Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Birch Bay Half Marathon

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: I performed within my expectations.
The Bad: I did not exceed my expectations.
The Ugly: It. Rained. The. Whole. Way. (At least the first 90 minutes; after that, who knows?)

Sunday was the Birch Bay Half Marathon (and Marathon, for those who wanted to double their suffering). Birch Bay is near Blaine (technically perhaps it is part of Blaine), which is a town pretty much right on the U.S. Canada border. It's about an hour and a half north of Marysville, where my parents live, but it's a pretty easy trip because it's a straight shot up I-5 and going north is usually more peaceful than going south. I would much rather drive to Birch Bay than Tacoma, even though they are about the same distance away.

Birch Bay was the February race on my 13 in 2013 half marathon schedule. (Maui was #1 and January, did I write about that yet? Maybe not....) It was also the "long run" on my training schedule for the week. According to the training schedule, I should run 13 miles at 10:14 pace...that definitely gave me a lot of leeway. I figured I could average under a 10-minute pace, though, since I had managed that in Maui (2:09:20-ish).

The weather during the week had been sporadic, but the forecast consistently projected a dry day on Sunday in Birch Bay. Did you hear that? Rain not expected. Ha!

As we drove north through Mount Vernon and Bellingham, we did get quite a bit of rainfall but north of Bellingham it actually appeared to be clearing. We got to Birch Bay before 8 a.m., allowing plenty of time for me to pick up my number, use the bathrooms a number of times, and warm up for a slow mile. At 10 minutes before the 9 a.m. start, I got into a porta-potty line again because I felt like I needed to go, even though I had gone several times already! It must have been the cold weather...I think it was in the upper 30s at that time.

Unfortunately I didn't make it to the front of the line, and at a minute or so before 9 I dropped out of line and headed to the start (a few feet away). I stationed myself sort of in the front third. I knew I wasn't going too fast, but I didn't want to be held back either. I think it was the perfect spot because I never felt delayed or like people were passing me. Of course, there weren't all that many was a good crowd, but no Rock 'n' Roll!

Because it was pretty cold (but not bitterly cold), I wore a half-zip over a base layer top, but started out with an extra jacket. I dropped that at my car when I passed it (about a quarter of a mile in).
The Birch Bay course is pretty flat, except for a major hill in the middle. I think the road starts out at a slight downhill slant, because I was running about a 9-minute pace in the beginning, which I knew wouldn't last. I soon slowed to about 9:45 (which ended up my overall average pace), and the first mile was a quick 9:30. After that I was steady around 9:45 for quite a while. Even though it hadn't been raining when we first began (maybe misting a little), the rain soon picked up to a steady medium-light rain and stayed that way for a long time. About halfway through I started stepping in a few puddles and from then on my feet were wet too.

Despite the grim skies, the course was pleasant. We ran along the water for a good part of the course, off and on at the beginning, middle, and end. After five miles I decided to use one of my little tricks to keep my pace up. I ran comfortably for 3/4 of a mile and then pushed it for the last quarter of the mile. That became a little challenging, though, when we started climbing the big hill at mile six or seven. The course was mostly uphill for more than a mile. I continued with my 3/4 and 1/4 plan but my overall pace was much slower on the hill, of course. That uphill mile was my slowest and the only one that was well over ten minutes (about 10:30 I think).

Happily, we got to go back downhill again as well! For the downhill I worked at pushing the pace most of the way. I needed to make up the 45 second deficit (over my informally planned 9:45 pace). Along the way in the second half I did have several 9:30 miles, which ended up saving my average pace.

At about mile 9.5 we turned back onto Birch Bay Drive and retraced our route back into the park. We entered Birch Bay park with one mile to go. Last year I was doing an 8:30 pace in the last mile, but sadly, not this year. I was working hard with a quarter mile to go! It had stopped raining but the sky was still very dark.
After I crossed the finish line (at 2:08:20), I walked back to my parents at the car. As I walked past the finishing runners I clapped and cheered them on. Hopefully I wasn't too obnoxious! I really shouted at a guy who was just about to finish under 2:10...I watched and he did, even though he looked like he was going to die and couldn't pick up his pace for anything. There were also a couple of young women (who I had passed about two miles before the finish) who just missed the 2:10 time...I really wished they had put on a burst at the end and made it under 2:10! (Not that it matters in the big picture.)

During the race I drank some from my handheld water bottle but I didn't need much since it was so cool and damp (even though I was sweating plenty). Instead of Gu, I had packed two small baggies of Gimbal's Cherry Lovers jelly beans, but I didn't ever take them out because I thought they would have been a mess in the rain. Probably should have just brought the Gu...although I didn't really feel fuel-deprived, so I guess it doesn't matter that much.

Just to touch on "not exceeding my expectations".... You always hope that some magic will strike your legs and you will amazingly run much faster than you thought you would. I find that rarely happens to me these days. To put a positive spin on things, I guess I have a pretty good idea of where my abilities are at, and I've been running for long enough that there aren't a lot of surprises left in me.

After we left the park I decided that we would go to lunch at Calico Cupboard in Anacortes. It might have been more practical to go to the one in Mount Vernon (less off-freeway travel), but I like the Anacortes restaurant. I ordered a giant cinnamon roll which we shared among the three of us, then I had a veggie scramble for lunch.

And so ended the first week of NODM training!

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