and 5 were net downhill, so I knew it was going to get harder once I turned around. I held it together for mile 6, clocking in at 6:55, but mile 7 was pretty rough and I felt like I was fading at 7:04.

I was hoping that the people out walking their dogs would notice two fast runners wearing bibs and running really hard in the middle of the street and cheer for us. But no such luck. People basically just ignored us. And probably some people were annoyed by us.

Mile 4: 6:54
Mile 5: 6:50
Mile 6: 6:55
Mile 7: 7:04

Miles 8-Finish
I had a choice: I could just coast my way to the finish time, not PR but still get a respectable time, or I could really push and see what I could do. I decided I was going to really push. Mile 8 is the mile with the "one long hill" I mentioned earlier. It starts with a nice downhill but then the uphill seems to go on forever. I knew going into it that mile 8 would be the hardest, so I tried not to look at my Garmin and focus on pushing my way up that hill. I was so gassed and clocked in at 7:10, but with only two miles left, both of which were net downhill, I told myself I could recover and maybe still PR.

Approaching the finish
At this point, my Garmin average pace read "6:59" which would have been a tie with my PR. So I knew that all I had to do was get those last two miles under 6:59 and I would be golden. But I wasn't sure if I could. I was so exhausted and everything hurt. Being on my home turf helped because I knew exactly how far away I was from the finish and I just needed to stay strong for a little while longer. When I hit 6:59 for mile 9, I knew I just had to run one mile as hard as I could and the PR could still be mine. So that is exactly what I did. I really rallied and gave it my all, and ran a 6:51 final mile.

As I was closing in on the finish line, I saw Greg approaching with my phone, and he snapped some photos of me. I can't believe he had enough time to finish, unlock the car, get the phone, and then position himself there!

After my watch beeped, I kept going for a little bit, as the goal was 10.04, but ended up stopping at 10.02 because I mis-judged the distance. Oh well! I was actually quite pleased when I realized that my Garmin also measured 10.02 for the 2019 Cherry Blossom race, which held my PR.

Mile 8: 7:10
Mile 9: 6:59
Mile 10: 6:51

After the Race
My official time for 10.02 miles was 1:09:46, which is an 8-second PR for a 10-mile race! And Greg ran 1:06:40. That is a huge PR for him! I knew he could do it though.

Greg and I drove the car to get my gloves, which were right where I had left them, and then cooled down for nearly a mile. I was so happy to be done and I was glad that I pushed myself at the end to run faster than I did last year.

Final Thoughts, Stats, and Takeaways
For the fun of it (or maybe to antagonize myself) I looked back at the three half marathons in which I ran faster than 1:09:46 for 10 miles. And then I added 8 seconds onto each of them because it took me 8 seconds to go the extra 0.02 today (I was sprinting at that point).

October 2019 Columbus: 1:09:32
November 2019 Indianapolis: 1:09:14
March 2020 One City: 1:09:29

According to Strava, my best 10-mile effort is 1:08:45. I assume that is miles 2-11 of Indianapolis, as opposed to 1-10 as I recorded above. And adding the 8 seconds, that would be 1:08:53. So I know what I am capable of. I just need the right day. And that could have been today if the race wasn't canceled.

So even though today's 1:09:46 is my fastest time for a 10-mile race, I am having trouble really seeing it as a PR because I have covered this distance faster in the past. . . three times! And then I start to wonder, if the race hadn't been canceled, and I had the opportunity to run a faster course with competition, would I then maybe have run my fastest 10.02 miles?

Looking at the big picture, I know that all of these times are within 6 months of each other, so I shouldn't expect to be getting that much faster. But part of me still feels like I am hitting a plateau and I need to do something different if I want to really breakthrough and run 1:08:xx. I think that thing is strength training. Over the past two months, I have been doing more strength training than I usually do, but it's mostly core work and I think I need to be more consistent and follow a more structured plan. The summer will be a great time to do that.

I really have no excuses now, since I don't have to commute to and from work. I could easily take a 20-minute break from work to go in basement and strength train.

A note on the shoes: my feet started to hurt during that 8th mile and I was wishing I wore my older pair of adios- the version 4. I wore the adios 4 for the One City Half and my feet felt great the whole time, but the version 5 stopped feeling good 8 miles in today.

Overall, I'm really proud with my effort level and that I simply went out there and got it done. Yes, I probably would have run faster in an actual race. And yes, I would have liked to have beaten those half marathon 10-mile times. But I gave a lot out there on the empty streets all by my lonesome, battling thoughts of "Does this even matter? Does this even count?"

We will have PR cake tonight, with Greg's PR in bigger numbers than mine. While I do think I can officially call this a PR, it just doesn't feel like one knowing that I have run that distance faster. But that's not what is most important: PRs are NOT what is most important! What is most important is everything I said above: my effort, the fact that I got out there, and the fact that I really crushed that last mile.

Up next: I think I am doing a 5K time trial, but I'm not 100% certain on that yet!


  1. I wasn't interested in virtual races until they became the only option. The worst part for sure is no porta potties, and not having the crowd support when things get tough. But I get to chose my own race course and I got times that I didn't believe that I could get for the 5k and 10k, so lesson learned, virtual racing will be an ongoing thing for me. Congrats on your race, enjoy the PR cake!

  2. Great job doing what you do best...especially in making a "virtual" race competitive! No quibble from me on details or whatever, cause I recognize the importance is simply you race and do the best you can. Both of you did and very impressed with your significant other that finished 3-min ahead of you! A successful marriage will likely involve a man "giving what the woman wants" and in this case you wanted him to run PR best...and he did it! So did you run best too...just behind hubby. It works out cause damn if he can't get picture of you steaming in last stretch!

    I didn't go through all detail of mile by mile splits, as I know your MOU well and you do what you intend to to...high percentage of time. And most important, you and hubby know how to make the best of a not so great time in this nation. BIG CHEERS to ya on that!

    You both did it your your your self-drive....irrespective of the finish time or what the exact race distance or Strava or whatever time be....the PR cake is warranted...and awesome you fall back and let Greg take the bigger cake font size! LOL! You two are a true team and you got to love that aspect of you two in these times of national crisis!

    So all that fans of Zebra...give three BIG CHEERS...."HIP-HIP-HURRAY" and repeat 3 times. Love the obsession...the madness at times...the passion...the drive...commitment...that makes you and Greg who you be!

  3. Umm.. Elizabeth you know even if it's your husband, not allowed. Governor Murphy in NJ says people need to be 6 feet apart even in our own homes.. Bad girl!!

  4. A PR in a virtual race? Sounds like a really tough way to PR, so congrats! The Crescent City Classic - our largest 10k - went virtual this year, and it's been kind of cool to see the submitted times. Some are pretty competitive - the current leader ran a 34:43 - which seems so hard in a virtual setting

  5. Well done on your PR, Elizabeth! Loved reading about your virtual 10 miler. Great display of mental strength too.