When you hear the name Cherry Blossom Run, it invokes pictures of beautiful rosy blossoms glowing in the spring sunshine. Unfortunately, the morning of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Salem was not bright and sunny, but instead rather soggy. Around 170 runners and walkers braved the weather anyway to run the Cherry Blossom 5k and Ninja Race on the Capitol Mall, where the Japanese cherry trees were just starting to show some color.
When I arrived in Salem shortly after 8am (for the 9am race start), the streets were pretty empty and I found free street parking just a block away on Court St. I walked through the pouring rain to the State Capitol, where the race would start. Packet pickup had been moved into the vestibule of the underground parking garage access stairs. I pinned on my bib and moved to the big event tent, where vendors and Taiko Drummers were setting up for the Cherry Blossom Festival, which was to begin at 10am. Other runners were also huddling under cover trying to stay dry and warm.
Race organizers started their announcements around 8:45, calling all kids 1k runners to prepare themselves for their lap around the Capitol Mall. The kids ran quickly, and soon after it was time to start the 5k. A fun addition to the race was the “ninja” who was running in an all black outfit. Each person finishing their race ahead of the ninja would get an additional two tickets into the post-race raffle, and the first 30 finishers after the ninja would receive one additional ticket.
The course was very straightforward: Run around the Capitol Building and the Capitol Mall three times to the finish. We were asked to stay on sidewalks on all but the north side of the Capitol, since roads were not closed except for the festival area. Some areas of the sidewalk were quite flooded, but since I was soaked anyway I didn’t bother trying to avoid the puddles. Each time I ran by the festival tent, I was able to hear the taiko drummers cheering us on.
The top runner passed me around my half way point, and the ninja passed me shortly before my mile 2. Despite the rain, I was able to finish with an acceptable pace and was greeted by cheerful volunteers and race staff at the finish. Since I had an appointment very soon after I finished, I was unfortunately not able to stay for post race festivities under the festival tent.