Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Anacortes & Orcas Island — Race & Weekend Report

This is a twofer—the story of my Anacortes Half-Marathon plus my adventures on Orcas Island afterward. Granted, my adventures were not very adventuresome. They were, if you include the race, downright salubrious (pretty much) (with a few bibulous exceptions).

But enough loquaciousness.


Perhaps for the first time ever, I got my act together enough to pretty much pack my weekend bag(s) on Thursday night. On Friday night, after a leisurely exercise-free day (with only work obligations to drag me down), on my way to eat pasta at Lombardi's, I dropped my stuff off at my friend's house, who would be meeting me at the Anacortes ferry after the race on Saturday.

Then on Saturday morning, slightly after the crack of dawn (around 6:15) I headed towards Anacortes with my parents. My plan was to get there around 7:30 or so, allowing plenty of time to pick up my race number, park in a location that was advantageous for getting to the ferry, go to the porta-potties three times, and do a warmup run before the race started at 9 a.m.

All of those things happened like a charm. The main parking objective was to park near the finish line, on the west side of Commercial so as not to interfere with any runners. (As it turned out, the runners were only on the last block of Commercial before the finish line anyway. But still, it was good to be parked a little bit closer rather than further away from the road to the ferry terminal.)

I was a little concerned about the weather. Really, it was perfect running weather. A little clouded over but not raining; not unbearably hot but not cold either. My dilemma, though, was whether to wear my light jacket or just go with the sleeveless top. A normal person would obviously know that the top was sufficient. But I had worn the sleeveless shirt in anticipation of real heat, so the jacket didn't seem unreasonable (it's very light).

Luckily for my sanity, the sun broke out after I finished my warmup run and I realized that I would be far better off without a jacket. So I switched my emergency supplies* from my pocket to my amphipod waist pack, wired up my iPod, put the Garmin on my left wrist and my Timex iControl on the right, and was set to go.

Amazingly, at 8:45 there was nobody in line for the porta-potty and I was able to make one last stop!

The Anacortes Art Dash has three runs—a 5K, a 10K, and the half-marathon. They all start at the same spot, at the same time, on the same route; then the shorter races break off along the way to double back to the finish line. Leaving, finally, the half-marathon runners to finish on our own. (As usual.)

The run starts out by the City Hall in downtown Anacortes and heads southward through town until it joins up with the Tommy Thompson Parkway. This is a nifty running/walking/biking trail that was built along the path of the old Burlington Northern railway (the path was temporarily closed to bikers during the race). The parkway runs parallel to downtown for a bit, then hugs the shoreline until it crosses Fidalgo Bay with a .75 mile long raised walkway dubbed the "trestle" after the railroad trestle it replaced. The trail itself is only about three miles long, so after crossing the bay the half-marathon course continued on roads. The 5K and 10K runners turned back prior to crossing the trestle (their loss!).

There were no timing chips in this run, but it hardly mattered because the crowd was not large and I could actually see the starting line from where I was standing.

That's me in the turquoise hat, #662. Which of these people surrounding me would be my nemesis in the race? I think that the blonde woman behind me, in the sleeveless white shirt and black shorts, may be the person who I chased for the entire second half of the race. (Although there were a lot of blonde women with sleeveless shirts in the run.)

I pushed start on the Garmin as I crossed the starting line. Now, I did not want to be watching the Garmin the whole race. What I really wanted to do was ignore it until the race was over. But I couldn't do that. So I reluctantly allowed myself to keep track of my time per mile, but tried to minimize glances in between. I got into a rhythm where I'd check the distance after a few minute and see that it was, say, at a half-mile point. Then I would pick a landmark in the distance that I had to run to before I looked at the watch again. The landmarks got closer to each other whenever I approached the end of a mile (e.g., .9, .95, etc.). You would think that at some point I would miss a mile, but no—I caught every one.

The first mile went great. 8:45. I have never been worried about running "too fast"—my body is not going to let that happen. I would like to run negative splits, and I often do, but (I'll spoil the surprise) this time I did not. I don't think that running the first couple miles slower would have made any difference, though. In fact those quicker miles helped make up for a couple slower ones later on. Mile two was about 8:50, and after that I was not under nine minute miles again. I didn't feel like I was slowing down, but in fact mile three was about 9:02, as I recall.

These first three miles took me through town and across the "trestle" portion of the run. I had run this race last year, and I remembered the course well. Specifically, I remembered the big hill that was coming up in mile four! On the other side of the trestle we turned briefly onto March Point Road, then took a right onto North Texas Road, home of the infamous hill. That whole road was a little less than a mile long, and the worst of the hill was only about half of it, I would guess. Last year I walked up the steepest part, along with pretty much everyone else I saw. This year I didn't need to walk, although I could feel my pace slowed considerably. When the Garmin displayed the time for mile four, it was 9:54—almost a minute slower than my typical pace for this run. But still, I was pleased to be under ten minutes for such a difficult hill.

There was a water stop as we turned back onto March Point Road. I stopped for just a couple of second to drink some water. I had bypassed the first two water stations and I'm not good at drinking while running. I felt that just a moment's pause was worth it to get some water in me.

At that same moment, while I was swigging my water, two runners passed me who would become my main "competition" throughout the rest of the race. Since it was a pretty small field, by that point we had all fanned out and there wasn't a lot of passing, at least in my section of the run. The two who passed me were a woman in a white shirt and a man in a blue shirt. They passed me at pretty much the same time but whether or not they were together, the woman soon pulled ahead of the man and we ran in that order for pretty much the rest of the race.

For the next four miles the run, and us runners, followed March Point Road as it circled the perimeter of March Point, following the shoreline and passing by a couple of oil refineries that are a familiar part of the Anacortes landscape. Even though we had run up a big hill, I don't recall ever going down any downhill portions to match it. Maybe the road sloped slightly downward, but I certainly didn't take note of it. My mile times remained consistently hovering around nine minutes (a few seconds over).

One thing I was noticing as I ran was that my Garmin measurements were not exactly consistent with the mile markers on the road. I hit each milepoint shortly before the mile marker, and the discrepancy accumulated. By the time we got to mile nine I was almost a quarter of a mile ahead. I feared grimly that this meant the entire route would be overly long. (Though it turns out it was not.)

My main recollection of the run along March Point Road is my fartlek-like game of Garmin checking. Maybe picking landmarks to run to made the race pass more easily. Although I can't say I felt wonderful, I didn't feel bad at all as I ran along at my nine-or-so-minute pace. I certainly didn't feel like I was breathing overly hard, although I know that if I didn't have the earbuds playing music into my head I would be able to hear myself breathing. I didn't feel like I was going to die at all (which is good, considering that I still had several miles to go).

At mile nine we turned back onto the trestle to retrace our steps into town. Now, you would think that this would be an incentive to run faster, knowing that the end was near. But for some inexplicable reason, my time for mile nine was about 20 seconds slower than any other typical mile. (This may have been the place where I took another drink at a water station—that would partly explain it. I didn't stop this time but I'm sure I slowed a bit to take my swig. But 20 seconds worth?) I was, however, able to pick up the pace again as I moved into mile ten. I recall thinking, as I remembered Deena Kastor pumping her way through the last stretch of the Chicago Marathon in Spirit of the Marathon, "I'm not Deena Kastor." Then I immediately told myself, "No, I am Deena Kastor!" And I pushed on.

Maybe there was something about mile nine, though. Because that was the stretch where I passed the guy in the blue shirt. For four miles I had been tagging along behind him, maybe half a block's length between us. As we approached the trestle our gap narrowed, and somewhere along the narrow boardwalk I pulled ahead.** I spent the rest of the race waiting for him to overtake me again, or pass me in a sprint at the end, but it never did happen.

Now the only person ahead of me within any visible distance was the woman in the white shirt and shorts. I think I did close the gap on her a bit, but never close enough to overtake her.

As we passed the starting point at 6th & Q Streets, we were within about half a mile of the finish. At 2nd Street we turned left to jog (referring to the turn, not the running pace) over to Commercial. From there it was a short straight stretch to the finish line, located by the Port of Anacortes warehouse.

Note the absence of surrounding runners in this picture of me approaching the finish! Ms. White Shirt has left me in her dust, but Mr. Blue Shirt is nowhere to be seen behind me either.

My mother was stationed about a block from the finish to take pictures. We've learned from past races that actual finish line pictures only work for official race photographers, and we're better off away from the finish line mess. When I spotted her I tried to smile for the camera, resulting in this lunatic grimace. (I've decided that in future perhaps a true grimace would better convey a sense of finishing line drama.)
My mother did get a good shot of me just before I crossed the finish line (even though it was a backside view). If you look closely at the time on the clock, it looks like 1:56 but I have to be truthful, it said 1:58.
I really should have cropped these pictures to take out some pavement. Oh well.

As I crossed the finish line and stopped abruptly I felt, for the first time, a little bit like I was going to die. Actually I started feeling kind of bad in the last block or so. But considering that it didn't come on until the end of the race, instead of, say, in mile ten (which seems to be "the wall" in a half-marathon), I felt that I had made some progress. My whole goal in my long run training has been to make the half-marathon feel like nothing special. I'm think I'm coming along well with that.

I didn't have a lot of time to dawdle, since our next destination was the ferry terminal. But since I had finished by 11:00, and the ferry was only about four miles away, I felt like I had a couple of minutes to breathe and recover. I hovered over the time board until they marked my tag—44 overall in the half-marathon and a time of 1:58:51.*** Then I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and some fruit, and headed to the car.

PART II will be about the trip to Orcas Island. But now I must go write paychecks for the office or there will be some very unhappy people at work tomorrow.

But first, I am going to attempt to post the race route. I mapped it on Map My Run because I am having temporary (hopefully temporary) downloading problems with my Garmin. If it doesn't embed properly, I will omit it but I am still leaving in this paragraph because I must say, mapping the route was almost as hard as the run itself! Psychologically, at least. I did it in satellite view and with each little line I added, I could not believe how much further I had to go. 13.1 miles is a long way, no matter how you look at it!

Here is the route (I am trying a link because embedding did not work) (try switching to satellite view):
View Interactive Map on

*Kleenex, honey packets & Sports Beans (none of which I used).

**Some people would say I chicked him.

***Although I was personally pleased with my finish time, my overall ranking was shockingly poor in comparison to other races I've run. I was 44 out of 65 total, and 18 out of 31 women. I don't know where I was in my age division—it hardly even matters. I think that the running times were extraordinarily good compared to all the other half-marathons I've run. Out of 65 total runners, 46 of them finished under two hours—unheard of in a typical half-marathon, I believe! For example, in the Whidbey Island Half, where my time was two hours, I was 460 out of 1483 overall, 203 out of 953 amongst women, and 30 out of 120 in my age division. Big difference in standings.

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