Whidbey Island is one of the many islands in Puget Sound, (somewhat) near Seattle. It is also one of the longest islands in the United States, though this page gives a lot of information about other long islands. As you might guess, Whidbey Island is the home of the Whidbey Island Marathon. This race started out as a quirky little marathon back in 2002. The race director hid easter egg-like things along the course. Times pass, things change. No more easter eggs. The race got a little bigger over time, but not that much bigger. It did, however, pick up a cool sponsor - Nature's Path, the maker of organic cereals and other products sold nationwide. The winners of the marathon get their pictures on a cereal box and free cereal for a year :-).
One of the big attractions of this race through the years has been the opportunity to run over the Deception Pass Bridge at the beginning of the marathon. Getting to Whidbey Island is a bit annoying: you can wait in line for the ferry, or you can brave heavy traffic up I-5 and through the tulip festival. And they don't allow day-of-race packet pickup. I've never done this race. I figured that if I was going to go through the traffic hassle and stay overnight, I might as well travel somewhere else and pick up a new state. This year, I decided to sign up for the race so I could run the bridge. I signed up six months in advance even.
And then, one month before the race, they changed the course. No bridge. Booooooo.
Ah well... still a race I've never done in a very pretty place, and the chance to run with some friends.
I drove up the day before the race, choosing the "drive around" option because I didn't want to wait in line for the ferry. Big mistake. A drive that would otherwise take two hours turned into a three-and-a-half hour slog. Not a fun way to start marathon weekend. Aside from that, though, everything else went great. Saturday had bright blue skies and warm temperatures. My motel and packet pickup (which would also be the race finish and parking on race morning for the shuttle) were easy to find. And when it turned out that I forgot body glide and a way to mark my drop bag, I was able to find what I needed easy peasy and cheapy peepy at the expo.
That's right. Cheepy peepy.
Unfortunately, Saturday's warm and blue weather did not continue on Sunday, race morning. Instead, we had a return to normal April weather in the Pacific Northwest - overcast, cold, and a bit breezy. It would get worse as the day progressed. Rainy, colder, and more blustery. No prob... not being sure of what the day might bring, I had packed for this using the 'kitchen sink' strategy. I came with two of everything so I could mix and match what I needed. Except for the body glide, of course. This meant that I walked into my motel looking like I was checking in for a week-long adventure. Heh.
Here's something I found on Whidbey Island: Richard Kimball Park. Er... that's The Fugitive, right? Makes me wonder if One Armed Man Park is located on a nearby island.
This race was a point-to-point course from the start near Deception Pass... but again, no bridge... to basically the finish area near M17. Then the course kind of sort of but not totally followed part of the loop utilized by the half marathon around a different part of the island and back to the finish. Around the track at the high school's football stadium and done.
A point-to-point means a shuttle and, for races where the shuttle takes you to the start, a very early morning. The side effect of this can be a long and extra-chilly wait at the start. Which is what we got for Whidbey. The starting area was at a park located on the water. They tried to make this more cozy by utilizing the picnic area grills for little bonfires. This was a nice idea, but by design, grills don't give off much heat unless you hover right above them. Extra points for trying, though. Oddly, they located the plentiful porta-potties very far from the drop bag area, which was very far from the starting line. In between, they lit all the grills... but then they had a guy come by periodically asking us to move closer to the start and away from the potties "for safety reasons". Huh.
By the way, I find the names of porta-potty companies interesting because they always try to make a joke out of what they do. "Johnny on the Spot" for example. Sometimes the names are plain strange. One of the big companies in Texas is "Oboy". And sometimes, the jokes are a little more ew than ha. A big company in Seattle is "Honey Bucket". Yuck.
The potties for the Whidbey Island Marathon were provided by... wait for it... "The Wizard of Ooze". Oh man. At least they were clean (ooze free!) and, as I mentioned, plentiful.
I showed up in three shirts, gloves, a raincoat, and pants over my running shorts. I ditched the coat and the pants before the race started, but kept the shirts and the gloves. All my maniac friends made fun of me. Later on, when the weather nose dived, I bet they wanted some of my shirts. Go me.
There weren't nearly as many maniacs at this race compared to the previous weekend at Yakima. Many folks opted not to run back-to-back weekends. The rest of us local types had two different races to choose from on Sunday. Many people went to Mt Si to run a 50k or a 50 miler. This was the 50 miler I completed (barely) last year. The rest came to Whidbey. I was feeling much more sociable, and there were fewer people - so this week, I had muuuch more fun before the race.
And then it was time to start. I didn't hear a countdown. They kept calling for Dean Karnazes to come up and say a few words, but either they couldn't find him or I wasn't paying attention. No Star Spangled Banner. But all of the sudden, there was a little WOOO airhorn and we started moving forward. We started.
Let's talk about hills. Hills are a subjective thing. Some people will call a race "hilly" and I won't think it is so bad. Then again, I think that the hill at M17 of Portland is a mean little cuss, and other people tell me that it isn't a big deal to them. So. Shrug. I like hills, though. And except for Skagit Flats, most of the Western Washington races are hilly. Some are HILLY. My current PR is on a course, San Juan Island, that is considered HILLY.
The new Whidbey Island course? Oh my.
This was HILLY.
It is possibly the hilliest road marathon up here. Coupled with my newfound freedom from sickness, I had a fun day. Because I was talking too much before the race, I didn't really do a mental check-in to decide on a goal. In a sense, this was good because it forced me to start slowly while I pondered my options and how I felt. I decided I'd try "beat 3:50", which is a basic middle-of-the-road goal for me these days - and perhaps a stretch considering the previous week and the hills.
Out we went. The first mile was flat. Then we turned onto Monkey Hill Road. The key word in this name is "hill". This was just a baby hill to get us warmed up for the big hills later. But really, Monkey Hill Road is just a funny concept. I did not see a monkey. Maybe I was the monkey.
Onward. M6 started us up the course's big hill. Two miles, steep, with lots of false tops. It reminded me a bit of Hurricane Point on the Big Sur course. Not quite that tough, but it had a similar vibe. I felt really good going up this hill. I didn't sprint it, but I wasn't completely winded at the top either. I checked my watch and decided to revive my goal from "beat 3:50" to "beat 3:45".
Somewhere around M10, I noticed Maniac May up in front of me. And I realized that she was running just behind Dean K. Oh goodie. Admitedly, this was a very slow day by Dean's standards. He can run sub-3. Maybe he was running this pace because he had jogged here from California or something. I decided to catch them.
More hills. Dean and I started playing leapfrog about M12. I seriously doubt this was a conscious effort on his part... I think I was just stronger going up the hills and weaker on the flats, and he ran a steady effort. So I'd surge past him and then he'd catch me. For a little while. See the out-of-focus runner in blue right above my cap? That's Dean.
I hit the halfway point at 1:48. Too fast for 3:45, but I felt good. Alright. I revised my goal to "beat 3:40". It was getting really cold. And windy. I pulled away from Dean. Weee.
About M16.5, the course passed the finish area. Coming the other way on this road were half marathoners heading in to the end. I saw BRB and BRB's sister-in-law, who I call flapjack. Both maniacs. I was running down a hill, and I cut over for a mandatory high-five. Which let me know that much of the last mile of our course would be up the same hill. Of course.
It started raining. The hills kept coming. To beat 3:40, I needed to be approaching M22 at the 3 hour mark. I hit M22 at 3:02. Perfect. Alas, this was also where the half marathon course merged back in. It was a sea of walkers. The road itself was open to traffic and racers were supposed to utilize the shoulder. The walkers did, in force. Sometimes walking 4 or 5-wide. Luckily, there wasn't that much traffic... but navigating the walkers took extra energy.
More hills. Rain. Cold. Walkers. Let's be careful out there!
Dean blew by me at M25. Ha. I guess when you run 100 milers, 25 miles is just when you are getting warmed up.
My pace slowed slightly. No beating Dean today. Up the final hill, around the stadium's track, and done.
D'oh! I did not beat 3:40. Looking at my splits, it was all about the final 1.2 miles. Usually I can run these well. Usually, I can muster a sprint for the last .2. Not at this race, and I'm not sure why. It was on a track! I think I just lost focus.
However, I'm quite pleased with my 3:40. Better than my original goal, and better than the first revised goal. 32 minutes better than last week, and no coughing. And also my fastest race of the year. I'll take that.
I hung out for awhile talking to maniacs and 50 staters. The consensus seemed to be that the race was too hilly and not worth an annual trek. I liked the hills! I don't know if I'll return to this race frequently because I didn't care for the logistics, but the race itself was fun.
Next up: a race-free weekend, and not because I'm skipping one. Woohoo. After that, it's time to revisit Big Sur... a race which I like a lot. Very pretty course. But the race vibe is a little too full of itself, and the course's difficulty is overrated. It's hilly and hard, but not THE hardest. That honor goes to Crater Lake. Anyway, I like hills and I am looking forward to Hurricane Point, especially right after Whidbey.
I'll see you there. If you've already registered. The race fills and closes rather quickly. Lots of mystique about Big Sur. And a Big Price to match.