March 04, 2012

Run for the Honeywagon half marathon

Reward for 89:20 in blustery conditions
Neither Tim nor I were particularly inspired by the 5:30am alarm on Saturday morning. It was dark and we could hear the rain hit the windows.

But we got up, as I was keen to use a half marathon in Everson, Washington to practice my marathon goal race pace.

We showered, hoisted ourselves into race gear including compression socks and slapped on muscle-heating cream on calves and glutes.

Tim's fuel of choice is Red Rose tea with a dash of milk, while I made a big plunger of coffee.

We grabbed gels and energy bars. Brought towels for the off-chance we could shower after the race (you never know); US dollars; travel insurance; driver's liceses; and passports plus my permanent residence card.

We didn't need to wake or walk Luka as we dropped him off the previous afternoon at the doggy ranch, which charges a $45 overnight fee worth paying since he always has a superb time playing with the other dogs. The added bonus is that our high-energy four-footed child would be more tired than us so the couch would be equally appealing to all three of us.

I made a sandwich of two slices of white bread with a ton of peanut butter to eat once I had finished my coffee in the car. I'd also brought a couple of energy bars, though only ate one. Also coming was a printout of the race and directions (a good choice as US Customs said, I live here and I have never heard of a half marathon in Everson) as well as our National Geographic road map book.

We left Squamish at about 6:15am (Tim generously did the driving) and arrived in Everson, a town of about 2,000 people just about 15K south of the Sumas border crossing, at about 9am. If this seems like a lot of effort to practice marathon race pace, then you have a clear indication of how challenging these are to do on your own.

Registration was fast and only cost US$10 for this certified half marathon course. This year marked the 30th edition of the Run for the Honeywagon event which also offered 4-mile and 1/2 mile races. It's organized by the Greater Bellingham Running Club.

Since I had to run 29K in total, including 19K at 4:15 per K or 6:50 per mile as practice for the pace I am hoping to run in the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6, I decided to do most of those additional 8K beyond the 21.1K half marathon distance as a warmup.

Before races I usually only run about 10 minutes, so for about 2K, to get the blood flowing. But I was pretty sure I wouldnt feel like running another 8K after the finish so I used the square course of the 4-mile race to warm up.

The 4-mile and the half marathon started at the same time, and followed the same course for the first 2 miles. And the final 2 miles of the 4-mile course were also the last 2 for the half marathon. Having run it turned out to be helpful later.

I finished my warmup with about 15 minutes to go until the start at 10am. Tim, who'd done a regular, shorter warmup, was waiting in the car as the wind cooled the otherwise pleasant conditions. It was about 10 degrees and dry, which was an unexpected bonus given the wet conditions earlier in the day and the forecast.

Incidentally, there are plenty of Dutch influences in this region near the Cascade mountains resulting from the arrival of settlers from the Netherlands in the early 1900s. Among them were street names along the course including Slotemaker Rd and Van Buren Rd.

When the race started, I made sure to take it out easy. There was no marker for the first mile but I felt I was pretty close to goal pace. At 2 miles, I was at 14:06, so I decided to pick it up slightly as the 4-mile runners turned left and the half marathoners turned right.

It wasn't a huge field but there were several people to chase. One woman was running about 500 metres ahead of me and I was slowly gaining on her until I ran caught up to her at about 3 1/2 miles. Taking out one of her head phones, she said, I don't think there are any girls in front of us.

We ran together for a few metres until we turned the next corner and hit the headwind again. A couple of guys ran near us as well as we spotted the second aid station. I had run miles 3 and 4 in 13:50.

After passing the aid station I was by myself again and turned another corner, facing a long stretch, about 1 1/2 miles, with a sidewind that wasn't helpful. I could tell I was slowly gaining on a guy in front of me which helped me concentrate. I was pretty sure there were no female runners ahead and I wanted to make sure I was staying focused on my main goal, running marathon goal race pace.

However, the conditions made my goal pace challenging enough. I ran mile 5 in 7:00 and mile 6 in 6:43. I turned another corner to face the brutal headwind for about half a mile. I noticed a couple of runners down the road who seemed to be coming closer as I kept aiming for what I felt was the right pace.

Mile 7 went by in 6:51 as I thankfully turned a corner that at least offered a sidewind for half of it. Between mile 7 and 9 I caught the two guys, which helped my confidence. I was pretty sure I was running steady. Mile 8 went by in 6:47 while mile 9 took 6:49, according to the splits I took.

I wasn't too focused on my watch, however, just on maintaining the good rhythm I felt I was in and reminding myself that dealing with the windy conditions without anyone to hide behind would only serve to make me stronger. The 2011 Bellingham Bay Marathon had been an extremely windy day, too. Bellingham is only about 25K from Everson.

From mile 9 we were in for a major treat: a full tailwind for about 1-1/2 miles as we ran across a few gentle rollers on the beautiful rural roads that on clear days would offer views of Mt Baker. I concentrated on maintaining the same effort, even though I was pretty sure I was running faster than 4:15 per K and 6:50 per mile. Miles 10 and 11 went by in 13:07 as I caught another runner.

Just before I reached mile 11, the course turned right (after a previous right turn about 800 metres earlier) and I ran into the fullblown headwind. It was crazy and it made me laugh, especially when I realized that I'd be heading in this direction for a little while during the second-last mile of the race. Passing another guy, I could see no one in front of me to chase. 

So I focused on maintaining the best effort I could, as I knew my speed was dropping during the 1-1/2 mile into the headwind. Finally I turned left and knew there was less than a mile to go to the finish, which I tried to make as strong as possible. A race photographer stood over a brigdge we had to cross and I stuck up my thumb and gave him what I thought was a smile.

The final 2.1 miles took 14:09, which I was pleased with. Here is the course map and profile.

I was also stoked to stay under 90 minutes, though didn't realize until later that I had run 89:20. I immediately jogged back to cheer on Tim who wasn't far behind; in fact, he improved 80 seconds on the time he ran in the First Half three weeks ago, whereas I was 1 minute and 53 seconds slower, a clear sign that Tim's fitness is picking up quickly as he is getting back into a training routine.

Finishing first woman (I think I was 12th overall) earned me a cool package with neat prizes courtesy of the Fairhaven Runners store in Bellingham, another unexpected bonus for the day. This event is superbly organized, again the half marathon is a certified course, and incredible value at US$10 when registering on race day.

There were five aid stations with superb volunteers.

Despite a reluctant early start, Tim and I were both very glad to have made the effort and might return in 2013. Highly recommended!

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