I am departing from my usual practice of delaying race reports until I can't remember much of anything, or starting one but not finishing (cough, Honolulu Marathon, Maui Oceanfront Half Marathon), to squeeze in a quickie recap of the Birch Bay Road Race 30K from Saturday!
This is the fourth consecutive year I've run this 30K and every time I've had a good experience (on one level or another). I really like the 18-ish mile distance for a long run, and the 30K "race" gives me an opportunity to test my marathon chops in a more formal setting than my typical solo runs. I like the Birch Bay course because it is pretty flat (unlike the Birch Bay Marathon/Half Marathon), but with enough elevation change to keep it interesting. (Honestly, I don't like pancake flat courses for more than a 10K!)
Usually the Birch Bay Road Race is the last Saturday in March, but this year it was a week later, maybe because Easter was on March 31. It was fine for me but no good for anyone who wanted it as a final long run before Boston, which is April 15 this year. I don't know if that applies to that many people but I did that in 2011.
Birch Bay is about 80 miles north of here, but it's a (fairly) quick drive on the freeway, with a four-mile jog west off the freeway to the start of the race. I picked my parents up at a little past 6 a.m., and with a stop at Starbucks we were there and parked by 7:45. (The race started at 8:30.) The primary parking is at the Birch Bay Waterslides, but even though there were still open spots (usually there are not, a sign that attendance was down), we parked on the side of the road facing the water. That way I would run right past my parents at the start and they would have a nice view the rest of the time.
The weather didn't suck as much as I thought it might. Rain was definitely a possibility--in fact we drove through several downpours on the way up--but it didn't rain once during the race. It was windy though! Even though the temperature was not cold (it was around 50), the wind made it feel chillier. I had originally planned to wear just a long-sleeved shirt (the 50s are warm for running!), but ended up adding a half-zip top and I was never too warm, except for a short spell when my body temperature was regulating itself.
We weren't as early as I had expected, so I only had time for a quick .7 mile warm-up. It was enough to get some sluggishness out of my legs, and also allowed me to get in line and accomplish one final bathroom stop. Then I squeezed myself into the middle of the pack (I had been standing in line when they did the seeding, so I just guesstimated) and headed to the start line.
The race included a 5K (which barely counts, as they left us all so quickly), a 15K, and a 30K. The 15K had way more runners than the 30K (247 versus 70!) (which became obvious later on). Everyone started together, but the 5K group turned back after about 1K. The rest of us continued on into Birch Bay State Park. We ran into the park and turned around at about four miles. Then we backtracked toward the start for another 3.5 miles (or so).
Around mile 8(ish) the 15K runners got to turn back to go to the finish. And every single person around me was doing the 15K. I was completely alone. This has never happened in the past with this race. I honestly felt like maybe I was the only person doing the 30K. I was able to see one other person about a quarter mile ahead of me every now and then. That was almost the only thing that kept me convinced I was on the right track (that and the occasional aid station).
My hope for this race was to run about a 10-minute pace, ideally closer to 9:45 if possible. In the first 10K, or even 8-9 miles, I was on track with 9:45-10-minute miles. After I lost the 15K runners, I started to slow down a little. Mostly this was because the course had some hills in this section--fairly minor, but I'm pretty sure the elevation was primarily uphill to the 13.1 mile (21K) point. I really wanted to run even effort, and I think I was doing that, but it was slightly discouraging to see splits around 10:15 or slower.
I also think the solitude slowed me down a little. That's silly, because I am almost always alone when I am running, but it hardly feels like a race when you're the only one running it! I definitely lost any kind of competitive boost during this segment of the run.
I remember from last year, the stretch between 15K and 21K is the most mentally challenging. Not only is it uphillish, it just seems so far to be done. I found myself thinking dark thoughts...like, how can I be tired at 9 miles when I easily ran half marathons the last two weekends? Why do I even want to run a marathon? It's so far. As the kilometer markers on my side of the road inched upward (16K, 17K....) I could see the return markers on the other side. The closer the numbers got to matching, the nearer I was to the turnaround.
As I got closer to the 21K marker, I began to meet other runners on their return trips. So, it seemed, I was not actually the only person running the 30K. However, it seemed pretty clear to me that I was probably in last place. Dark, dark thoughts.
Finally, finally, I reached the 21K/13.1 mile point and turned around the cones and headed back. Then, many of my dark thoughts lifted and hope returned. Only five miles to go! (I was conveniently mentally ignoring the final kilometer after 18 miles, which would make the total distance 18.6 miles.) And there were still people coming in my direction! I wasn't last after all! I shouted cheerful encouragement to the oncoming runners. Nice job! Looking good!
Somewhere after the turnaround I heard someone say, "I read your blog!" I was quite startled and I think I said "oh!" I know it was a woman wearing red. I kind of wanted to wait and say hi to her at the finish but at that point I also really just wanted to go to the car. So if she is reading this, "Hello! Hope you had a good race!"
The other great thing about the trip back is that we got to go down all the hills we ran up. Now mind you, it wasn't that great, because we also had some rollers, and after 15 miles even downhill isn't the fun it should be, but it did make it easier to regain some of my earlier pacing (keeping with that even effort).
I am a little vague about my exact mile splits because my Garmin Ant Agent is not working and I haven't been able to download my data. I did look through the mile by mile times on my watch, but it's at home and I'm at work, so I only have a vague idea of the details.* However, I do know that the 25K point I stepped up my effort and started pushing for a strong finish. My final 2.67 miles were at or under 9:45, which makes me happy (and the mile before that was around 10:00). Granted, there was a good downhill in one of those miles!
At the 25K point was also where a guy named Brian passed me and commented that he had to work hard to catch up to me--great, I guess, except he left me in the dust from there! I noticed later that he finished about a minute ahead of me, with an official pace of exactly 10:00. Great, he stole my finish time! :)
The evil trick with the Birch Bay Road Race (it's not a surprise any more) is that there is a short, steep hill right before the finish. So you get to struggle up that then run gasping for the finish line. Cool, right? I don't have a finish line picture because my parents waited in the car and didn't come to the finish. I called to tell them I was done, then used the porta potties before heading back to the car.
Another small (but HUGE) victory is that I did not have to stop for a bathroom throughout the race, nor did I feel any urgent need to do so. Actually I have only stopped once over the four times I've done this race. So how come I can get through a 30K without a bathroom but in marathons always need to stop by mile 13.1 (once I held out to 15)? I was tempted to see how much longer I could hold it after the race but figured that sitting in the car would not be a good comparison to running another eight miles, so I just went.
I had one Gu at around mile 8 and one after 13.1. This is right on target with my marathon plan of miles 8, 13, 18, and 23 (which I have never executed perfectly actually). I am currently reading The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition by Matt Fitzgerald, and contemplating tweaking my plan a little bit...we'll see. I can tell you right now, though, that there is no way I will be consuming the amount of fuel that he recommends in a marathon.
My final time was 3:07:20. That's an official pace of 10:04 (for 18.6 miles) and an actual pace of 10:02 (for 18.67 miles). With my .7 warm-up, I ran a total of 19.37 miles on Saturday.
I am okay with my just-over-10-minute pace for Saturday. As I said, I would have preferred closer to 9:45, but I still have almost two months to bring it down before the marathon. (And if I don't, that's fine too.)
I should probably feel a little bit more disappointed in my results. It does sting to realize that every year I've run this my pace has been slower. My first, best, and unbelievable time was 2:50:xx in 2010. Seriously, I think that was a 9:09 pace! Each year has been a few minutes slower. I don't really expect to get close to 2:50 again, but it would be nice to be under three hours next year! Maybe I should set a goal for that. But really, it's hard to be too upset about a perfectly decent finish time. And when I looked up the official results this morning, I learned that my mediocre-at-best time was third in my age group (out of eight total). So that's something.
After we left Birch Bay we drove south and stopped in Bow for lunch at the Rhododendron Cafe. I haven't been there for so long! I had the Finnish Pancake with marionberries.
This week my plan is speed work on Tuesday, a medium-long moderate tempo run on Thursday, and two days off running before Whidbey. I really want to have fresh legs for Whidbey. It was the first half marathon I ever ran and it's sort of significant for me...I would like to do well.
*Edited to add...I had to run home for a minute so I looked at my watch and wrote down the splits old school style, on a piece of paper. Here are my times for 18.67 miles. 9:48, 9:46, 9:54, 10:12, 9:52, 9:49, 9:50, 9:59, 10:10, 10:30, 10:18, 10:20, 10:37 (this was mile 13 by the way), 10:00, 10:27, 10:04, 9:38, 9:44, and .67 at 9:36.