I’m a generally fit person. I walk everywhere in Richmond, including the grocery store and work/school, and I lift weights five times a week. I also used to run regularly in college (now I run once or twice or never a week, but whatever). But I’ve never done a race.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Senior year of college, an organization I was in hosted a 5K fundraiser, so I participated. I almost won, too. Having never done a race at that point in my life and being used to running 10 miles at a time, I thought I’d sprint the 5K. I led for the first mile. For real, I was hundreds of yards ahead of the second person. But one cannot run at 10 mph for three miles. By the end of mile one, I met my mortality. I was lapped twice. By a father and son. They got first and second place, and I got third. Fourth place was my friend who now runs marathons regularly, so it says something that I beat a future marathon runner. Right?
Anyway, that race was $15 and benefitted my organization. I never did another race after that because why pay to exercise? Races are extravagantly expensive. They’re usually upwards of $60 to jog a distance I could do on my own. So what, I get a t-shirt I won’t wear and a medal that I could just order and pretend I earned?
Then I saw the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run was only $40 this year. What a deal compared to every other race I’ve seen. I couldn’t pass up a bargain, so I entered. And then I paid $17 more for a medal because if I’m going to run my first race, I have to get a medal.
Speaking of deals: two weeks after signing up for the Cherry Blossom run, I found another deal to do the Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach for $50. I signed up for that, too. Didn’t even wait to run the 10 mile one and see how that went. A deal is a deal.
When I signed up for the Cherry Blossom run, I opted for free training. This translated to daily emails about how many miles I should be running. I promptly ignored them. Don’t get me wrong: I read the emails. I just did not comply.
Oh, I should run four to six miles today? Well, I’m a bit busy.
Oh, it’s a rest day today? Well, I’m gonna run seven miles, anyway.
The week before the race, I realized I hadn’t really trained. But again, I’m decently athletic (in non-team sport terms), so I can’t say I just showed up on race day with no preparation.
Except I can in other terms.
I figured this was an April race. I would wear shorts and a tank top and shoes. Oh, and don’t forget earphones.
Two days before the race, I checked the forecast. The high was 50 degrees. That’s a bummer. Okay, I’ll wear a pullover with my ensemble. I failed to read the actual forecast: High winds, super cloudy, and in the thirties in the morning, which is when you run a race.
On my drive up to DC, I got an email from the race planners:
Dear Confirmed Credit Union Cherry Blossom Entrant:
Based on high wind warnings of expected gusts in excess of 50 mph, and in the interest of the safety of our runners and volunteers, the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Run is implementing a range of race day adjustments.
The first adjustment was, they canceled the kids’ race. As my friend put it, “the kids might blow away.”
They also eliminated all race signage. But how would we know where to go? And after the race, runners “will receive heat blankets, water, medals, and food…and then will be encouraged to head home.”
This was not a drill.
Me to Jay, my friend I was racing with: “I didn’t bring gloves or a jacket.”
Expected temperature at start time: 34 degrees. Feels like 24.
Saturday night before the race, my friends and I headed to Target to buy me appropriate materials. I found some cool UnderArmour leggings for $14 that I tried on in the dressing room beside a bunch of preteen girls (Target has co-ed fitting rooms in case you didn’t know) who then asked aloud, “Guys are allowed in here?” after I emerged. What I did not find is gloves.
Friend: “You could wear socks over your hands for gloves?”
My friend and I also explored the fitness section of Target. We discussed how possible it would be to have a daily workout at Target without ever buying the equipment. We started doing lateral raises with free weights.
That night Jay left the window open while I slept. I awoke at 3:55 AM to the howling wind.
A little less than two hours later, I actually awoke to my alarm. And was alarmed. My phone had not charged. But I have to run a race. This is the worst.
I quickly tried different outlets in the dark (I wasn’t ready for the lights) only to find none of the outlets worked. What the… I turned on the lights, frustrated. Or I tried to turn on the lights. I tried a different switch. I tried all three switches. The room remained dark.
I moved to the bathroom. The light did not turn on there either.
I called out to Jay. “Jay? I think the power’s out.”
Jay: “I know. It went out last night.”
Jay: “The wind took out the power.”
Me: “Is the race even still on? Are we still going?”
Jay: “I honestly don’t think I’d go if it was just me, but this is your first race.”
I dressed by the flashlight of my cell phone. Jay mourned aloud she couldn’t make coffee without power. We walked to the metro. “Do you think it’s still running?” I asked.
At the National Mall, people remained below ground in the metro until they actually needed to head to the course. The wind waited above. Unfortunately, I had to attend some business before the race started.
Me: “I need a porta-potty. Do you see any?”
Jay: “There should be a bunch near the starting line.” I believed her since this was her third year running this race.
At the starting line, I saw only one porta-potty with six women waiting in front of it. Was this a women-only porta-potty? I asked if they were waiting.
“It’s locked,” the Greek chorus replied.
Me: “It’s locked?” The only porta-potty in sight of a race of 15,000 runners at 7 AM is locked? “Jay, I have to use the bathroom before we start. Like, I can’t run 10 miles if I have to use the bathroom. What if we went to a nearby Starbucks? Here, my phone says there’s a Starbucks 0.4 miles away. We could run.”
Thankfully, we found open restrooms on the Mall. We then joined the congregated runners. People herded on the course without obvious structure. We struggled to find our assigned wave (the people who run at your pace). People with headphones in their ears kept looking offended when they bumped into us. Like, take your earbuds out, buddy. You ain’t running yet.
A bullhorn alerted us that the race had started. We hopped into the blue wave, those who definitely ran faster than Jay and I, but what does it really matter? For the first quarter of mile, no one is even running. We’re just tiptoeing forward. Me: “I can handle this pace.”
I should give a shout-out to Sia (“Elastic Heart” and “Cheap Thrills”), Adele (“Water Under the Bridge”), and Lady Gaga (“Gypsy Life” and “Sexxx Dreams”) for getting me through the 10 miles. Oh, and Ryn Weaver. I intended to make a playlist for the race, but then it was race day and I hadn’t. Basically I had my music on shuffle. I don’t know why I say “basically;” that’s what I did. And with shuffle, it’s Russian roulette. And not the Rihanna song (though I’m not sure I’d want to run to that song either).
The ten miles went fast. It’s a flat course. Except for the last quarter mile. Legitimately, the course is entirely below sea level, and right before the finish line the ground slopes upward.
*no words because winded*
There were also no cherry blossoms. The race’s namesake deserted us. Apparently they blossomed the weekend before. Instead, I watched my fellow runners. I cheered inwardly when, near the finish, I found myself surrounded by people in red bibs. These were the runners who expected to finish under one hour and 15 minutes. I was Lance Armstrong on foot. (I did not finish in hour and 15 minutes, FYI. These red bib runners were fakers.)
Because there was no signage, I had to trust the people who shouted the miles. And they didn’t shout too often. I only heard when it was mile six and mile nine. What if they had been lying?
The last mile I did in seven and a half minutes. I heard someone shout, “Mile nine!” And could it really be mile nine? Was there only one more mile? Sprint, Cazey!
Behind the finish line, hypothermia set in. The wind took its revenge. But I finished the race. And that’s what matters.