Cherry blossoms near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival officially opens this week here in Washington, “celebrating 100 years of the gift of trees” from Tokyo. The Japanese sent more than 3,000 cherry trees to Washington in March 1912, helping create the U.S. capital city’s greatest springtime celebration.

This year’s gala centennial of the first planting has been expanded to five weeks and it includes activities such as Samurai cinema, Japanese tea parties, a kite festival as well as several sporting events, including rugby and soccer tournaments and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on April 1.

Ralph & Sonny at finish line of 1995 Cherry Blossom

I’m looking forward to testing my speed and endurance in “The Runner’s Rite of Spring” after a winter of early morning runs in sometimes sub-freezing temperatures. I’ve run the Cherry Blossom several times, including 1995, when my younger brother, Ralph, nipped me at the finish line.

The Cherry Blossom often attracts top runners who use the race as a tune-up for the Boston Marathon, which will be held for the 116th time on April 16.

Former Boston Marathon champions Bill Rodgers and

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Joan Benoit Samuelson will conduct pre-race clinics before the Cherry Blossom in Washington. Rodgers won four Boston Marathon titles during his great career, helping him earn the nickname, “Boston Billy.” And Samuelson won two Boston Marathon women’s titles, but perhaps is best known for winning the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the year the women’s marathon was introduced.