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Everything came up roses at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler

Blue skies, bright sun, temps in the 40s and trees exploding with pink flowers made the conditions for the annual running of D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Ten Miler ideal. Good thing, too, since my condition as a runner could not be described in similar terms.

My friend Val had talked me into putting my name in for the CB Ten-Miler lottery a few months ago. Given the race’s popularity, I felt certain my name wouldn’t get picked. Naturally, the odds turned out to be in my favor, in a Hunger Games sort of way.

I “trained” by running upwards of five miles once or twice a week, an inadequate regimen by any measure. Because I hike and do various other sports, I figured I’d find a way to finish the race. But as an over-40 and under-trained runner, I was well aware that the race might decide to return the favor.

I shoved that thought of my mind as our 7:30 start time rolled around and Val, her friend Nat and I crossed the starting line.

Because we were joined by fifteen thousand of our closest friends, this quintessentially D.C. race had the feel of something else that’s quinteCB monumentssentially D.C.: the Beltway at rush hour. We began bumper-to-bumper and trudged along slowly. (Meanwhile, I pictured the elite runners who started 10 minutes ahead of us already finished and tucked into a booth at IHOP, ordering Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruities.)

As we kept our eyes peeled for a chance to break free, I couldn’t help but notice that people were running a whole lot like they drive around here. Most at least made a token attempt at courtesy, but some runners zigged back and forth constantly, squirting into any opening they could find, no matter how small and no matter who they had to cut off to do it. I made a mental note to run with a horn next time.

Unlike the Beltway at rush hour, however, just about every person on the road was happy to be there despite the traffic. Time and again I overheard fellow runners remark on their good fortune to live in a place so replete with natural and manmade beauty that it makes sharing space with Congress almost tolerable.

I found myself nodding in agreement. I’ve lived in the D.C. area for most of my life and the cherry blossoms in their full glory always fill me with awe. I busted out my phone and snapped pictures of them as I went, the kind of thing you can’t do without blurring unless you’re a decidedly non-elite runner.Hainespointrunners

As we went around the Lincoln Memorial and made our way across Memorial Bridge, another trademark D.C. thing came into view: the low-flying black helicopter. Only in this town would people greet it with enthusiastic waves, as if it were a cherished mascot.

And speaking of enthusiastic waves, when I wasn’t busy checking out the cherry blossoms, I couldn’t help but notice the number of spectators lining the race route. D.C. sometimes gets bashed as a place full of transients, a place with no soul, a place where people care only about their status. But I saw just the opposite yesterday morning: thousands of spectators who got up ungodly early on a Sunday morning to cheer not just for “their” runners but for any runner who looked like she might need it. Ahem.

Some of those spectators didn’t even seem to be there for a particular runner, like the two people dressed up in full Incredibles regalia, blasting music from an acoustically favorable underpass that leads into Haines Point, or the guy who set up a beer and Oreos station near the Mile 7 mark.

By that time, unfortunately, Nat and I had lost Val, and I didn’t want Oreos and beer so much as I wanted the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler to become the Cherry Blossom 7-Miler.

Since that option wasn’t available, Nat and I decided to chat our way through the rest of the race. This gave me a chance to learn a lot about her, including the fact that this otherwise likable person has an appalling propensity to speed up as a race goes on. Having never experienced such an alien urge, I decided not to knock it til I tried it. And I must admit that it didn’t feel utterly hideous until Mile 9.

Our pace had dropped to near 8:00/mile and was on the verge of dropping me altogether until I did some very fast math and said, “Hey, I bet we only need three bad date stories to get us across the finish line!” Hope sometimes arrives in the unlikeliest of forms.

Nat laughed and volunteered to go first. This suited me fine because, regardless of how I run, I’m a rock-solid closer when it comes to bad date stories. I was in the middle of Story #2 when we passed a sign that read “800 to go.”

800 what? I wondered. Furlongs, I decided, as the interminable sprint continued and I exhausted my supply of wind, if not bad date material. After cresting a gentle slope that might as well have been Everest, the finish came into view. Suddenly, a person I’d met just two hours earlier and I were urging each other across the finish line.

That moment—a tiny triumph shared with a new friend on a stunningly beautiful day, amid scenery found only in D.C.—is, to me, what life in this town is all about, and I love it.

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