Checking two races off my running bucket list: The St. Michael’s Half Marathon and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

In the past month, I’ve checked two races I’ve always wanted to do off my running bucket list — the St. Michael’s Half Marathon in St. Michael’s, Maryland and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington, D.C. Both are traditionally spring races, were canceled in 2020, and rescheduled for late summer 2021. And I was able to run both of them! 

St. Michael’s was fun — absolutely nowhere close to a PR, but I was not expecting to PR on a hot, humid August day when I hadn’t done any speedwork or structured training all summer. Cherry Blossom was fun AND I had a pretty significant PR, smashing my old PR from 2017 by more than two minutes! I’m so happy about that! 

Here are my recaps of the two races. 

St. Michael’s Half

The St. Michael’s Half Marathon is part of the St. Michael’s Running Festival, which also includes a 5K and a 10K. It is always held in May, and I was supposed to run it in May 2020. But of course, like all spring 2020 races, it was canceled due to COVID. I ended up donating my race entry and registering for the 2021 race, scheduled for Aug. 21. I knew the weather would likely be miserable. But I didn’t really care, especially once I found out that my favorite August race, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run, was canceled for the second year in a row. My sister Catherine and her husband Justin, who live in Pittsburgh, signed up for the 5K and came down to visit. Neither had ever been to St. Michael’s before and I was excited to have a fun day with them. 

We woke up STUPID early on race day to make sure we were there in time for the 7 am start. I had tried to find an Airbnb in St. Michael’s, but there was nothing, so we stayed at my house in Anne Arundel County about an hour away and woke up at 3:45 am. UGH. But the thought of being late stresses me out, so there was no way I wanted to be rushing around. We got there by 6 or a little thereafter, with plenty of time to use the bathroom and line up for the race. My plan was to start with the 1:40 pace group, and hopefully finish sub-1:40, but again, it was hot and humid and I had no real expectations for the race. 

Which was good, because…. The 1:40 pacer went out of the gate like a bat out of hell. 

I really don’t want to come off like I’m throwing shade at the pacer, because he was lots of fun and very entertaining when I was able to keep up with him! But I knew within the first half mile that we were going way too fast, particularly considering the weather. We ran the first mile in 7:19. 7:19!!! A 1:40 half marathon is roughly a 7:39 per minute pace, so 20 seconds faster than we needed to be going, in the first mile of a half. Yikes. Once we hit the first mile marker, he said “Is anyone tired yet?” Well, I wasn’t tired yet, exactly, but I definitely felt like I was working harder than I should be at that point in a half. 

The St. Michael’s Half bills itself as the flattest and fastest half in the mid-Atlantic, and the course is definitely flat as a pancake. But there’s also not much shade, so the sun was beating down on us pretty heavily. I was able to hang on with the pacer, who was hitting some of the mile markers probably at least 20 seconds before he needed to be (we ran mile 3 in 7:15), until around mile 7. Then I knew it was a lost cause. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. My husband told me later that the pacer came through the finish line all by himself — I bet just about everyone fell back! Maybe there were a few that finished ahead of him? I don’t know. 

Anyway, after I knew I wasn’t going to be under 1:40, I just focused on enjoying myself and taking in the scenery. I was pushing as hard as I could, but my splits were definitely a hot mess. Mile 8 was 7:52, 9 was 8:08, 10 was 7:51, 11 was 8:05, 12 was 8:13, 13 was 8:15. Ah well. They can’t all be perfectly executed races. I was for sure ready to be done by mile 12 and was excited to see my husband, sister, and brother-in-law waiting at the final corner before I made the left turn toward the finish.

About to finish!

At the finish line, volunteers were handing towels drenched in cold water and it felt so good around my neck! My final time was 1:42:36, which got me second in my age group! 

My favorite running store, Charm City Run, sponsored the race and put on such a fun after party with great beer and music! I missed race after parties so much. We walked around St. Michael’s afterwards, had brunch, and then headed back to my house. We were quite exhausted after our early morning (middle of the night?!) wake up call and we all took long naps once we got back. 

I’d love to do this race again on its traditional spring date! 

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run 

I wasn’t even planning to run this race. 

As the name indicates, this race usually takes place in April, when the cherry blossoms in D.C. are in full bloom. The race is extremely popular and you have to enter a lottery to get into it, so when I learned it was rescheduled for Sept. 12, I decided to throw my name in. Except I belatedly realized that the race would conflict with an annual girls trip to Dewey Beach, where I always run the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler. Whatever, I thought. I won’t get in anyway. 

Except — shocker!– the demand to run the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run without cherry blossoms just wasn’t there, so everyone who entered the lottery got into the race. And there were still enough spots left for runners to register after the lottery had closed! 

Thinking I was still going to Dewey that weekend, I tried to pawn off my entry on someone else, but there were no takers. But in early August, my beach plans fell through, leaving me free to run the race! And I am very glad I did. 

This race required another 3:45 am wakeup call. OK, maybe if I were the type of runner who could just roll out of bed and go to a race, it would be different. But I like to wake up, eat breakfast, have my coffee, use the bathroom a bunch of times, and as I said above, not feel rushed …. Plus, I had to take the Metro into D.C., which always really stresses me out. The New Carrollton Metro station is about 25 or so minutes away from my house, so I got there around 5:30 and I think I was at the Washington Monument, where the start line was, by 6ish. This left me with a ton of time to kill before the 7:30 start time, but again, I wasn’t rushed and I was happy about that.    

This race also had pacers, and my plan was to line up with the 7:30 minute/mile pace group (1:15 finish time) and hopefully finish ahead of them. But when I got to the starting corrals, I saw that I was placed in the second corral, while the pace group I wanted to run with was in the first corral. Balls. I knew they were going to go off several minutes ahead of my group, so I figured I would either try to catch up with them or just run my own race. And my experience in St. Michael’s taught me pacers can be hit or miss anyway! 

I was wearing my new race shoes that I had splurged on, the much hyped Nike Alpha Flys. I really went back and forth over whether to spend close to $300 on running shoes. Is that really necessary for a hobby runner like myself? I ran my marathon PR in Brooks Ghosts. Hell, I ran the freaking Boston Marathon in Brooks Ghosts! But I had a gift certificate to Charm City Run from my birthday that covered part of the cost and just decided to go for it. And maybe they helped me in this race. 

I will tell you that I ran faster than I ever thought I could. Like, I’m looking back at my splits and shaking my head in disbelief: 

Mile 1: 6:55

Mile 2: 7:06

Mile 3: 6:52

Mile 4: 6:56

Mile 5: 6:58

Mile 6: 6:58

Mile 7: 7:13

Mile 8: 7:16

Mile 9: 7:09

Mile 10: 7:13

I mean, I definitely slowed at the end, but I was running directly into a headwind during those last few miles. But look at that string of sub-7 miles! I usually struggle to run a 5K at a sub-7 pace, and I ran five miles at sub-7?! Like huh? I had also run a 16-mile long run the day before, which was definitely not a smart race strategy. But I needed to get my long run done and I also wanted to run the race … and it worked out. 

My finish time was 1:11:17, a 7:08/mile pace, which got me 13th in my age group out of 476 women. It was a very competitive race! 

Excited about that PR!

Was it the super shoes? The flat course? The cool morning? (It’s still pretty hot and muggy here most days, but we actually had nice weather for this race.) Was it my marathon training? At the time of the race, I was three weeks into my training plan for Coastal Delaware, so it’s hard for me to imagine that I would have gotten into 10-mile PR shape that fast. But who knows. All I know is that I was SUPER pumped.  

As for the race itself — I really liked the course, which winds through the Tidal Basin in D.C. As I just mentioned, it was very flat, though I could have done without the wind whipping off the Potomac in the later miles. I liked how in the last mile, there were markers indicating that you had 1600 meters, then 1200 meters, then 800 meters, then 400 meters to go. Would it have been a lot prettier with the cherry blossoms in bloom? For sure. So I’d love to come back in the spring. And as long as the standards don’t change, it looks like my time will qualify me for a seeded bib and allow me to bypass the lottery next time, which is pretty darn cool! 

What’s next? I’m about to finish up week four of a 12-week marathon training plan from Pete Pfitzinger’s book Advanced Running. It’s pretty challenging and has me running several double-digit runs during the week in addition to the long run on the weekend. I’ve never done that before. This past week, I ran 5 easy miles Monday, 11 easy miles Tuesday, rested Wednesday, 10 miles with five at half marathon pace Thursday, rested Friday, 17 miles today and 5 easy tomorrow. (I also went to kickboxing class on Tuesday and Thursday, because I am a firm believer in the importance of cross training! On those days, I ran early before work and went to class after work. Keeping hard days hard!) So far, so good! 

My next goal is to PR the 10K at the Baltimore Running Festival on Oct. 9. I technically PR’d the distance in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, so I think I could do it at an actual 10K. My current 10K PR is from 2017 and I would love to take that down! 

And then of course I am also hoping to PR the marathon this fall. My marathon PR is ALSO from 2017. See a pattern? 2017 was a really good year for my running … but I think 2021 can be even better!

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