One of my goals for this last period* was to train for and participate in the Beat the Blerch half marathon on 21st September, which was this Sunday just gone.
Why This Race
This was supposed to be a big race year for me, mostly built around running Hood To Coast. The timing of the Beat the Blerch run was perfect as a post-HTC run to close the season.
More to the point, my brother-in-law lives pretty close to Carnation, WA where BtB was being run, so it ended up being a nice family weekend with a trip up the Space Needle in Seattle and a delicious brunch high in the sky. It was all very civilised.
Another very civilised thing about this weekend was the timing of the race. Most races that I’ve run have begun at eight in the morning or earlier, but the BtB start was 9:30 for the half marathon. This lulled me into a slightly false sense of security around getting to Carnation on time, but I was well set when I left: fully hydrated, properly fed, and generally in a good place.
I landed lucky when I got to the venue, too – I snagged one of the last parking spaces at Tolt Middle School which was only a short walk from the start.
This was all good, but I was still very nervous. The training that I usually do for a half had been truncated because it took me so long to recover from June’s stomach flu: the longest run I had done in training was only a little more than ten miles – hilly to be sure, but still shorter than I usually aim for. And I was tired. My taper for the race had only really started a few days earlier and I had continued to cycle through it. I was really quite worried going in as to how well I would manage to run the distance.
Fortunately, the atmosphere at the race start was very soothing. There were two thousand people registered to race for that day, and it was a joyous collection of people. I had my Blerch technical T on but that was more or less a baseline outfit: there were Bob Cats, and Blerches, and cake fairies, and one particularly excellent outfit where the runner had a cupcake on a stick fixed to his head, and the words “the cake is a lie” written on his shirt.
The weather could not have been more cooperative. There had been some early morning mist further up the valley but that had entirely cleared and the sun was warming the air.
So, yeah. A great place to be.
Two thousand people might sound like a lot of racers, but it’s much smaller than most of the runs I’ve done. The Portland Shamrock, for instance, has 35,000 runners taking part in several different events. Splitting that couple of thousand BtB racers fairly sloppily across three distances gives something like 700 runners in each. Still, small trails meant they still did a staggered start for the half marathon.
When my cohort lurched across the start line my immediate thought was how sunny it was: I hadn’t put any sun screen on (because it had been misty when I left the house…) but the full sun didn’t last. Once you were past the paved section, the trail dived into woodland.
The route was a mostly flat out-and-back along the Snoqualmie Valley trail, an old railway bed that had been converted into a mixed use path. This was the first run I have done where the majority of the route was unpaved and it was a little difficult because of that. Paved roads are in some ways more tiring to run on, but they also return your energy more efficiently whereas the gravel just soaks up your footfalls. I also found that I had to stop three times to get stones out of my shoes.
It was beautiful, though – really calming to run along through this gorgeous woodland. And it was highly entertaining.
Let me tell you about the aid stations.
Usually, aid stations have water and some kind of electrolyte drink. Sometimes you’ll get gel shots or gummy bears**. Well, the BtB aid stations had water, and weird purple drink***, and gel shots. But they also had birthday cake, and Nutella sandwiches.
And they had sofas, and Blerches. And a yeti.
The actual running part went fairly well. Basically, I ran the whole of the first ten miles, chatting with some of the other runners and trying to be witty in between gasps. I especially enjoyed the runner in the bunch of grapes costume. I eschewed the blandishments of the aid stations since I was carrying my own water and some salt capsules****, but that last aid station is where I had a bit of a sit down, and a nutella sandwich.
Gosh, that is a delicious thing to eat after ten miles of running.
After that it took me a while to get running again, and at the eleven mile mark I was pretty sure I was done. I texted my wife to let her know that I was probably walking the last two miles and while I did in fact get up to something close to running speed at some points along the last section I was pretty much wrecked by the time I got to the finish.
But I did get to the finish.
Final time: 2h30m24 – about 25 minutes slower than my fastest half marathon two years ago.
A Very Sad Closing Note
In the last half mile I saw where someone had collapsed by the side of the trail and was being assisted by about half a dozen people, other runners and volunteers alike. I didn’t stop because I would just have been in the way at that point, but I do remember hoping that he would be all right. I overheard someone else say that there was a doctor in the race who had stopped to help.
I heard this morning that the poor fellow died. He was only 28.
Very, very sad, and a sobering reminder that these races are not risk-free no matter how experienced a runner you are.
There is a fundraiser to help his family.
[*] and I really do need to find a more suitable term for this. The reporting dates are sabbats, so intersabbat perhaps?
[**] the section of road after the gummy aid station in the Portland Marathon was so sticky, it really slowed you down. It was a gummy apocalypse.
[***] as described at the end of the fifth section of The Wonderful and Terrible Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.
[****] I need electrolytes during a race, but I cannot stomach electrolyte drinks after more than about an hour of running. Salt capsules get me through.