Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Another great weekend in Bellingham!

I see from my race shirt that this was only the third running of the Bellingham Bay Marathon and Half Marathon, and I am a little surprised because it is such a great race! I would have thought it had been around for a lot longer. I'm certainly happy to have gotten in on it, and I hope to be back for years to come.

I have said a couple of times already how glad I was to be staying up in Bellingham at the Fairhaven Village Inn, not just because it was a very nice place to stay, but because this race starts early (for one in the cool Northwest, anyway). 7:30 a.m., in late September! You know it only just gets light out around 7:00 this time of year.

So when I got up around 5:30 I had no real way of gauging what the weather would be like; it was still dark out! I did look out and see some stars, which meant it was clear. That meant likely sun later on, but also cool to begin with! I had already decided to wear the long-sleeved shirt that I considered middle-weight in terms of warmth, though. It was not as thick as one of the others, but had a crew rather than V-neck as compared to the other unchosen. Plus it was pink with darker pink accents, which I thought was more distinguishable for photo purposes. And I could wear a matching two-tone pink hat. (The little things are important!)

I put on the coffee maker right away, then dressed pretty quickly and fixed my English muffin with almond butter. I wanted to eat it around 6:00 so I could digest it before the running began. I also downed a handful of chocolate espresso beans, for an extra caffeine kick!

Like I said in my morning post before the race, I was feeling nervous, as usual. Even though I didn't have any ambitious goals for the race, I am always worried about how it will go. Actually I think the nerves help rev up the adrenaline a little bit. If I was too relaxed, I might run that way too!

Even though I had no major goals, I guess I had a strata of objectives for this race. Number one, I wanted to finish respectably under two hours without having to work too hard at it. Something like 1:58 would satisfy that requirement, and I think I would have been satisfied with that. (Would have required about a nine-minute mile, easy peasy, I think.) Number two, I would like to be under 1:55. I am sure I would have been satisfied with that. (I was somewhat confident I could manage that too--that would take an 8:45 average, and 8:45 seems to be my happy pace in races, the pace I can do with just a bit of effort, not beating myself up or anything.) My pie in the sky goal was to beat my Anacortes time...but I wasn't counting on that at all.

My mother and I left the hotel around 6:30 to drive to the start in downtown Bellingham, only a couple of miles away. My mom lived for a number of years in Bellingham, and went to college there, so she is really familiar with the downtown in some ways, but since it has been more than 40 years since she lived there, some of the changes (like the one-way streets, which have probably only been around for 20 years) are frustrating to her.

But we got to the right area pretty quickly and easily, and found a parking spot about a quarter of a mile from the start (I determined that distance while doing my warm-up run). I left my mother in the car while I started jogging around the area to warm up.

I felt really loose and light of leg during my warm-up run, and I took that as a good omen for the race. Now, the Garmin was showing something like a 13-minute pace during the warm-up, but I didn't let myself be worried by that (I knew I was going slowly, but I'm sure it was no slower than 10-11 minute mile pace!). I took it as a sign that the satellites might be screwy around there, and decided I was going to avoid looking much at the Garmin during the race.

I did about a mile and then stood in line for a porta-potty visit. I had gone right before we left the hotel, so I considered this my second pre-race potty stop (this is significant). It was about 7:10 and there was a line but I got in after a few minutes' wait. Then I finished my warm-up by running back to the car to get my mother (total warm-up 1.3 miles).

We walked back to the starting area and I really wanted to use the porta-potty again (I always go three times before a race), but the lines were really long now and there was only about 5-10 minutes before the start. I was sure I wouldn't get to the front of a line in that time, and didn't want to stress myself (or my mother) out by trying. I felt like I needed to pee, but put that down to nerves and perhaps the cold air out, and told myself that it would go away after I got running (I've had that experience in the past).

So I made my way into the starting crowd. They had signs to divide us up based on expected pace. I lined up at the front of the "under 9-minute" crowd. That seemed perfect for me.

When the race finally started, just a couple minutes past 7:30, it only took me about 30 seconds to get to the starting mats, where I started the Garmin as well. It was pretty crowded for those pre-start seconds, but once we crossed the mats I was able to get to a comfortable pace easily, as did those around me. I love starting with people at my own pace, instead of being blocked by slower runners as so often happens in these big races!

One advantage of a big race, though, is that you never have to wonder if you're going the right way; there are always people around! Here we all are near the beginning. I am "leading the pack" at the far right in the picture!
I did sneak a peak at the Garmin after the first few minutes, and I think it showed an 8:30 or faster pace, and I felt comfortable, so I went with it. I didn't feel like this was "going out too fast" at all. Maybe if it had been the full marathon.... :)

I felt like the road was sloping gently downhill during the first few miles, and my gradually increasing speed reflected that. Again, I wasn't too concerned about going "too fast." I knew I was being given a break by the topography and figured payback would come later. My first three splits were: 1) 8:31, 2) 8:29, and 3) 8:18. I did look at my watch when I heard the miles beep (I didn't hear it every time), but other than that I probably only looked at my pace maybe once every mile (at least until the end was near). That is extremely conservative for me. Usually I am looking every minute! It helped that I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt that I could pull over the watch.

In mile 4, I believe, we switched from downhill to uphill and climbed for approximately the whole mile. The incline was noticeable but didn't give me any trouble... I was able to hold my pace reasonably well and did that mile in 8:32.

We were back to a down slope in the next couple of miles. It was also around this time, a little past 8:00 and right after we finished mile 4 and began mile 5, that the route took a sharp turn and switched from heading west to going directly east. And it was about this time that any early morning dimness fully burned off and the sun burst out in all its glory. And yes, we were running directly into it.

For quite some time I just ran with my focus on the road and ground ahead, trying to ignore the sun in my eyes. But I had in fact packed my clip-on sunglasses in my SPI belt (I was wearing glasses, not contacts), and it seemed crazy not to use them in the glare. I thought I could get into the SPI belt and pull out the sunglasses without stopping, perhaps just slowing a bit...and I almost pulled it off. But I think one of the clips caught on the fabric of the SPI belt, and as I struggled to detach the sunglasses, I dropped a small personal item out of the SPI belt, and I veered out of the main running traffic to scoop it back up (sorry to the guy who had to veer around me). I ended up stopping for a few moments to stuff myself back together, then took off again still holding the sunglasses in my hand.

I must have lost a good 30 seconds on that unplanned stop, but we were on a downhill and I think I put some extra push into the next stretch to make up for my delay, because mile 5 was a respectable 8:34 and mile 6 was 8:19! (I'm not sure which one my problem occurred in.)

I ran on for a bit before attempting to clip on the sunglasses. That I did successfully without further delay. However, unfortunately, by holding them in my warm hand for several minutes I managed to get the lenses fogged up (and it was the inside that was fogged, of course), and so after I clipped them on I was able to fend off the sun glare, but not really see clearly thanks to the foggy lenses. I think that went on for miles before they finally defogged on their own! Ironically, after mile 6 the sun wasn't much of a problem. It was still out but our route was more shaded the rest of the way.

By now I had passed two or three water stations. Except in really hot weather, I don't like to drink water before mile 5 or 6 in a half marathon. I wasn't thirsty, so I kept skipping the water stops to help save time (and make up for prior lost time).

The other reason the water stops did not appeal to me was because the sensation of wanting to go to the bathroom never did go away. Apparently I really could have used that third potty stop! The urge never became quite unbearable, certainly not enough to stop along the way, but I was certainly aware of it throughout the run, at least up until mile 12. (At that point adrenaline did drive out the need to pee, at least for a while). But I had a hard time wanting to drink water when I already had to go.

Mile 7 looked to be perfectly flat, and I was back to an 8:34 pace, then 8:41 in Mile 8. Miles 9 and onward were on the trail between downtown and Fairhaven that I was extremely familiar with from the Fairhaven 15K. As I was running along, probably in Mile 9 but maybe Mile 10, I noted to myself how comfortable and easy my running felt. Good thing I looked at my watch before getting too self-congratulatory, because the reason I felt so easy was because I had slowed to almost a 9-minute pace! (I noted the next day that this trail is slightly uphill in the direction of Fairhaven, so that also probably contributed to my inadvertent slow-down.) Mile 9 - 8:53 and Mile 10 - 8:55 (oops).

Before this race started, I had two minds (at least) about what might happen after mile 10. On the one hand, I was a little concerned because, due to all the races I'd run over the past couple weeks, it had been several weeks since I'd run more than ten miles at a time. I was a little worried that I might hit the wall at mile 10, which is so common in half marathons. I've been doing lots of 8-10 mile runs, though. In fact, I'd rarely been running less than eight miles at a pop, throughout the month of September, at least.

Assuming that I didn't hit the wall at mile 10, I I thought that would also be a good place to rev up and pick up the pace for the final 5K. Maybe make up for any laggy miles earlier on.

Well, neither of those things really happened. I felt just fine at Mile 10, although, as I mentioned, I had slowed down a little bit unintentionally. I did pick up the pace a bit at that point. But I also didn't immediately burst into 5K pace. I decided it was a little too soon to give it all I had (in case I ran out before the end!). I decided to maintain a steady pace and then kick it up when we turned to head back to downtown Bellingham, or at least for the final 1.3 miles.

At around mile 11 we crossed over the water on the Taylor Avenue Dock (just like in the 15K). The split-off for the half and full marathons would happen after we left the dock and hit the road again. The last portion of the dock is a rather steep climb from water level to road level. The official race photographer just happened to have a camera stationed halfway up that climb! (By the way, I did order and pay for a copy of the picture, I just wanted to post it right away, rather than waiting for it to be mailed.) I look so crooked in this picture—the chiropractors would have a field day with me!

Earlier in the race I had been a little nervous that I might miss the half-marathon turnaround and somehow get swept along with the marathoners. I hadn't studied the race map very well, and somehow had it in my head that we would turn and head back half-way through the distance, rather than two miles (or less) from the finish! So around mile 9 or 10 I was craning my head around to make sure that I was still running with other half-marathoners. Then I remembered that the cut-off was supposed to be after Taylor Avenue Dock, so I was sure I couldn't miss that.

Sure enough, once we got back to the road there was the sign, directing the half-ers back toward Bellingham and the full-ers onward to Fairhaven. There were also people directing us, though I don't know why they didn't say "Half-marathoners to the left, Full to the right," instead of "Half-marathoners go that way, Full go that way"! (Yes, they were pointing, but really, would it hurt to be clear about it?)

Back on the road, and knowing the end was near now, I really did work to pick up my pace for the final mile or so. I concentrated all my energy into running faster. I resorted once again to the landmark technique, focusing on a point (mostly light poles) ahead of me, and running to that, then picking another, running to that, and so forth. All my attention was intensely trained on that one thing, running to the next pole. I didn't even pay much attention to the people I was passing—and I did pass several, male and female. (I was rewarded with an 8:12 mile in mile 13.)

Finally the finish line was in sight, and I tried to find an extra gear to give it all I could to the end. I could see the clock, and I knew I would finish under 1:54 on the clock. However, since it was already past 1:53 there was no chance of being maybe I didn't run quite as hard as I could have. My final pace for that .23 mile (my race distance was longer than 13.1) was 7:42—not my fastest sprint, but a worthy effort. I didn't, however, get anywhere near the puke threshhold.

My mother got a good picture right after I crossed the final mat. I was still running and hadn't dropped to a walk yet. See that pink ribbon in the picture? They held it up for everyone to run through. Cute. It confused me, though. For a second I wondered if I hadn't already crossed the finish line, and I'd screwed up by slowing down? It was merely ceremonial, though, not the true finish.

The official finish picture was well past the finish line, and I was already walking, or just about to.

Someone handed me a medal!

The medal was very pretty. The full and half-marathoners got the same medal, with the race indicated on the back. (The picture is not my medal, of course. It looks like the half marathon had orange ribbons and the full had blue.)
I had finally forgotten about the bathroom in the efforts of mile 13...and I finally drank some water after the race. (I didn't even go to the bathroom until we got back to the hotel!)
My Garmin time was 1:53:18 (I learned later that my chip time was 1:53:19). Officially, this is a 13-second PR from Anacortes. In reality, though, I ran farther and faster in Bellingham than I did in Anacortes. My Anacortes distance only came to 13 miles, but my Bellingham distance was 13.23—almost a quarter of a mile more! The Garmin gives me an average pace of 8:33 (my official chip pace was 8:39). I'm not stressin'.

For fun, here is the race course marked on a satellite map. The water views were beautiful throughout the race (and part of it, Taylor Dock, was actually on the water!). The marathon runners continued south through Fairhaven and beyond, before eventually doubling back to downtown Bellingham.

Here is the elevation profile.
Finally, this chart shows my pace throughout the race!
Actual splits:

  1. 8:31
  2. 8:29
  3. 8:18
  4. 8:32
  5. 8:34
  6. 8:19
  7. 8:34
  8. 8:41
  9. 8:53
  10. 8:55
  11. 8:44
  12. 8:43
  13. 8:12
  14. 1:48 (.23 mile at 7:42 pace)

Instead of sticking around and checking out the post-race food, I wanted to hustle back to the hotel and grab something from the breakfast room before taking a shower and getting dressed. Breakfast didn't start until 7:00 (and we left at 6:30), but it went to 10 (and I finished by 9:30).

Aside from wanting to pee throughout the race, and dropping stuff partway through, my only other problem in the run was my right quad. It was sore and kind of tight throughout. I wondered if it might have been from the little fall I took on Thursday—I could feel it in my quad then. Luckily, the discomfort wasn't bad enough to interfere with my running.

But as soon as I stopped running, and particularly after I sat down in the car for a few minutes, the right quad seized up and I could barely walk without limping. Correction: I could barely walk, and could only limp! I looked a little bit like "After the marathon"!

When we got to the hotel I popped into the breakfast room and helped myself to a berry muffin, a hard-boiled egg, a banana, and another cup of coffee. I figured this would tide me over till lunch! I went to the elevator and found it occupied by a housekeeper with a big cart. I didn't want to wait for her to make her delivery and send the elevator back, so I decided to walk up the stairs. To the third floor. It was slow.

(Luckily, the extreme muscle soreness went away after a shower and a bit of time, and I didn't have any other ill effects.)

After I took a shower and got dressed, and sat around for a bit, we went out to have lunch at the Colophon Cafe. After soup, bread, and salad, we split a big piece of carrot cake. The cream cheese frosting was surprisingly not was good, but I would have preferred more powdered sugar!

A little shopping in Fairhaven, then we hopped back in the car and drove back to the race site to check my official finish time. By this time, almost 2 p.m., only the slowest marathoners were still finishing. Throughout the late morning and earlier afternoon, though, we had heard and seen the marathon runners passing by the hotel through Fairhaven, both on the way south and returning to the north. Now the roadside volunteers looked tired and a little bored as they waited for stragglers to hobble past.

When I confirmed my final time on the posted printouts, I was a little confused because I didn't realize that the printouts had been done early, and only reflected the finishers as of that time. So I thought that my overall place was somewhere south of halfway through the group of runners (which was a little disappointing). I only got the true data yesterday when I pulled up the online results.

Instead of the 412 runners indicated on Sunday, there were in fact 1037 total runners (and walkers) in the half marathon. I was 262 out of 1037 overall, and 110 out of 720 females. In my age group, I was 14 out of 98. Now that's more like it!

I wandered downtown before we left again, and managed to score some sweet deals at a couple of clothing shops. Now that makes it a vacation!

We finished off Sunday with some decadent fish and chips from the red bus!

On Monday morning I got up for a recovery run. I ran 2.5 miles into downtown, then another mile before I turned around and headed back, for a total of seven slow miles (average pace slower than 10 minutes).

After breakfast (we took full advantage of the breakfast room), my mother agreed to walk with me along Taylor Dock and the waterside park. So I was able to take a few pictures of where we ran.

Approaching Taylor Avenue Dock...

Looking back towards Fairhaven.
Down the hill on Taylor Dock.
And over the water.
Two colorful sailboats! Wonder if the owners are Oregon Fans?
More sailboats and a tanker in Bellingham Bay.
We crossed this railroad crossing (going this direction) in both the 15K and Half-Marathon. Trains use these tracks, so it is very important to be cautious when running and walking there!
A nice view of Bellingham Bay.
Looking back up Taylor's steeper than it appears!
Monday was a very windy day on Taylor Dock. We're lucky we didn't get that wind on Sunday (at least I didn't notice a wind).

Before we left Bellingham we went back to the red bus for a cup of clam chowder and soft-serve ice cream. Here I am fending off the paparazzi! (Really just trying to keep my hair out of my face.)
The end of a great weekend!
And before we left I made hotel reservations for next year!

1 comment:

MCM Mama said...

Great job on the race! Love the pictures of Bellingham. It's been about 10 years since we were there, but I loved it! I'd love to live close enough to race there.