We drove over to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, about 3 miles away from the start line, to hang out so Chelsey could finish some homework (she just started her MBA!) and to wait for Larissa and her husband, Abel. They brought their cute dog Dexter with them and before we knew it, we were on our way to Olive Garden to carb load it up.
Unfortunately.. Olive Garden was a 40 minute wait. We waited it out, and then when we sat down, it was nearly another 30 minutes before our food was brought to us. We were dying and our eyes were WAY bigger than our stomachs, as we all bought the never-ending pasta bowl.. but barely finished one bowl with how many breadsticks and salad we stuffed ourselves with. Haha! I was so full, but I had my eye on their seasonal pumpkin cheesecake, so I of course had to get it. All in the name of running, right??
After stuffing ourselves silly (JW also got a dessert..!), the girls went to the grocery store so we could pick up a few things, and after getting lost several times (Bellingham is kind of confusing and I'm sorry but Google maps should not put a Safeway on its map if it's "coming soon"), we finally made it back around 10. Well, I was ready to go to SLEEP, so JW and I retired to our room... only to watch 2 hours of Friends. Whoops! This is what happens when you don't have cable at home.. you become transfixed in hotel rooms that do have it!
I ended up going to sleep around 12:15 and though I felt restful, my sleep app says I pretty much moved all night. Oh well! I woke up around 6:52 to get ready to go downstairs and get some breakfast. Larissa needed to be finished eating by 7:30 (2 hours before the race - she cramps at Mile 4 otherwise - I was so impressed by her knowledge of that fact! I wish I was as aware of my body!). I grabbed an english muffin with cream cheese, half a banana, some coffee with creamer, and a Greek yogurt container that was 70 calories. I think I ate the perfect amount, considering how full I still was from Olive Garden the night before!
I went back up to our room around 8 and got ready to go - we were gonna leave at 8:45 and had to check out of our room and move our stuff into the room where the other 4 were staying - the only room that got late checkout. (At least one room got it!) Before we knew it, we were on our way!
We all piled into Larissa's car and the boys dropped us off at the start line around 9. I was weirded out because there weren't a mass of people hanging around - but then I remembered this was only the half marathon, not all the participants. The full and 5K started at 7:30! I was so happy it was only 9am!
We used the port-a-potties (virtually no wait!) and I felt really great after that - I felt like I had eaten just enough and didn't feel weighed down from the pasta or my breakfast. Love it when that happens. It was around here that I started to feel really positive and like I might actually do well at this race. It was about 55 degrees and foggy, but I knew it'd turn sunny soon - it was gonna be a beautiful day! And what more can you ask for, running in beautiful weather with wonderful volunteers and great friends cheering you on?
We got in line, saw where the 1:45 and 2:00 hour pacers were, and got somewhere around the middle. We knew that we were all going to run it at different paces, but we wanted to chat right before the start of the race. We asked someone to take a picture of us:
I was pretty cold when I was packing, and all my capris were dirty, so I ended up wearing the pants pictured above - and I kind of regret it. I also regret wearing long sleeves! I just didn't want to be cold. This picture is kind of awful- I had just handed off my phone to this woman and still had my headphones around my neck, with my water bottle awkwardly not in my hand...?? Oh well!
We got situated, counted down with the rest of the runners, and started moving towards the start line, which doubled as the finish line. Then the gun went off! It had begun - my 4th half marathon!
Almost within the first few steps, I completely lost Larissa - she must have bolted ahead to get right behind the 1:45 pacer - and then within about half a mile, I saw Chelsey up ahead (it's so funny how you can get so separated from people you started out with in races) and passed her with a little wave. It was Chelsey's first half marathon, and she was a little worried about going too fast, so she was trying to stick with 10 minutes/mile.
My goal was just to not hit a wall. I didn't want to feel bad or like the course would never end (like my very first half marathon), and I didn't want to go out too fast (like a lot of my training runs), but I didn't want to be looking at my numbers all the time. To me that's what a race is - constantly running (hah) numbers in my head and doing math. I just didn't want to do any of that this time. I just wanted to feel good... and happy that I was running. I wanted to get the joy back in my running.
So, I started out and focused on not passing people - just running a comfortable pace. I was told there would be water stations every 2 miles, but I found out later that the first water station wasn't until the 2.5 mile marker. The mile markers were on the flags, but there wasn't any wind, so they were all limp - so I had no idea where I was in the race at any time. I had even set my Nike+ to "Basic", so I didn't even get a "Halfway point!" vocal cue like I usually do.
The first and second mile were average 8'54"- obviously much faster than I'm used to - but it's just so funny how the miles felt pretty easy. I ran through the water station and continued on what seemed to be the longest straight road I've ever ran on in my life, and I was getting pretty bored. I was trying to sing along to the songs in my head and keep up with the people in front of me, but I needed something more. Suddenly the 2:00 hour pacer passed me. I knew she had started behind me, so I knew I was screwed to beat 2 hours if she stayed in front of me. I stayed with her for maybe the 4th mile?
I was starting to feel tired, around what I thought was during mile 4 (but it was actually Mile 5) and then suddenly I remembered! I had packed Gatorade gels in my water bottle! Hallelujah! So, you can see in my chart that I started picking up speed after Mile 4 and I definitely think it's because of the Gatorade gels!
Near the halfway point, we were running in this weird little park that had a really narrow trail and tiny rocks everywhere. Definitely not my favorite. We crossed a timing mat in this park, and I was so confused that I had only seen two water stations that I was almost convinced this was the 4.5 mile timing mat (some races have that), and not the halfway. Welp, it was definitely the halfway mark. My halfway time: 0:59:06 - faster than the split last year..! Of course, at that point, I didn't know it.
I slowed way down in the next few miles. As we approached the mile 9 marker, we were nearing where we would finish - we were about to make a smaller loop and come back around the other way - so it was kind of disorienting to hear the spectators and see downtown and some of the marathoners finishing when we still had 4 miles to go. But still, at this point I had no idea what mile I was at. As we passed the mile 9 marker, I finally saw a portion of the limp flag's number having a round bottom. I thought it must be 8 or 9, because there had been 4 water stops, but I erred on the side of it being Mile Marker 8 because I'd rather be pleasantly surprised that I was farther than I thought than be devastated that I had that much farther to go.
After the ambiguous 8/9 mile marker, we entered the large park where the terrain was mostly gravel. This kind of sucked. I saw some marathoners coming back on a path a bit higher than us, so I knew there was some kind of hill. Plus, Larissa had told us there was a hill right along the end (she ran it two years ago), so I knew it would eventually come... didn't make that fact any easier.
Mile markers 9-11 were really beautiful, despite the bad terrain, and I kept a remarkably steady pace. It was right alongside the Bay, and the view was really breathtaking. However, there were spectators, casual runners not wearing a bib (meaning they weren't a part of the race), and casual walkers out for their afternoon stroll on the same trail as all of us. So, I found myself dodging regularly clothed people quite often. Also, I saw three runners down - like, in the process of being put in stretchers. It was pretty scary, but they had people tending to them, so I knew they were being well cared for. Still!
Mile marker 11 - clearly marked - started the uphill, and I lost about 16 seconds in the mile that followed. Granted, I knew I was almost done, but it was mostly uphill until the Mile 12 marker, where there were still some uphills. However, now I knew that there were literally only 1.2 miles to go, so I started to really pick up the pace and start to pick people to pass.
It really gets me that I had so much gas left in the tank, so to speak, at the finish line. As soon as I saw it, which was right at Mile 13, and I had .1 left to go, I just flat out sprinted. And it kind of sucked because the finisher's chute was pretty narrow and kind of crowded- I had to leap over a couple of the metal bars and weave in-between people pretty badly. I saw the clock and I thought it said 1:55- which I was basically SCREAMING in my head, "so close!!" but as I got closer I saw that it actually read 1:58 - but at least I was going to beat 2 hours!! So I gunned it as hard as I could, and crossed the mat at the fastest pace I think I've ever crossed any finishing mat (about a 7'30" pace). I felt so winded after it was over.
Final time: 01:57:58. Just 1 minute, 52 seconds slower than my half marathon PR. Agghhh!
JW watched me cross the finish line, and I talked to him a little bit before I got my water and food. He said - "You were fast" - which was nice to hear, and I'm sure I did look fast since I passed a lot of people near the end... but again, I just wish I hadn't had so much energy left in the end that I could have pulled out much earlier in the race, to potentially get another PR. Ah well.. live and learn!
I refueled with pretzels filled with peanut butter (YUM), and then went to stand with the rest of the group (Larissa beat her personal best by 5 minutes!!) to wait for Chelsey, who we knew would be finishing within the next 15 minutes. Lo and behold- we spotted her and cheered for her while she crossed the finish line! I think this was the first time I had cheered on a friend in a race, so it was really fun!
Though none of us were very hungry, we brunched at the Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, and once we got some actual food in our stomachs that weren't gels and pretzels, we felt a lot better.
We hurried back to the car - it was so cold! - and drove back to our hotel where the girls took turns showering and the boys continued what they had been doing all morning - relaxing :). We left the hotel right at 2 and were on our way back to Seattle before we knew it.
It was a great race - great support, great weather, and the course was really beautiful and not too repetitive. Though I do wish I had PRed, I'm very pleasantly surprised with how well I did, considering how training went. I think I would definitely race Bellingham Bay again!