WASHINGTON, DC (31-Mar) -- Previous winners, a national championships, the PRRO Circuit Final, a $50,000 bonus pool, and gorgeous blooms on cherry trees are all part of Sunday's gala 50th running of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile here in the heart of the nation's capital. America's most storied 10 mile road race is pulling out all the stops to celebrate half a century of running.
PHOTO: Susanna Sullivan winning the 2022 Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile (photo by Clay Shaw)
"Fifty years is not a trifling amount of time," longtime race director Phil Stewart wrote in his welcome letter to runners. "To put it in perspective, over 82% of the entrants in this year's race were not even born on April 1 1973, when 129 runners, mostly members of the DC Road Runners Club, finished the first edition of the 'Cherry Blossom Invitational Run.' A lot has happened in the following 50 years."
Indeed, nearly a quarter million runners --221,626 unique runners to be exact-- have finished the race since inception when Sam Bair (51:22) and Kathrine Switzer (1:11:19) won the inaugural edition of the race. Since then six world bests and five American records have been set, and nearly $10.2 million has been raised for charity.
"We are very excited to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile this year," said John Bratsakis, Credit Union Miracle Day board chair whose organization is the title sponsor of the event. "This is an amazing running event and credit unions nationwide have enthusiastically united to be a part of it for 21 of those 50 years."
Organizers could have celebrated their 50th last year had they counted the virtual edition in 2020 when the in-person race was cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, by waiting for 2023 the 50th edition and the 50th anniversary occur in the same year.
Front and center at this year's race will be the USATF 10 Mile Championships for men and women. The women will get an early start at 7:18 a.m. before the men and masses at 7:30, and the race's reigning champion, Susanna Sullivan, will be part of that field. Sullivan, a fifth grade teacher from nearby Reston, Virginia, became the first locally-based runner to win the race since 1982, clocking a personal best 52:32 last year.
"I mean, it's huge," Sullivan, 32, said after last year's race. "Everybody knows what Cherry Blossom is. I'm a 5th-grade teacher so, you know, a lot of the time my running means nothing to them, or not nothing but they don't really get it. But a lot of their parents run this race and I saw some of them out on the course, and so if I tell them I won Cherry Blossom that will mean something."
Sullivan, who is running the TCS London Marathon on April 23, will be challenged for the national title by Colorado's Carrie Verdon, last year's runner-up; Nell Rojas, the top American woman at the 2022 Boston Marathon; and Sara Hall, an 11-time national champion and fourth-fastest USA marathoner of all-time.
On the men's side Olympic steeplechaser Hillary Bor is the leading contender for the national title. Seventh at the 2016 Olympic Games, Bor is also a talented road runner. Last month he won the national 15-K road title in Jacksonville, Florida, and he was the 2022 USATF 10 mile national champion when the race was hosted by the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in St. Paul, Minnesota. Despite his success in Jacksonville, Bor was disappointed not to make the national team for February's World Athletics Cross Country Championships after finishing eighth at the trials event.
"I did this race to redeem myself," Bor said after the 15-K.
Also in the hunt for the national title will be Biya Simbassa, the 2022 national 10-K champion; Sam Chelanga, a three-time national champion; and Jacob Thomson, the newly-crowned national half-marathon champion.
The event also has an international elite field (the national championships is actually the race within the race). On the women's side, 2015 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Rotich should be in the mix for the win, as well as Ethiopia's Anna Dibaba, who has a 1:09:22 half-marathon personal best. Ugandan Olympian Sarah Chelangat should also be near the front. Although she has never run a 10-miler, she has a very fast 10-K personal best of 30:24, and has run 31:06.46 for 10,000m on the track.
In the men's international race, there are two exceptional Kenyans, Charles Langat and Shadrack Kimining. Langat has a 10 mile best of 45:14, the fastest in the field, and Kimining has run 45:58. Eritrea's Tsegay Tuemay has run 46:06, and Ethiopia's Tsegay Kidanu is coming off of a 13:14 5-K in Lille, France, two weeks ago, although he has never run a 10 mile road race.
To spice this up, race director Stewart is offering a $50,000 bonus pool on top of the race's prize money purse. It's a little complicated, but athletes can share in the bonus purse for setting national records (in the case of Americans), world bests (all runners), and achieving other marks, like sub-46:00 for men and sub-52:00 for women. If World best times and American Records for men and women are set by the winners at the event (e.g. four records set), the $50,000 record bonus pool would be split into four $12,500 shares. If only one World or American record is set for either men or women, the athlete setting the record would get the full $50,000 (there are many bonus scenarios).
Also, the race has a prize money purse of $40,000 for the international race (Americans eligible), $25,000 for the USATF Championships, and $6,000 for Road Runners Club of America A RunPro Alumni Development Awards.
Finally, the event is also hosting the 26th Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO) Championships. Certain athletes, who have competed successfully in other PRRO events, are eligible for additional bonuses, including defending women's champion Sullivan. A lot can happen here on Sunday.
"The Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile hosts our PRRO Championship for the second time, and at the 2023 spring classic, we expect the competition to be fierce and fast among the world-class American and international runners," said PRRO president Don Kardong through a news release.
Organizers expect about 16,000 runners in Sunday's race, plus another 6,000 in the companion 5-K which will be held on Saturday.