I "discovered" this race when I was doing some random internet searching for upcoming races. I was thinking 5K, 10K. But lo and behold, there was the Birch Bay Road Race, with 5K, 15K, and 30K (18.6 miles) options, conveniently scheduled on a weekend with 18 miles on the long run docket!
It's no coincidence that this race happens in early spring. The race information explains that this race is designed to provide longer distance options for runners training for May and June marathons and half marathons. Perfect for me! (June marathon.)
My original, genuine intention was to run this as a true "long run," at long run pace of 9:30 to 10 minutes per mile. Because of that plan, I didn't feel nearly as stressed out about this as I would normally for a race! But, I also thought that it was possible that I might end up running a little faster with the assistance of the race atmosphere. I was open to that, as long as it didn't mean hurting myself (too much).
This race, although it is organized by a group out of Seattle, has a strong Canadian influence. After all, the location, Blaine, is right on the B.C. border. A lot of Canadians and Canadian running groups participate and, obviously, the distance is measured in kilometers. Or "kilometres." No mile markers at all! That didn't matter to me—I had my Garmin—but if you are used to miles and only see the kilometer markers, it must be frustrating! That's what I heard from another lady after the finish (who apparently doesn't have a Garmin).
Blaine is at least an hour and a half north of where I live, and even though I didn't need to be there super early, I also didn't want to cut it close. Since the race started at 8:30 a.m., I told my parents I would be at their house at about 6:00.
I got there a few minutes past six, and of course there was some additional delay as I made myself a peanut butter and jam sandwich, used the bathroom, and so forth. Still, we were probably on the road by 6:15. I already had a coffee with me so we had no need for additional stops, which was helpful.
The trip was smooth, and we arrived well before 8:00. The one thing I hadn't anticipated have difficulty with, though, was parking. The designated parking lot was full, but we easily found a roadside spot. This was actually a pretty good place to be, as we ran right by it in the beginning of the race, allowing my mother to catch a picture pretty easily.
I did not try to do a warm-up, as I was not treating this as a "real" race. I picked up my race number and used the porta-potty right away. Then I headed back to the car to pin on my bib and get ready to go. I was using my Roadrunner Speed 2-bottle fuel belt, with two extra pockets attached—one with my phone and Gu, the other with a small camera that I had picked up on clearance at Best Buy. I didn't end up taking any pictures, though.
About fifteen minutes before start time I headed back up the the starting area and decided to stand in line again for the porta-potty. The lines were very long by now, but I figured if I didn't get it I would would just go on and stop later if I needed to. But what better way to pass the time than standing in the potty line?
The line moved fast but by the time I was at the front there were only a few minutes left. I jumped into an open stall and did my thing. By the time I came out the lines had dissipated and everyone had headed to the starting area. I jogged over to join them. It was a rather close call but in the end I still had a minute or two to wait before we took off.
We started off downhill to Birch Bay Drive, where we turned left for a four-kilometer out and back. Before I passed my mom's car I started waving my arms wildly to catch her attention. Thus the goofy looking photo!
On the way back Birch Bay Drive turned into Birch Point Road, then Semiahmoo Drive. We stayed on Semiahmoo Drive until we turned onto Semiahoo Parkway. Somewhere on Semiahmoo Drive I saw the sign to warn us we were approaching the photographer. I tried to put a smile on my face (that wasn't hard), but suspected that he wouldn't get a good shot of me due to the cluster of people running around me. There I am tucked behind a few people. The lady in the front is wearing the race shirt. I have a bone to pick with those race shirts. They are gender specific and the women's sizes run incredibly small! I got a large and it barely fits (in my opinion). I don't like my shirts to be too snug. I wish I'd tried it on before I left...but I didn't. I considered trying to contact someone about getting an extra-large, but in the end didn't bother. I have to wear it with my Lucy Perfect Core Pant or Knee-Pant!
These pictures (above and below) were taken just before we got to the turnaround point for the 15K runners. There was a water station there as well as people directing the turn, and probably signs also, but as I passed through the turn I saw a woman ahead of me running along who appeared to be wearing a 15K-colored bib. Sometimes people do change races, so I wasn't sure if she had missed the turn or not, but I called out to her, "hey pink (she was wearing a pink shirt), are you doing the 30K?" She didn't hear me (she was wearing earphones and appeared quite zoned out), so I ran ahead of her and turned back. I asked her, "are you doing 30?" She looked shocked and said "NO!" I said "turn around!" and pointed back, and she wheeled around and took off.
I have done a few races where different distances start out together and then diverge (mostly half and marathons, but also 10K/5K, etc.), and always had a slight fear of missing the turn and running the full marathon "by mistake." I didn't really think that could happen until I heard about this story...and then saw it almost happen up at Birch Bay.
Most of the run was a giant out-and-back. From Semiahmoo Drive we turned onto Semiahmoo Parkway and ran on a paved trail alongside the road to about the ten-mile point. Then we turned around and retraced our steps, running on the roadside in this direction, but back onto a paved trail on Semiahmoo Drive.
The course was made up of a lot of gentle inclines and declines and a few genuine (but not especially steep) hills. I didn't realize we were going slightly uphill for a large portion of the first half until another runner pointed it out to me. The exception to that was in the segment on Semiahmoo Parkway, where the down, and up, and down, and up again was noticeable, although still not drastic enough to slow my pace by more than a few seconds per mile.
After the turnaround around mile 10 I pulled out my first Gu. By luck and a little bit of planning, I was able to eat it in time to toss the package at the next water station. The water stations were plentiful, although I was wearing a fuel belt and didn't need to stop for water.
Although I was monitoring the distance by miles, all the mile markers were in kilometers, which was a little strange to me (except for the 5, 10, 15K and so forth). Mostly I disregarded the kilometer markings, although I must say I was getting excited when I got to 28 and 29!
Amazingly, the race seemed to glide by relatively effortlessly. (Of course, I am finishing writing about this three weeks later!) As usual, I divided it up into my usual categories: Miles 1-5 are warm-up, Miles 6-10 are the "easy" miles, Miles 11-15 are "quality" miles. If I were doing 20+ I would call Miles 16-20 the "endurance" miles. But since I was only doing about 18, the last two or three became the push to the finish.
As for my pace...I began the run saying I was going to run it slowly but secretly wondering if I could do it at marathon pace (based on pace for a sub-4 finish), which is still relatively slow but faster than my "easy run" pace. I thought that might really be possible when I saw my time for the first mile (9:07) and second mile (9:07 again).
I definitely ran this race with "even effort" rather than trying for "even splits." Thus my uphill times were slower than my downhill and flat times, but all of my splits fell within the range of 8:47 to 9:20 per mile. The 9:20 mile was mile 10, and after that my pace picked up again and I finished the last 2.82 miles (the course was long) at sub-nine paces.
I also picked up the pace in the last few miles because I was following another woman who was running a little faster, and my efforts to keep up made me go faster! Ultimately she lost me at the finish, though. I saw her afterwards still running; she said she was finishing a long run (presumably 20+ miles) prior to going to Boston.
I had taken my second Gu around mile 15, again eating it shortly before a water station so I could drop my garbage. Then it was the push to the finish. I think that my final partial mile would have been faster than it was (8:43 pace) had it not been for the nasty surprise as we turned off Birch Bay Drive to head for the finish line. This was a slight deviation from the beginning of the race, so I didn't know what was coming...a steep hill! I said aloud, "Oh dear God!" as I began to chug up the hill. It was a short one, happily, and then I turned and sprinted for the finish. My dad took this pre-finish line picture. And the race photographer took this one (oops, looks like I am losing my pants!)
Finally, after I collected my medal my dad took this nice posed shot. We also established that this is where he should stand if he wants to get an optimal finish line picture next year!
In the end, my chip time was 2:50:21. I was fifth in my age group (out of about 18, I believe), but that didn't win me any prizes. I was mostly happy that I had run an effortless marathon pace race! My official pace for 30K (18.6 miles) was 9:09 per mile, and my actual pace (based on the distance of 18.82 miles) was 9:03.*
I felt good, except for my cramping legs, and for a while that day every time I got out of the car I hobbled like a cripple (and there was a lot of car riding to do). After we left we drove the course for my parents to see it, then headed slightly south again to Bellingham for lunch at the Harris Avenue Cafe. Then we drove south on Chuckanut Drive into Skagit County, and for good measure took a turn around the tulip fields to see what was in bloom! (The tulips were just starting to pop.)
Finally we headed home. By that time it had been a long day, beginning before 6 a.m.!
*My splits for the run: 9:07, 9:07, 8:54, 8:57, 9:17, 9:10, 9:02, 9:16, 9:12, 9:20, 9:08, 9:04, 8:52, 8:50, 9:04, 9:09, 8:47, 8:49, .82 mile at 8:43 pace.