Why I Like the Cherry Blossom 10k
By Jim Nicosia
Okay, so it’s one of our favorite running spots, regular Saturdays and even for some cherished outdoor bun runs. But even if it weren’t a favorite haunt of the Clifton RoadRunners, Branch Brook Park has so much going for it every April that it would still be one of my favorite races. Why? Mostly, the course.
I don't know about you, but these hand-drawn maps don't tell me an awful lot about what to expect (then again, I'm somewhat visually challenged). In general, what you get here is essentially an out-and-back loop, mostly the same thing coming back as going out.
What I like about the race
Like the Spring Distance Classic (see my March post for details on that one), there are a couple opportunities at the sharp turnarounds (2 of them, halfway into the course, at the far left of the map) to see your teammates and keep an eye on rivals. For the middle two miles in general, you'll see speedy teammates heading for home (unless you're one of the speedy teammates: hello, Damian, Luis, Jose, Joe, Greg... hmm, sometimes it seems like everyone's a speedy teammate but you, doesn't it?), and then you'll see other teammates who are behind you on the course as you're heading home. I like that opportunity to see other runners (running can be such a lonely experience, sometimes), and this course gives you some of that.
Overall, you can expect gently rolling hills (very slight, so that you can still honestly call this a flat course) along a pleasant and relaxing (as though racing is in any way relaxing) park atmosphere—lots of trees, grass, and water. There are busy moments and there are quiet ones (especially around mile 5), and I appreciate the variation.
When you hit the home stretch of the last .2 miles, there's a nice round of cheers awaiting for you, and that puts a nice spring in your final few paces, something that not every race provides.
Because it's a home course of sorts, it's one of those opportunities you'll get to see a lot of your running teammates, and that's a big plus, for me at least. It should be for you, too.
What I don’t like about the race
Okay, mostly it's not the fault of the organizers or volunteers, because its hard to fit 1300 runners (most of whom travel in ones or twos) in any one location in New Jersey. And getting into the event isn’t too bad if you’re there an hour early.
But at some point in the morning, the primary lot at 5 Franklin Ave. fills up, and there wasn’t a single person directing traffic at the entrance to inform people not to go into that lot in the first place. This only causes frustration and further delays for those who didn’t get there before 9. Warming up in that lot, myself, I personally waved dozens of cars to turn around and proceed to the hospital lot, but that wasn't my job. ONE volunteer could have been assigned to do that for the latecomers, in my opinion.
Afterward, with many people arriving at the hospital to visit loved ones, others coming to check out the cherry blossoms, and hundreds of people leaving the race at the same time. It’s not unusual to be stuck in the parking lot for at least a half hour, barely moving. My advice: leave as soon as you finish the race, or stick around with other club members and enjoy their amazing hospitality (Betty's coffee and chicken salad sandwiches are more than worth sticking around for)!
Course rating: 8/10 (much of this is personal, of course, but I like the gently rolling hills and slightly varying parklike atmosphere. Just enough to keep things interesting. Some people don't like the two turnarounds halfway through, but they do seem to be a necessity, or we would have to run outside the park a bit.)
Organization: 9/10 (the line to get your bib is short and efficient, and even though the park was undergoing significant renovation in 2023, things were mostly well labeled.)
Support/fans: 10/10 (There's a throng of well-wishers there for the first half mile or so, and the last stretch is filled with resonant cheers. In the middle miles, you do get to see your teammates coming and going a few times). There were enough but not an abundance of water stations, staffed by friendly volunteers.
Swag: 9/10 (good long-sleeve tech shirts, always a little different from year to year. They almost always run large, by the way.)
Parking: 5/10 (If you don't get there an hour, or more, ahead of race time, you will have issues getting into a parking lot.. Be prepared.)
Jim Nicosia is a teacher, author and children’s literacy advocate. He is a Rutgers University-certified coach for children, and earned his first victory in his age group in a race at the age of 50. He placed second in the USATF New Jersey Mini-2 championship, and first in the Mini-3 championship for 2019. In 2022, he placed third overall in his age group for the New Jersey USATF Grand Prix. He's still mostly to be found in the middle of the pack.
His website is www.JimNicosia.com.