Thursday, October 09, 2008

9/28/08 Bellingham Bay Marathon

Bellingham is a charming city located about 90 minutes north of Seattle, near the Canadian border. Home of Western Washington University (goooooo Vikings!), the city is next to Puget Sound and is surrounded on all other sides by mountains. It is a hilly place. Lots of people in Bellingham must run, because it hosts lots of races. Of the longer stuff, I've run three races here: the Birch Bay Marathon, the Chuckanut 50k, and the New Year's Eve Last Chance Marathon (which, coincidentally, was founded by my Best Running Buddy herownself). Last year, a new race was offered: the Bellingham Bay Marathon. Whereas Birch Bay is pretty far north of the city, the new race took place in town. I did not do it, which was probably best because I heard that the weather was crummy.

This year, the organizers moved the race a couple weeks earlier and changed the course a bit. Of the "lots of people" who must run in Bellingham, I know a few... including Best Running Buddy (BRB, or just Bee). She's lived here her whole life. I signed up. I figured the weather would be crummy again, but I wanted to explore the community and get in some good hill work. Besides, maybe Bee would run with me for a few miles.

The day before the race, I took my little dachshund up to Bellingham. We picked up my number and then drove the course with Bee. Oh my. Hills aplenty. And lots of turns early on. The course's start/finish was at the farmer's market area downtown. The first section consisted of a 7 mile roly poly loop through neighborhoods north of downtown. Many "go two blocks, and turn" turns. After passing the start/finish, the course headed due south. Most of this was an out-and-back, including 10 miles on the Interurban Trail. Around M21, the course took a 3 mile diversion from the out-and-back to do a loop through another neighborhood. The trail section was quite roly poly with a couple steep but short hills, but the neighborhood made the trail seem pancake flat. 3 miles of big hills, right where a runner doesn't really want that kind of challenge - between M21 and M24. After that unpleasantness, the course jumped back up onto the trail and back into downtown. With a nice uphill finish :-).

A few weeks ago, I ran a 3:40 at the Skagit Flats Marathon. It was a comfortable, conservative pace for the most part... on a very flat course, on a day with warmish weather and not much wind. From that, I decided that 3:35-3:40 was (is) probably my current benchmark time. The next few race goals would be based on that 3:40 and affected by things such as hills and weather. So, for example, the following weekend in Maui, my goal was 3:55, based on a 15-20 minute penalty for the 4 H's: Hawai'ian heat, humidity, and hills. My 3:57 was close.

My training has steadily improved since Skagit, but three weeks isn't really enough to show much in my results. So, based on that benchmark, I decided that my goal for Bellingham would be "beat 3:50", depending on the weather. A 10 minute penalty for the hills. I wanted to run something close to an even split between the two halves, but I wouldn't try for completely even miles - this would be an even-effort course.

And the weather on race morning? Perfect. A chilly, blue skies day with light winds. Essentially the same as Skagit but about 10 degrees cooler. Of course, this meant I was in two shirts, arm warmers, and gloves while most people started off in singlets and short-sleeves. But I was comfortable. Wind... actually, the lack of wind... really does affect how I feel on cool days.

I had been extremely paranoid about the parking situation, so I showed up about 90 minutes before the race. I scored great parking. Alas, Bee showed up about 20 minutes before the race and scored even better parking. Huh. It certainly helps to be a local. Anyway, 90 minutes was a long time so I hung out with another friend, Maniac Q-562. Then it was time to line up for the portapotty. And then the start.

Wearing pink for my races with BREAST CANCER SUCKS and other messages written on the shirt is an interesting experience. Sometimes, nobody talks to me. Other times, all kinds of people will ask me questions. Just before the start at Bellingham, a lady runner asked to take a picture of me. Ok, fine. So I smiled. No, no. She wanted a picture of the back of my shirt. Ooops. I turned around.

Then we started. There were only about 300 people in the full... and a whole lot more in the half. The combined start was fairly crowded, but it thinned out quickly. I was running and chatting with Bee. Around all the crazy corners. Through a park. I thought it was a nice park. Bee told me about the park's former claim to fame before the city cleaned it up. Ew.

As we neared the start/finish just past M7, I wished Bee well and made a beeline (heh) for the portapotties. Now, had I known how far away these were, I probably would have held it until the next aid station. The race org had done a spectacular job with the aid stations... plentiful, regular, lots of fluids, and 3-4 portapotties at each station. But anyway, I didn't know, and so off I went. By the time I finished my business and made it back onto the course, Bee was long gone. Based on my pace in M7, M8 (the potty mile), and M9, this was a two minute (!) detour.

Onward towards the Interurban Trail. During that two minutes, a lot of people had passed me who were actually running a slightly slower pace than me. Now I was doing the passing, so I tried very hard not to zigzag and not to run *too* fast. There had been a good sized up heading into downtown and the start/finish... leaving downtown towards the trailhead was basically flat.

The trail itself was not flat. Not even. Up and down. And up and down. Through the hip neighborhood of Fairhaven, past the start/finish for Chuckanut and Last Chance. Down a switchback and then up a "man, maybe I should walk this" hill near M11. I chose to run it.

Up and down. Up and down. The trail conditions were perfect. The turnaround was at M15, so I started seeing people headed the other way starting about M12. I hit the halfway point at 1:51... a bit fast for my "beat 3:50" goal, especially considering the hills still to come.

Just before M14, I caught Bee. She looked fresh as a daisy. All kinds of people I know were coming the other way. First Maniac Van. Then Maniac Coconutboy followed quickly by Maniac Coconutgirl. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw that we were headed for a major dip in the course.

"Hey Bee, is this THE dip?"
"Yup, this is the dip."

And so it was. That's what the locals call this feature. Down and up. Woohoo! The dip.

Around the turnaround, and back through the dip. I pulled away slightly from Bee. Just in time for another potty stop. Sigh. At least this one didn't require a two minute off-course detour.

Up and down. And up and down. But now, headed back towards town. I hit M20 at exactly 2:50. Hmmm. Assuming I could hold it together in the final hills, 3:45 was a better target than "beat 3:50". The weather was soooo wonderful, and I was feeling good. Ok. "Beat 3:45". The course exited the trail and entered the neighborhood.

There are lots of rides at Disney and Six Flags parks where you sit in a boat or train car through a series of dioramas (think Pirates of the Caribbean). Towards the end, there's almost always a scary section where the music gets foreboding and everything goes very dark.

This was totally the transition from the trail and M20 to the neighborhood and M21. The happy yo ho ho squeezebox music was replaced wholly by Dead Men Tell No Tales and electronic Wind Blows Over the River Styx sounds. The weather had not changed. Still beautiful. But the atmosphere had.

As the course approached the hill, the guy I was running behind said, "I'm 50. You are 51. I will let you be 50." And he dropped back.

The who in the what now?

I had no idea what he was talking about. It just fit into the whole creepy vibe. Then it was time for the big hills. 3 miles of serious hills. Hills that make Morrissey and Depeche Mode seem bubbly cheery. A few spectators were out, especially near the aid stations in this section. They were all very positive... "a great downhill starting at X" or "it'll be downhill after Y". Alas, they were all wrong. If the trail had been up and down and up and down, this was...

Up and down and UP and DOWN.

Caramba. "It's downhill from here!" Then the creepy section was over. Yo ho ho, a pirate's life for me! Just after M23.5, the course dumped back out onto the trail. Much less hilly in comparison. That said, no, it was not downhill from back there. Not at all.

Approaching the finish line, I heard them announce Coconutboy and Coconutgirl. One of my favorite activities is trying to guess which one of them will finish first... today they finished together. That always puts a smile on my face :-). Plus, wow, they had been a bit ahead of me on the out-and-back. I had held up nicely.

And then I was done. My updated goal had been "beat 3:45". I ran a 3:44. Woohoo! This made my split 1:51/1:53. Not exactly even, but pretty close. What a nice day.

Bee was only a couple minutes behind me... a smoking day. One year removed from foot surgery too. Woohoo Bee!

I ate pizza and hung around to talk to folks. All kinds of Maniacs had come to Bellingham. Maniac Shawna won the race; Van came in 3rd. I came in 48th overall... and, aha! Now I figured out that guy's cryptic comment about 50 and 51. He had been counting people who were ahead of him. And I did, in fact, manage to pass a couple folks towards the end. 50, 49, 48.

I waited for a bit and watched Maniac Q-562 finish. She had a funny look on her face. Turns out that at one of the aid stations, she had stopped and taken pizza from a volunteer instead of hammer gel. It hadn't been sitting well. Yikes. Reminds me of krispy kremes during the Seattle Marathon or oysters at Newport. Blech.

Speaking of Newport, Bellingham utilized the same photographers that work Newport and Yakima. This group is cool because they have on-course photos waiting for you at the finish of the race! And, compared to brightroom, they aren't over-the-top expensive. Mine stunk, but I bought it anyway. How cool to have a picture right there waiting.

A great day. Well organized, challenging course and perfect weather. I said bye to Bee, Q-562, Maniac Mary, and a cast of thousands. And it was time to head home.

Next up: A return to my first marathon - Portland. It has only rained once on the Portland Marathon in the past 20 years. What would that mean for this year's race? And how would I do? Check back RealSoonNow.

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