Thursday, April 17, 2008

Whidbey Island Half Marathon—April 13, 2008

The day before Whidbey, Saturday, was a beautiful day—sunny, warm, everything you could want in a spring day. I mention that because the next day, Sunday, was everything but sunny and warm!

But on Saturday I took advantage of the nice weather to walk downtown for a pre-race massage (about a mile), and then after lunch, met up with my mother to drive up to Oak Harbor to pick up my race packet and check out the course.

Apparently everyone else in Snohomish and Skagit counties thought it was a lovely day too, because the freeway exiting to Highway 20 and the whole stretch of Highway 20 from Burlington to Deception Pass was jammed with cars. I'm sure it didn't help that the tulip festival was in full fling. What a lovely day to come out and see the tulip fields! (Although, not too many tulip fields were in bloom yet. The cold weather has slowed them down.)

It took well over two hours, I'm not even sure how long any more, to get to Oak Harbor. Deception Pass was bumper to bumper cars and swarms of walkers on the bridge. Once we got onto the island near Oak Harbor, things quieted down.

The race expo at Oak Harbor High School was buzzing with runners, but luckily not crowded. I was able to quickly grab my race number and bag of goodies (basically cereal and a toaster pastry from Nature's Path, and Horizon organic chocolate milk), and browse around the expo booths. My first stop was the Super Jock and Jill booth, as I needed socks once again! The socks I had bought in Portland seem to have become lost in the laundry. Yet again.

Other than the sock purchase, I found little to tempt me at the Race Expo. My mother thought there seemed to be fewer exhibitors than last year. Perhaps because last year we were buying wildly from the sale racks of one of the running stores.

We left to go scope out the race route. Even in a car, going 35 miles per hour, 13.1 miles seems like a long ways. I did notice we were driving up (and down) a lot of long hills!

The trip home was quicker, thankfully. Apparently a lot of the afternoon revelers had gone home for dinner. We zipped back to my mother's house, then I headed home for dinner and bed.

It was already getting late, around 8:00, by the time I got home. Before having dinner, I put out my running clothes and gathered my other paraphernalia (gloves, sports beans, snacks, a change of clothes, etc.), so I wouldn't have to bother in the morning. The very early morning.

Finally I settled down to eat a big bowl of leftover pasta (I had made it for my book club dinner the night before). I got the recipe from Runner's WorldFettucine Paolo, with bell peppers, sundried tomatoes, chicken and artichokes. Very tasty, although I think fresh pasta tends to get overcooked very easily. At least that makes it easy to digest, I guess! The creator of the recipe is the owner of a restaurant in Kent, I believe. And a runner, of course. I think the article says he has run the Boston Marathon numerous times! (The recipe link doesn't include the article, so I am relying on my memory.)

I barely remember now, but on the Saturday before Whidbey, I was still getting over a cold that had sprung on me a few days beforehand. When I finally went to bed Saturday night, I dosed myself with Tylenol p.m. to make sure I got to sleep quickly. Even though I would only have a few hourse of sleep before the alarm went off at 4 a.m., I knew (from past experience) that the Tylenol p.m. would wear off fast and not leave me groggy in the morning.

4 a.m. came very quickly. I allowed myself two hits of the snooze alarm, then hopped out of bed around 4:15. Clothes on, hair (quick brushing and a ponytail), and breakfast. I cooked an egg with some extra white in the microwave, then ate it while toasting a light english muffin that I spread with almond butter. I put the muffin and a banana in my bag to eat in the car on the way north. Since the run started at 8:30, I figured I could eat around 6:00 and still be fine.

I always struggle about what to eat before a race. Obviously a half marathon is a bigger deal than a short race. I know I need to be well-fueled for the run, but on the other hand I don't want food in my stomach weighing me down. I always have a latte too, though I wonder if the milk is a bad idea. So far I haven't suffered any dire consequences. I do limit myself to a tall latte. Anything more and the milk seems to curdle in my stomach.

I left home promptly at 5:00 (right on schedule) and arrived at my parents' around 5:20. Next stop was the Starbucks up by Hagen's on 88th. Unlike my neighborhood Starbuck's, this one opens at 5:30 on Sunday mornings! Perfect.

The drive to Oak Harbor was much quicker than the day before, and we arrived early enough to get a parking spot without trouble (not the case for late arrivals) and sit in the car reading a magazine before venturing out to warm up.

At around 7:15 or 7:30 I crawled out of the car to go do my warmup (and begin hitting the porta-potties). I headed out at a slow jog around the parking lot and high school. After a couple of loops I made my first visit to the porta-potty—no line. I resumed running. As always, my warmup goal was to get past that rough part at the beginning of a run, when your body wants to be home in bed instead of on the road. I like to do a couple of miles in warmup (longer if it's a 5K). At about 8:00 I got in line for another potty visit. Since there were a lot of porta-potties, it didn't take too long.

I headed toward the starting line (which was adjacent to the lot where we were parked) around 8:15. There was a single porta-potty there, and I decided to stand in that line too for a final attempt before the race started. Of course, this line was much slower since we were all waiting for one potty! You would think I wouldn't need to go again, but the closer we got to race time, and the chance that I would have to abandon the line, the more I felt I needed it. At almost 8:30 there was an announcement. Due to parking problems—no, not due to potty lines—the start would be delayed by ten minutes. An audible cheer went up in our line. Even so, it seemed like the people in front of me were awfully slow. I got in, however, and did my thing and was out again very quickly for the next person in line.

Then I merged myself into the crowd for the starting line. Even though we were chip-timed, I didn't want to start to far in the back, and have to pass lots of people, so I worked my way forward into about the middle of the pack. I kept to the right hand side, though, so my parents would have a chance of getting a picture when I passed them a little way up the road.

Finally, it was time. The starting gun went off—I think it was a gun, I don't quite recall—and we began running. Well, actually, we began shuffling forward. By the time we crossed the starting mats, I had managed to break into a jog, although the crowd was still thick around me. (Later I would hope that the delay to the starting mats had been long, in order to improve my chip time!)

We started out going uphill on Heller Street. I was frustrated to see people walking already. As always, I wished that the walkers would keep to the back and not force the rest of us to maneuver around them. I pushed my way up Heller Street and then back down the other side. We veered off onto Swantown Road and then took a sharp right onto Fort Nugent. I believe our first long uphill was on Fort Nugent. (Like anyone who's experienced a traumatic event, I can no longer remember the specifics of the ups and downs, just that there were a lot of them. The course map shows the roads, but not the hills!) We took a left onto Zylstra, then onto Hastie Lake Road. Our longest stretch on one road was West Beach Road. This road runs along the water, although you can't really see water in the first section.

While on the second half of West Beach Road, we began encountering the first marathoners running opposite of us. When I first saw them coming towards us on the road, I thought they were half marathon runners doubling back (perhaps the course was different than I believed). Oddly, many of them had half marathon numbers on. I wonder when they decided to run the full marathon instead of the half? I finally figured out what was going on when I saw marathon numbers and thought back to the map I had studied the day before.

Although we were running uphill at the time, I knew we were approaching a long, steep downhill and I pitied the marathoners who had just run up it. This was, however, to be the most scenic part of the run also. West Beach turned into a narrow strip which, in my recollection, had water on both sides (although the map does not show this). The road is lined with beachy cottages.

And the hill. I decided to go for broke and let myself run as hard as I could down the hill. Let gravity give back a little of what it took away on the uphills! The bottom of this hill is also a great photo spot but we had decided there was no way my parents could get there for a picture and still get back and find parking for the race finish. So I just hoped that perhaps the official photographers were taking pictures somewhere out on the course. I smiled at anyone I saw with a camera, just in case.

Off of West Beach we turned onto the other long stretch, Swantown Road. We were more than halfway by now, and plugging toward the finish. I recall looking at my watch at the 10 mile point and thinking (even though I had not been timing the run precisely), that I could finish under two hours if I did at least a 10-minute mile average for the rest of the race.

When we were only a mile or two from the finish we took a sharp left back onto Heller Street. There I was shocked to see another hill ahead! I had completely forgotten running down this hill at the beginning. I plugged up the hill, taking it perhaps too easy (I thought in retrospect).

On that final hill, as on one of the uphills on West Beach, I came upon and passed a few runners wearing shirts that said "Marines do more" (as in U.S. Marines). Each time I saw them they were walking up the hill! I had the urge to shout, "Do Marines walk up hills?" But I did not.

Unlike some other races, where I regularly passed (or was passed by) runners en route to the finish, in this run I was recognizing people who had run in my group throughout the race. There was one young couple that had been variously ahead and behind me for many miles. I would recognize them as I passed them, or was passed by them. I did not see them as we headed into the final descent down Heller, though.

As we pounded down the hill, we were directed into the stadium for the finish in the stadium. I had already heard, but was still bemused that we had to run a lap around the track to finish! I saw my mother with the camera as I passed the grandstand onto the track.

And then it was time for the final push. From behind, my companion competitors pulled up beside me and yelled (the guy did), "We were together the whole way, let's finish this!" So I put on a final burst toward the finish line, as they did. My burst of energy lasted a few seconds, then I flagged and slowed down as they pulled ahead of me and crossed the finish line hand in hand. I crossed about three seconds later, at 2:02:22 on the clock.

After that things deteriorated slightly. It started to rain, and I was soon chilled in my sweaty clothes, after the running heat wore off. I wanted to stick around to see Dean Karnazes speak at the awards ceremony, but after going to get a bottle of water and a few little cookies (the post race spread was not nearly as lavish as last year), I sat in the stands for a while until I was too cold to take anymore. So we headed back to the car to leave.

We had to wind our way out of Oak Harbor to avoid interfering with runners who were still en route. Mostly marathoners, I would hope, though I suppose there were still slow half marathoners or walkers out. I felt so sorry for the marathon runners who were passing the stadium at the time we left. They were more than 3½ hours into their run yet only a little more than halfway along. There was a long, miserable road ahead for them!

We stopped at Starbucks so I could slip into their bathroom and change into dry and warm clothes. Whew! That was much better. (I noticed many of the other runners in Starbucks as well, still in their running clothes and medal. I, of course am too modest and humble to flaunt my medal. Really, I am.) Then we went on to Mitzel's for a cinnamon roll and breakfast.

I later wished that we had just left Oak Harbor and gone to the Calico Cupboard in Anacortes. Or anywhere else. Mitzel's was apparently just overwhelmed with customers. We had to wait an incredibly long time to ever get our food. Luckily, our cinnamon rolls came a bit sooner. But they were not nearly the giant, scrumptious confection I had been promised. (It is possible that my standards for cinnamon rolls have become impossibly high.) The food, once we got it, was pretty good, but the delay was ridiculous.

On our way home (finally) we detoured off the highway to drive through the tulip fields... who knew if we would have another chance this season. I had noted the week before that the tulips seemed late. Most of the fields were still not fully out. There was one location that was quite vibrant though, and it looked like the tulip seekers had managed to find it. All things considered, though, the traffic getting through Skagit County was not too bad.

For the next few days I scoured the Whidbey website religiously to find out my final time. Finally I spotted a link on Tuesday night as I was packing to go to Boise. I was a little disappointed to learn that even with the chip time, I still did not get under two hours. My actual time was 2:00:52. However, by scouring one of the photos my mother took, I found the number of one of the runners who overtook me at the finish, and looked up the times for her and her husband. I was delighted to learn that their final time was 2:01:02. I actually beat them by a full 10 seconds! Hah! Victory is mine! Of course, they'll probably never know this. For years to come they will gaze at their finish line photo and remember how they passed me at the last moment (ostensibly beating me by three seconds on the clock), little knowing that in fact it was all a charade, and I am the true winner.

So in the end, my Whidbey time this year was more than six minutes slower than last year. Was it the harder course and head cold? Or was last year simply an aberration? Who knows. I'm not suffering over it. (No really, I'm not.) (Not at all.) (Maybe next year!)

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