Birch Bay is a bay (and a little town) located north of Bellingham, Washington near the Canadian Border. The bay is a part of Puget Sound, and because of the various geographical features of this area, the weather here usually sucks. Especially in February.
The Birch Bay Marathon is a tiny race... less than 50 people... with no shirt, no medals, and fairly limited aid along the way. It's also fifteen bucks. The course is a "balloon on a stick" or a "lollipop". Out 2.5ish miles, a 10.5 mile loop done twice, and then back that 2.5ish miles to the start. The aid stations were about 3.5 miles apart. Far enough that I needed to carry a bottle with me, but only to augment what was available.
I've been stuck around the 4 hour mark recently (3:59, 4:01, 4:03)... and I had to take last weekend off to take care of sick puppy. I decided to deal with this race as a long/slow training run. Given my recent race pace of slightly over 9:00/mile, this meant I'd do my slow run at 9:45/mile or thereabouts.
Three aspects of this race made it more challenging for me no matter what pace I was attempting: 1) the lack of mile markers, 2) the weather, and 3) the sneaky hills. I'm really awful at pacing myself when there are no mile markers and not a lot of runners to rabbit. The weather actually turned out to be pretty good by Birch Bay standards - it didn't rain. There was, however, a stiff headwind for about half of the course and it was cold. Well, to clarify... it was cold for me; most runners from the area thought the day was quite balmy :-).
The hills weren't too serious, really - and I like hills. But as with Carlsbad, I wasn't expecting them. I had heard that this race was mostly flat. I guess it is. Except for the mile long hill at M3 (repeated at M13.5) and The Punisher between M5 and M10 (repeated between M15.5 and M20.5). I actually enjoyed these hills a lot... the long one was pretty cool because it had some nice views of Semiahmoo Spit (yes, that's a real name) and over to White Rock in Canada.
After the hills, the course brought us back to unprotected Birch Bay - I think there were neat views of Vancouver Island and the San Juans... but I was too busy trying not to freeze and blow away.
Ultimately, I stuck with my pace for about 19 miles and then kind of lost track in the hills and wind. I thought I'd finish somewhere around 4:15, but it was actually 4:23. This included a potty stop and two aid station breaks... as a training run, I didn't want to take in too many calories, but I did need to refill my bottle a couple times. And when I stopped to do this, I lingered momentarily to thank the popsicled volunteers (all 10 of them).
Anyway, most people finished in front of me and a few finished behind me. When a race has less than 50 people, two of them go sub-3, and several more go sub-3:15, it's easy to be isolated.
The coolest part? Several of my friends did cartwheels during the race. One did 30. That's one at each (approximate) mile and one at each aid station. Who knows why?
Next up: The Cowtown Marathon in Ft. Worth - a race I've long listed in my "Bottom 5 Worst Marathons". This should be interesting.