Note: my official result is 2:16:00, because I started near the back of the pack after it took us longer to get across the US border than expected. Facebook friends have given me the consensus that I can claim my Garmin's time.
My friend Dana picked me up in downtown Seattle at mid-day on Saturday so we could drive up to Birch Bay, Washington (just a few minutes south of the US-Canada border, RIGHT on the coast) for the Birch Bay Half Marathon. She's training for Boston and my schedule for London had me doing a mid-training half marathon to gauge how things are going. Birch Bay was basically the only non-trail race within driving distance that fell at the right time of the year, but I was also excited because I've found that I really like smaller races with beautiful scenery (see also: Columbia Gorge). We got there just as the "expo" was starting - better described as packet pick-up where we got our t-shirts, bibs, and a sheet of information with a map of the marathon course (I'd argue that a map of the half marathon course would actually have been more useful for those of use running the half marathon - 2/3rds of the entrants).
A work colleague of mine had told me that the US side of the border was a bit...bleak...compared to the joys that awaited in the small town of White Rock, Canada, just on the other side, so I found a B&B that had room in White Rock. It turned out to be a wonderful choice! We stayed at the White Rose B&B, which was pretty much a small apartment in the basement of someone's home. There was a king bed in the main room and a small room with two twins - which I took, in case I needed to snuffle through the night (I've just barely gotten over a bad cold). The attention to detail was amazing, our hosts were so generous to make sure we had bagels and fruit for our pre-marathon breakfast, and the whole place was impeccably clean. I think I'm going to book it again for the Birch Bay 30K in March! White Rock itself was also adorable and, similarly, I'm excited to do more exploring. Good tip, work colleague! The only downside was that I couldn't quite persuade Dana how important it was to forsake Starbucks for Tim Horton's and TIMBITS for our post-race hot beverages.
My race plan was pretty straightforward: my goal pace was 10:17, which is the pace I'd need for a dream 4:30 marathon (long ago decided that I'd train the paces for a 4:30 marathon, but really aim for a 4:45, because I'd rather enjoy the experience). I planned to go out and do the first two miles in ~10:30 pace, then pick it up to 10:17 for miles 3-11, then try to pick it up for the last two miles. Was I successful? Only somewhat: I NAILED my average pace, but wasn't super awesome about consistency and fell off the pace a bit at the end.
But, I'm very pleased. The 2:15 mark was one that I really, really, really, really wanted to hit. It's another two and a half minutes off my half marathon PB, as well, which is very nice. It's validation of a sort: I wanted to get 2:15 a year ago at the Princess Half, but really fell apart in the last half, and especially the last quarter, of the race. It feels awesome to know that in the year since my first half marathon, I've run two more and run each one stronger. I also felt good about how I pushed up that hill - it was my slowest mile, but it was a beast and I never stopped to walk. Overall, I do think I could have gone a bit faster, but the important thing for me to remember was and is that this race was a training run - it wasn't the "A" goal. That's London. I needed to run smartly, because I have to go back to training today, and I think I did that.
But, oh the course! It was stunning! It was run right along Birch Bay (starting and ending at the State Park) and Drayton Harbor. My Indiana heart still thinks that running near water is the ultimate luxury of life. The roads were quiet and, even though it was overcast, there was no rain (w00t!). The aid stops were a little far between and I especially didn't like that the 10 mile stop was around the corner (I presume that this was on the marathon's route) and so there wasn't actually any water for the half marathoners. I took a Gu in anticipation and ended up having to run the last 5k with Gu mouth and worrying that I might barf because I didn't have any water to wash it down. I think for the 30k, I'll take my Camelbak. I also loved that this race seemed to have JUST the right number of runners. I never felt alone, but we were all pretty well strung out. Also, the medal is nice and my skirt did its job well (I think is almost certainly an official clothing choice for the marathon).
Afterwards, we drove BACK to Canada, had showers (the B&B folks were really sweet and let us come back late to shower), found a fabulous organic cafe (the Sunflower Cafe) for lunch - half a tuna sandwich and curry chicken soup for me - OMNOMNOMNOM, then started the drive back to Seattle. We stopped at the Lululemon outlet mall along the way and got Dana back just in time for the next ferry to Bremerton.
What a perfect weekend for a great race! I can't wait for my next trip up to run in Birch Bay! If I weren't already registered for the 30K race, I definitely would have been doing that today!
BTW: look how pretty the post boxes are in Canada!