Cherry Blossom 5K: Race Recap (I won!)

cherry blossom 5K race recap

I'm fairly disciplined and can usually will myself into doing speed work or a tempo run solo. But doing it as part of a 5K keeps me honest about my speed and makes it mentally easier to push myself. Plus, it's more fun! What can be more life-affirming than getting up early on the weekend and soaking in all that healthy, active energy with like-minded people? So, this Saturday, I decided to jump into the Cherry Blossom 5K at the last-minute as a more inspiring way to get in a tempo run.

I had run the race before a few times (I actually won it in 2015) and knew the new course included a steep, long hill at the finish. But I figured this would make for a great workout. As a special added bonus, this was the first year I remember when the cherry blossoms were actually blooming on race day.

The night before

 My kit, all ready to go. Cats tried very hard to photobomb this shot but did not succeed. Mwahahaha!

My kit, all ready to go. Cats tried very hard to photobomb this shot but did not succeed. Mwahahaha!

 Pre-race dinner: Gluten-free pasta with pesto and nutritional yeast

Pre-race dinner: Gluten-free pasta with pesto and nutritional yeast

I'm in the midst of my 21-Day Badass Adventure Cleanse, so instead of my usual wine and regular pasta, I had gluten-free pasta with spinach pesto and water. No salad ever the night before a race to avoid GI issues.

Race morning was set to be chilly – in the 30s with the wind chill – so I decided to not wear my team singlet. Instead I opted for my favorite thin long-sleeved shirt. It says "I know I run like a girl. Try to keep up." (Bought it at a race expo years ago.) I paired it with Athleta black boy shorts, Balega socks (dependable!), a black head band and orange Brooks running gloves.  As usual, I arranged everything the night before so I'd have less to do on race morning.

Since I'm abstaining from alcohol and coffee, I slept like a rock.

Race morning

 Cheery cherry trees blossoming up a storm.

Cheery cherry trees blossoming up a storm.

The race started at 7:30AM so I set the alarm for 4:30, meditated (as per my cleanse), stretched then got up for breakfast. If this seems early, well ... it is. But I need to have enough time for my food to digest, to make sure my bladder is empty before the race (to avoid having to run to the porta potty every 5 minutes), not to mention to avoid "tidal wave stomach" while racing (that annoying "glosh-glosh-glosh" sound in your belly).

For breakfast, I had half a gluten-free English muffin with Earth Balance and a small green tea with almond milk. I enjoy this cleanse every time I do it, and think it's good to occasionally forego your vices. It's important to be the master of your pleasure and the master of your discipline.

This said, I still miss my coffee. Strong espresso, to be specific. If I could only choose between wine, sugar, or coffee, I would pick coffee, hands down.

I know I digress. I just really miss my coffee :)

The race

The race was held at the horticultural center in Fairmount Park near the Japanese House. It's a great place to warm up with many paths and scenic vistas. Plus, the cherry blossoms were blooming so the park was dotted with happy pink powder puffs against a brilliant blue sky.

It was chilly, so I warmed up in my sweats. I jogged 3 miles around the park, just meandering, then I did some strides and dynamic warmups. When I was done, I ran into my friend Carolyn who was racing. It's always sweet to see familiar faces.

Just as with the Shake Your Shamrock 5K, a 10K went off first. The 5K runners lined up, and I stood right at the front with the boys. I thought there would be at least 5 minutes between starts and wasn't really paying attention. Suddenly, the announcer said "Runners take your marks!" and I basically had to react and just bolt when the horn blew.

Mile 1: I felt strong the first mile. I knew this was a positive-split course (faster first half, slower second half) because of the killer hill at the end. First mile included some rollers. I still tried to go out fast, but not all-out, reminding myself this was just a workout. First mile logged in at 6:55.

With all the slower 10K runners, running this race involved a lot of weaving in and out, around and through people the entire time. Plus the course had lots of curves. Not a PR course, for sure. 

Mile 2: I was still feeling strong, and still running weaving through the slower runners. It was strange: you had no idea what place you were in because of the mass of 10K runners in front of you. I knew I was at the front of the pack, but I wasn't exactly sure of my place. Second mile clocked in at 6:50.

Mile 3 included some downhill, including the killer hill that we would have to climb at the end. I bolted down it as fast as I could without losing control. It was a nice break for my legs after all the rollers. I was pacing myself off another runner – a guy – who was going slightly faster than me, He kept turning around to see if I was still on his tail. (He must have read my shirt!)  Thanks to the steep hill, the last mile came in not surprisingly at 7:19. Interestingly, the NGP (normalized grade pace - the pace at which I would have been going on a level surface) was 6:54. So this shows that my effort was pretty consistent over the race.

 Racing toward the finish.

Racing toward the finish.

A friend met me at the finish and told me I was first female and 6th runner overall. I was pretty stoked! It was definitely more fulfilling than doing a solo tempo run. And as a kid, I never imagined I'd be winning races at age 52.

My time was 22:02. Not my best by a long shot, but good for a tough course and a race that I didn't run all out. Last time I ran this 5K (and won it), in 2015 on the same course, my time was 22:14, and I was going all out then. Also, last time I ran this race, my hilly mile 3 pace was 7:28. So this effort shows improvement, which is a confidence booster.

The guy who was my rabbit and who came in 5th place overall found me and fist bumped me. Turned out he was a "faster as a master" runner, too. Masters' represent! I love all the fist bumps and "good jobs!" that are exchanged right after a race. One minute, you're competing against each other. The next minute, you're BRFs (best runner friends). Runners are awesome.

There was a snafu with the medals, so there was no awards ceremony; they said they would send the awards in the mail. This was fine with me since it was so cold.

Even though the cherry blossoms were in their full glory, I didn't even notice them while I raced because I was so focused. After the race, I ran 5.5 cool-down miles around the park. My legs were pretty trashed from the hills so I moved slowly, at around 9:00 pace, and was able to drink in the beautiful scenery and blossoms.

Race review: the good

I just love this race. It's held every year as part of the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival. 

  • Optional bib pick up the night before at Philadelphia Runner (I did this so it would be one less thing to worry about)
  • Plenty of porta potties. But I used the rest rooms in the Horticultural Center, which were sparkling clean. Many other runners did, too
  • Usual snacks post race: bananas, oranges, water
  • Fun, feel-good vibes. A joy to run. Especially when the cherry blossoms are blooming!
  • Pretty course. Tough, but pretty.

Race review: the not-so-good

  • Awards for winners were not available race day. The mix-up didn't matter to me, but other folks might have been disappointed. Plus, they didn't announce that there would not be an awards ceremony so everyone was needlessly standing around, freezing, waiting for it to begin. We only found out because Sloan knew the race director and asked him.
  • Unattractive, boxy white T-shirt and the same design every year, Only thing that is different is the year. Men's sizes. Men's small is like a dress on me. 
 This is what I saw post race, running under a collage of pink, blue and white. 

This is what I saw post race, running under a collage of pink, blue and white. 

Did you race last weekend?