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I Won The Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Race

Uh, no. But since I completed the race on April Fools’ Day and got a medal…

This was my third Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in a row. Last year, I suggested it might be better to quit while ahead since I beat my previous time by more than five minutes and race day was during peak bloom.

But I vacillate on decisions, so I entered the lottery for the race again this year. It’s a very popular race (“the runner’s rite of spring” don’t you know), and I figured the chances of my getting in three years in a row were….uh, apparently guaranteed.

The first time I ran this race, in 2010, my goal was simply to enjoy coming back from injury, finish, and set myself up for a summer half marathon. Done, done, and done. Last year, I just wanted to beat my time from 2010. Done to the tune of 5:35.

This year…huh. I didn’t really have a goal in mind. I honestly didn’t think I’d get in again. I’ve proven to myself I can run this distance and I’ve proven that I can improve a ridiculously slow time to a marginally less ridiculously slow time.

My training this year was pretty half-assed. There were many weeks I only ran twice. And I could feel myself running much s-l-o-w-e-r. Maybe it was because I was completely on my own this time (I joined a winter running group the past two years), maybe my other hobbies just took up too much time and energy, maybe my eight or so extra pounds were slowing me down, or maybe I just wasn’t feeling it this year.

There was no doubt in my mind I’d finish, but I knew I had no chance of beating last year’s time. So how did it go?

1.) I astonished myself by getting to bed at a reasonable 11pm. But I didn’t fall asleep right away and kept waking up. It must have been nerves, but how silly is that–it’s not like I had any chance of winning!

2.) Given the malaise I’d felt about training, Little Miss Rule-Follower  (me) brought her iPod to a race for the first time ever. It’s not “allowed,” but in a race of 15,000 people, who was going to notice my headphones?

3.) Starting with the proper wave is helpful! I started with the last wave before and found dodging people (who are these people who manage to be slower than me? I am slow!) maddening and a little dangerous. But this year, I started right in the middle of the appropriate wave. I actually had a nice little cushion of space around me most of the time. I like my personal space.

4.) I planned on starting my iPod after the crowd at the start spread out but when I saw a woman sitting on the side of the course holding a compress over her left eye with blood all over her and the concrete, I decided to hold off on my music a little longer. I listened to the Wedding Present for the last 6 miles. I’ve been obsessed since seeing their Seamonsters show a couple of weeks ago.

5.) Remember my nemesis…the juggler? If not, here’s a hint: he runs the race while juggling. And he is faster than me. It’s annoying. I caught a glimpse of him (running next to Santa!). I’m directionally challenged and the course winds around itself so much I couldn’t tell if he was ahead of me or behind me. I’m sure he beat me again.

6.) The many volunteers who line the course offering encouragement are fabulous. Except for the guy who decided to say, “just keep thinking about breakfast!” Thanks for reminding me of the waffles Dave’s making me after the race, jackass. I only have seven miles left to crave them.

7.) The spectator sign that stood out most said, “You train longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage.” I struggled with the meaning behind this…was she saying I had trained for a long time or not?

8.) For about two miles, someone (thing?) made really bizarre breathing noises behind me. It sounded like being chased by Darth Vader. I could hear it over my iPod. I was too chicken to turn around. If it had actually been Darth Vader, he would have scared the crap out of me. If not, I didn’t want to see the human capable of making that noise. As you might remember, noises annoy me.

9.) While the traditional Yoshino cherry blossoms (the ones that provide a cloud-like halo around the Tidal Basin) were gone due to our freakishly warm winter, the East Potomac Park section of the course had a number of Kwanzan cherries in full bloom. They have gorgeous clusters of pink double blossoms.

10.) Of course, the key question is: did Dave actually get a picture of me on the course this year? Well, I should say a picture in which I am in focus. You betcha! I am Ninja Runner!

11.) What’s that you say? My time? Well, you get what you train for. Not only did I not beat last year’s time, but I also ran 28 seconds slower than two years ago. Oops.

Next stop: the 5-K training plan from the FIRST Training Programs. I just finished their book, Run Less, Run Faster and am excited to try it, although it won’t be running less for me. I already limit my running to three days a week and their proposed weekly mileages are considerably more than I do now, even for 5-K training. We’ll see.

I Have An Excuse This Week

Shhh! Do not disturb. I’m tapering. The “taper” is the period before a race (in my case, a ten-miler this Sunday), during which a runner reduces mileage and rests in preparation for the big day.

Tapering is the only part of my training that comes naturally to me, probably because it’s my normal state of being. Resting is one of my favorite activities, but I usually feel guilty about it. But this week, I’m not being lazy. Oh no. I am tapering.

When Dave saw me lying on the chaise after my last pre-race long run, watching TV while half asleep, he said, “Oh, you’re tapering now, eh?”

All week, baby.

Runners World would likely not approve of my tapering procedures, which consist of expending as little energy, physical or mental, as possible.

You guys, I am tapering so hard, I’m skirting the edge of coma.

Have you ever noticed how heavy your eyelids are? I have. Holding them up is about all the energy expenditure I can handle right now. Since I’m expected to keep my eyes open at work, I’ve made sure to hit snooze many extra times each morning. Sure, I’ve been late every day, but it’s only because I’m doing my necessary tapering.

The taper got off to a rough start due to the dance group who has decided that the parking lot for the park near my house is a good practice site. They practice for HOURS, loudly (with whistles!), every Sunday. The noise has been slowly eroding my will to live, but this week the walk to the phone to call the police also broke my taper, damn it.

Unfortunately, work also interrupts my taper. Since I have to be lucid during meetings, I make sure I recover from the mental exertion by staring blankly at my computer screen or out the window to rest my mind and body until my next meeting or I need to use the bathroom, whichever comes first.

I’ve let some writing ideas slosh around aimlessly in my head, but can’t expend the energy to translate my thoughts into a coherent post. I’ve only been publishing a post per week recently, but this week it’s intentional, because, I think you know where I’m going with this by now…I’m tapering.

Interrupting the flow of grinding, circular thoughts and staring out the window, an overdue notice for my credit card arrived this week. Huh. I guess they didn’t get the memo about my taper. 

My pre-race taper couldn’t have come at a better time. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I have added a lot to my life without giving anything up. I’m reaching new lows in low energy.

In the evenings after work, I have had to do some extra tapering to catch up on the tapering I missed while commuting and working. This involves falling asleep while upright and walking home after work (a bizarre new experience, really), eating dinner in front of the TV, and then mindlessly watching “30 Going on 13″ while eating ice cream, all while Dave does everything else.

Tuesday night, I sacrificed my taper to get up and hug him as he got ready to walk Chuck before bed and he said with about as much frustration as he’s capable of mustering, “It’s hard to work all evening while you get to sit on the couch and watch a movie.”

No, no, no. Dave, I’m tapering.

At least that’s my excuse for this week. Sorry, sweetie. And Tom Ridge didn’t believe me when I told him I was lazy! - When I die, I hope I'll be doing nothing, so people could say that at least I died doing what I love.

Breaking My Stride

I knew what I wanted. I had pictured tears of relief and pride at the finish line of my first half marathon, but my eyes stayed dry. My words were salty instead. “If I ever talk about doing that again, punch me in the face.”

I also muttered obscenities regarding the measurement accuracy of the infinite last tenth of a mile. Several of my toes burned, a painful reminder of my idiotic decision to walk on the beach in my running shoes the day before.

But mostly, I felt an exhaustion that said, two hours, 34 minutes, and 27 seconds is too long to do anything not involving popcorn or a horizontal position. I didn’t want to quit running, but I wanted to be faster, to release my inner cheetah. While I’d never run a pace even close, I set a goal of a 30-minute 5K.

On my speed-work days, I worried my inner cheetah was a tortoise. But the race I’d chosen was perfect:  on the trail where I usually run, night-owl friendly start time (11:30am!), and fall weather (I’m a delicate flower).

Keeping my pace felt effortless the entire first half. At the turnaround point, I thought, I have this. Then I learned something new about my trail. It’s not completely flat. The second mile and a half was all uphill. I’d never noticed the incline before, but pushing this foreign pace made it obvious.

Running began to feel like wading through mud. I wondered if I’d be able to finish, let alone beat my goal time. As I wrestled with myself, I noticed my husband on the side of the trail, my dog sitting at his side. I hadn’t expected to see them until the finish line. Chuck’s tail started wagging when he saw me approach. I felt a burst of adrenaline and my pace quickened. I prepared to give them a wave as I passed. I had no time to spare.

Then Chuck darted right into my path, plopped himself down, and looked up expectantly at me for the obligatory doting.

Although I did have to slow down to avoid crushing my dog, I didn’t have to stop, shouldn’t have stopped. But I couldn’t resist my fluffy muffin.

I missed my goal by 28 seconds. I like to blame it on Chuck. He broke-a my stride.


Seriously, could you resist that face?

This post was inspired by the RemembeRED writing prompt: to write, in 400 words or less, about an unfulfilled goal beginning with the words, “I knew what I wanted.”

I’ve run four more 5K races since Chuck’s anti-Matthew Wilder interference and the trend is going in the wrong direction. I bought Run Less, Run Faster since I want to run faster and I can also totally get behind running less. I’m hoping it helps.

Write on Edge: RemembeRED

No One Likes Running, Except Maybe Me

Feeling Andy Roddick’s Pain

No one was more surprised or pleased by Andy Roddick’s run to the 2009 Wimbledon final than me. In the fifth set of the final, Andy had to serve second. With each service game, he had to hold on for dear life. 5-all, 6-all, 7-all, 8-all, 9-all, 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all…ten times Andy held serve to stay in the match.

I played with my hair. I readjusted the pillow under my knees. I squinted at the television and willed Andy to hit another ace. I cared about the outcome too much to enjoy the match.

Finally a couple of errant forehands, Federer’s fifteenth major title, tears.

What if that was it, Andy’s last chance to win Wimbledon?

I glanced down at my elevated knee. I felt bad for Andy Roddick, but I knew my tears weren’t only for him.

Couch to Half Marathon to Couch

Nine months earlier, in October 2008, I started the Couch to 5K program for what seemed like the 800th time. In February 2009, I finally completed it.

In April 2009, I started training for my first half marathon, a goal I had set several years before. On June 14, 2009, I ran 9 miles and finally believed I could run the Presque Isle Half Marathon.

On June 27, 2009, the back of my left knee felt a little sore after my 10 mile training run. Two days before the 2009 Wimbledon final, I went out for my last long training run of 12 miles anyway. It felt fine, great actually…until I stopped running.

Once I slowed to a walk, I had to fling my left leg out straight to the side and around in order to move forward. When I leaned back and reached out my left hand to grab my ankle for a quad stretch, no amount of effort could make my leg bend that much. Once home, climbing each stair brought an audible, mechanical, just wrong click.

What about the race?

Some Stages of Grief

While Roddick kept holding serve, anything was possible. I still had a couple of weeks. Maybe if I kept my knee elevated, iced regularly, and rested it, I’d be OK for the half.

When Roddick lost, I was filled with dread, for him and for me. My doctor confirmed several days later with the words “fluid behind the kneecap…” and “four to six weeks of rest…” and when I still wasn’t hearing it, “I’m not going to forbid you to run, but I think you would be crazy to try it.”

The evening after I saw the doctor, I tried it anyway. I limped one mile on the treadmill at the gym just to be sure. And I was sure. I cried the whole way home. The day I had planned to fly to Erie, I kept checking the status of my flight until my plane landed in Erie without me on it. I checked the weather there on the morning of the race; perfect conditions.

More tears.

I have never shed as many tears as I did during the five months I couldn’t run, particularly during the two months it took to get any real answers about how serious my injury was.

No One Likes Running

I remember reading a blog post at Bodies in Motivation before my injury that really resonated with me. It was a motivational piece arguing that no one likes running so you just have to go out and do it instead of saying you hate it and you can’t.

I’d be lying if I said I hopped out of bed for each long run bright-eyed and bushy-tailed during the nine months I ran before I hurt myself. I’m a champion complainer. I’m sure most of my friends thought I hated running and was only doing it to lose weight given my capacity for bitching and moaning about it.

I’m not sure I would have disagreed with them either. I did start running to lose weight. It was hard. I did not particularly enjoy it at first. When the alarm went off at 6am on a Saturday, when the D.C. heat and humidity wilted me like a delicate flower, when I came across a hill, when I had to go to the bathroom and there wasn’t one, I’d mutter to anyone and no one: “Why do I do this?”

Why I Do This

The five months I couldn’t run answered that question. As happy as I was to be able to start running again after physical therapy, it’s still always hard to get myself out of my comfortable bed to exert myself. I still always take my sweet time “getting ready.” I still always have to force myself out the door. But once I get going something magical happens, and once I’m done I am so pleased with myself. Why do I run?

  • Freedom: Running represents time I give myself, with nowhere else to be, nothing else I have to do;
  • Efficiency: Even the slowest jogging pace keeps my heart rate in a good aerobic zone, while the fastest walking pace I can muster without my feet going numb doesn’t even yield the low-end of my target heart rate;
  • Exploration: Running has allowed me to see much more of the area in which I live and places I have visited;
  • Movement: I’m not particularly graceful or fast, but I love the feeling of being propelled only by my own power;
  • Pride: I love the accomplishment of setting out to do something difficult and then doing it. Every time I tackle a distance I haven’t tried before, I wonder can I do this? Then I’m amazed when I can. I feel so badass with the knowledge that Dave can drop me 10 miles from our house, and I can make it home in a couple of hours;
  • Peace: Running gives my usually frantic mind a much-needed rest, it gives me clarity and focus. It is almost like meditation for me. Running also makes me feel better generally. It’s not hard to tell when I haven’t run in a few days;
  • Results: I’ve been able to go from the couch to running 13.1 miles without stopping. I’ve been able to improve my 5K pace from 13 minute miles to about 10 minute miles. And yes, running has helped me lose weight and keep it off.

Of Picnics And Plateaus

Before I got married, my work colleagues threw me a party. One of the gifts was an insulated picnic backpack, which we never used until years later, after we adopted Chuck. Our first Memorial Day with Chuck, Dave suggested we have a picnic by the Potomac. The first picnic consisted of a very long walk to the picnic site, Dave’s homemade goopy brownies, and lots of Rolling Thunder.

Since 2005, the Memorial Day weekend picnic has been a tradition.

Dave’s picnic idea was brilliant. You see, I have a problem. I’m very good at planning, but I’m not so good at being in the moment. Several years ago I remember laughing out loud while watching an episode of “Inside the Actors Studio.” I think Ed Harris was talking about what it was like to work with Marcia Gay Harden in “Pollock” and he said that she was a great actress because “she was present.” That seemed like the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, of course she was present, how else could she have been in the movie? But now I sort of know what he meant.

This annual picnic is one of the few times I can think of when I just let myself be in the moment and relax–be present, if you will. We hang out on blankets, eat Dave’s delicious food, drink celebratory fizzy beverage, look at the water, watch Chuck eating his special treat, and coo over how adorable he is. For once, my mind isn’t somewhere else. I’m not watching the clock, wondering how long this is taking, worrying about my to do list and what I’m not doing because I’m doing this, or planning what I should do later.

The feeling I have during the picnic is glorious and I have to figure out how to feel this way more than a few hours per year.

Dave is a kick ass picnic provider. It’s one of our “cheat” occasions, when we don’t really worry about what we eat even though we both want to lose weight. This year, the menu consisted of:  lemon rosemary lamb with tzatziki, grilled zucchini, and Mediterranean orzo salad with feta vinaigrette (not pictured: sparkling lemonade, my Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a frozen Kong for Chuck).

Here is this year’s portrait of my special little family.

Since part of the tradition is taking pictures, this means we have pictures of us around the same time every year. Given the title of this post, you may see where I’m going.

I’ll start with the good news, a set of before and after pictures. On the left is my not so glamorous before (this photo makes me cringe) at my highest adult weight ever. On the right is my glamour shot from this year.

I know these shots aren’t set up the same, but there are almost always differences in before and after pictures that aren’t related to actual weight changes. Have you ever noticed how miserable the person looks in their before photo? The before never involves good hair or a smile, while the after photo involves both. At least some of the difference is attitude.

I wasn’t at all pleased with the way I looked on the left. I threw my hair back and put on a hoodie to cover myself even though it was hot. And I gave Dave a stupid look assuming I’d just delete the picture.

In the after, I’m much happier with how I look. I bothered to do my hair and wear something a little more photo-ready. And I smiled and posed in a not totally hunched over trying to hide myself way.

But there’s also a 15 pound difference. Trust me.

So what’s the bad news? The picture on the left was taken three years ago. I lost the 15 pounds between 2008 and 2009. Since August 2009, my weight has stayed stubbornly the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled I’ve kept the weight off for two years. But I wasn’t done. I have been actively trying to lose a little more the whole time. Since August 2009, I trained for and completed: two 5Ks, a 10K, two 10-milers, and a half marathon. While I can’t prove causality, the amount of exercise I do points to my problem being diet. Fuck.

In the weeks before Easter, Dave and I tried eating based at least loosely on the Primal Blueprint. We didn’t follow it religiously (for example, we didn’t give up dairy), but it was still a pretty drastic change, particularly the no added sugar thing. But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I lost about 3 pounds pretty quickly.

But then Easter happened. I planned on having a free for all over Easter for about a week, but the Easter chocolate joyride lasted a full month, courtesy of my miscalculating how much chocolate we could consume during my Mom’s visit and my Mom bringing more than we had requested. By the time the carnage was over, those 3 pounds were back and it was time to plan the Memorial Day picnic. I made cookies and had a cookie every day for a week until they were gone.

I have a special occasion problem. And there’s a special occasion ALL. THE. TIME.

Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, my birthday in August, Dave’s birthday in September, our anniversary in October, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mom’s visiting, I’m on vacation, I had a tough day at work, I had a good day, it’s a full moon on Tuesday.

I don’t want to live in a world in which I can never have another cupcake, but it’s way too easy for me to justify a treat.  There has to be a happy medium somewhere and I need to find it. Because it’s crazy to run the distances I have run over the past two years only to support a cupcake habit.

How often do you justify treats?

Cherry Blossom Race Report

In December I entered the lottery for the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. I figured there was no way I’d get in two years in a row, but random selection is funny in its randomness. So I spent another winter training for a long distance race (10 miles is long distance for me anyway).

I think I felt more pressure this time. Last year my goal was to finish. This year I had to beat last year’s time, I wanted to be at least five minutes faster. The pre-game was a mix of excitement and anxiety.

The excitement: last year I was in the slowest of the six starting corrals, with a purple bib number. This year, my corral assignment based on my previous time was the fifth instead of the sixth, which meant my bib number would be green, my favorite color.

The anxiety: Besides the anxiety I have about getting up way earlier than I want to on a Sunday and getting to the race on time, and then, you know, having to run 10 miles, there was also this…I awoke at 4:30 Saturday morning with phantom right shoulder pain. No idea what the hell caused it, but the internet said it could be a heart attack. Couldn’t wait to run 10 miles in that condition!

So I don’t keep you in suspense, I’ll tell you that I didn’t suffer a heart attack during the race and I did finish. Here is my race report.

1.) I don’t think there’s going to be a next time (although I always say that in the days immediately following a race). Last year, the weather was perfect but the blossoms were gone. This year was a little chilly, but the cherry blossoms were at peak bloom. Running around East Potomac Park surrounded by puffy cherry blossoms on both sides was lovely. So I think I’ve lived it. If I keep pushing my luck, I think I’ll be sorry (the weather the day before the race this year was HAIL).

2.) I had to frantically rush to the start again this year. I seem to underestimate the length of the walk from my favored parking area–almost a mile. I made it to the starting line with only a couple of minutes to spare (they close the start at 8am). So much for being in a faster starting corral this year!

3.) Last year, my nemesis was the juggler. He passed me at one of the last water stops and I made it my goal to beat him, but I failed. Can I just tell you how demoralizing it is to get beat by someone who juggled while running? Pretty demoralizing. This year, in a race of over 15,000 people, I managed to start at the same time as the fucking juggler. After the fifth call of “yea, juggler!” from the crowd, I ran faster because there was no way I was listening to that for 10 miles.

4.) The panic of the start and the juggler turned out to be useful, because I’d gone at least a couple of miles or so before I started thinking about what I was doing.

5.) While running across the Memorial Bridge, I got to listen to a woman talking smack to her friend behind me about how the course had been changed from last year. She kept insisting that the course went over the bridge twice last year. Her friend kept arguing (correctly) that she was mistaken, but she kept insisting she was right, using such compelling arguments as “no, we were here last year, remember?”

6.) I believe that I was at mile 3 when I started daydreaming about the sour cream pancakes Dave promised to make me when we got home. I pictured myself lounging on the chaise with my feet up eating pancakes and watching Butler beat VCU (which I’d DVR’ed the night before). But I had 7 miles left.

7.) Around the 4 mile point, an ambulance had to get through the crowd of runners. I saw the woman on the stretcher and she was conscious, so hopefully she was OK.

8.) Around the 4.5 mile point, my right shoulder started to hurt a little, reminding me that I’d forgotten to pack an Advil for this possibility.

9.) I got through the next couple of miles by focusing on the blossoms around the Tidal Basin, and eating my energy chews without choking to death. When I got past the Tidal Basin area, I felt like it was almost done.

10.) It was not almost done. I was starting to feel some despair creep in when I realized I was about to reach the turnaround at the tip of Hains Point. Praise Jesus, now it was almost over.

11.) While the very last bit leading to the finish is flat, there is an annoying hill within the last 1000 meters. It was on this hill that super annoying spectators, let’s call them morons, decided to run across the course to get to the other side. Most of the morons had the good sense to stay the hell away from me, but one moron darted right into my path. Let me remind you that I was less than 1000 meters from the damn finish…and running up a hill. I really didn’t want to break-a my stride, but if I hadn’t I would have smashed right into this moron. She is lucky I didn’t have a weapon, because I would have killed her on the spot. My suggestion to the race organizers for next year–sharpshooters to take out the morons on this part of the course.

12.) At this point I started looking for Dave and making sure that I was on the right side so he could get my picture. I finally found him and he looked befuddled, as if he didn’t realize that I was running in this thing. I smiled, said “Hi!,” and waved as I passed by. “Shit,” he muttered.

13.) On to the finish. Last year, the professional photographers didn’t get a picture of me crossing the finish. This year I think I was foiled again. I came in right behind two people who turned out to be a couple (I hope) who felt the need to cross the finish line holding hands. Once I realized this I tried to get around them, but it was too late. Oh well, hopefully some of Dave’s pictures turned out OK.

14.) I met my time goal, finishing 5:35 faster this year.

15.) I beat the juggler!

We’ve come to the time in a race report for the photos. I would like to say first of all that Dave is a very generous and supportive husband. Both years, he went with me to the race, which means he had to get up as early as me. He stays the whole time and waits for me to finish, even though it takes me almost two hours to run this thing and it was cold this year. I am very grateful for the love and support.

Dave wasn’t happy with the pictures he took of me last year (although he got some great shots of the juggler and also brightly said to me after the race “did you know that a juggler beat you?”), so this year he was serious. Last year we hadn’t coordinated and I ran to the finish on the left, while he was perched on the right. This year I would run to the finish on the right side. Dave also took a lot of practice shots while he waited for me to approach. He got some great shots of the talented runners* who finished before me (about 3/4 of the field actually, reality check!).

Check out this great close up shot!

And how about this great wider-angle, multi-runner action shot, complete with cute costumed people?!

More great multi-runner action!

Dave took two pictures of me. Here is the first (I am the one in yellow).

And there’s this one, my favorite of the two.

That’s it! I guess there’s always next time…oh shit, I said I wasn’t doing this again.


* I’m sharing some of the good shots Dave took because I think it adds to the post content. I obviously don’t know who any of these people are so I can’t get their permission to publish these photos first. I tried to use only those pictures that I thought wouldn’t embarrass the subject. If by some miracle you have stumbled onto my little blog, and are in one of these shots and would rather not have your photo here, please email me and I will remove the photo).