For my second ever half marathon, I beat The Blerch.
For a complete explanation, I'll defer to Matthew Inman's comic. This race event's theme is based on that.
Basically, the Blerch is a flying blob of mayonnaise that follows you around, tempting you to slow down or stop, and maybe eat a sandwich.
Where Was This Thing?
It was slightly silly to run this. I really like theoatmeal.com and Matthew's humor, but probably not enough to fly 1800 miles from Wisconsin to Seattle. A week or so before my first half marathon, I was thinking of the comic linked above and Googled around to find it again. I wanted to get a shirt or something with the Blerch on it. This comic has been around since the time I was really starting to get interested in running, 10 or more years ago.
Then there it was, the website for Beat the Blerch. It would happen in about a month. I already had that week off from work - it was the week of labor day - and I hadn't yet planned on going anywhere else. I looked up the costs and it wasn't that bad. I could do this, even if it was a bit silly. First I would see how the Madison race went.
A week later the Madison race well! I'd fly to Seattle for a race! I rewound my training schedule back 4 weeks as it seemed to work well for my first half marathon - but dialed up things a bit. Adding a minute to intervals and an additional medium long run to each week.
The flight out was unremarkable. From the SeaTac airport I took what's called the "1 Line", a light rail system one stop south to a station one mile from my motel.
Now I had to walk one mile to my motel. This seemed easy enough from Google Maps. However, it proved to be a harrowing experience which I would have do multiple times in the coming days.
Part of the walk in particular, though not on an actual freeway, felt like it. After a turn south off sidewalks though a sketchy neighborhood, the sidewalk ended and I now had to march along a trash strewn shoulder as cars and trucks speed by at high speeds. Part of this stretch included an overpass crossing the real freeway. The walking space narrowed to about a 2 foot curb. I pulled my roller bag behind me and stepped over broken glass.
Rear view mirrors on large trucks flew by within inches of my head. Oddly, part of the refuse included gobs of VHS tape from smashed cassettes. One such case was labeled with the movie "Lethal Force".
Finally, I arrived at my horrible little motel. A Motel 6. There was no coffee machine in my room. I had to walk outside and into a laundry room next door to get ice. I didn't bother asking about continental breakfast. I did not put much thought or time into this reservation.
I would be here for three nights. Despite my traumatic walk, I got changed and headed back the same direction to do a shake out run which I had planned. I worried about a new pain in the ball of my left foot that cropped up during my walk though the airport earlier. It subsided a bit during this eight mile run. The next day I explored downtown Seattle before picking up a rental car to drive to the race the following Saturday.
Carnation Instant Breakfast
The race would take place just outside a small town an hour east of Seattle called Carnation. It reminded me of a jingle I remember from TV for what must had been a horribly processed chocolate flavored powder that you'd mix with water and create an "instant breakfast". I later looked this up and indeed, the Carnation evaporated milk company has roots in this town.
My race, the half, would not start until 9:00. There was to be a full and half marathon, 10k and 5k all starting about an hour apart respectively. At nearly 7:00 I stopped at Aroma Coffee, just 5 minutes up the road from Carnation and ate a delicious chocolate muffin with an Americano. I killed as much time as I could stand, typing into my journal. But too excited, I left in about a half an hour.
I arrived at Tolt Park, where the event would take place. Runners were just starting to arrive. But already music was playing and an MC was welcoming everyone. It was still chilly but the sun was starting to peak over the trees.
A large red barn dominated the space adjacent to the inflated start/finish. The arch was green with custom graphics of the Blerch and the words: "Let there be agony, let there be cake". Occupying the large paved area between the arch and the barn were several tents including EMS, merchandising, a donut burrito building station (more on this later), an orca wildlife conservation fundraiser and, oddly, a window installation company.
I headed for the packet pickup line which led up to the barn. Along with my race bib came a respectable amount of swag including a t-shirt, Blerch bobble head, stickers and candy. Even the bag was green and had a Blerch graphic on it. These items were added to the ones I've already purchased which included Blerch socks and a Blerch hoodie. I was completely Blerched out!
At 8 the full marathon started. There were only a few dozen racers who lined up. Mr. Inman and a woman who might be his wife took the mic from the MC and stepped up an elevated platform at the start line to address the crowd and throw donut holes to them. Matthew welcomed everyone and started a countdown from 10.
After the runners left and had made the first turn, I took my Blerchandise to my rental car and left what I thought I might want after the race with gear check.
Now I could begin my warm up, jogging to a nearby walking bridge that crossed the Snoqualmie River. It arched highly over the clear water and I instinctively started looking for fish. An older couple were peering over the railing and I stopped to ask them if the saw any trout. "Yes!", they replied pointing to areas where salmon, in fact, were cruising around in pods and splashing at the surface.
We discussed fishing and I told them that I'd forgotten my fly rod. I also told them I was warming up for a race and that I'd better get back to it, which made them laugh.
Now it was our turn, the half marathoners, to line up and have donut holes thrown down to us. I asked for one and received a chocolate covered one which made my fingers look like they had poop on them. I gobbled it up and wiped my fingers against my legs the best I could.
There were a few hundred of us so we were split into 2 waves. With some confidence I chose the first, faster group. Matthew then instructed 2 people with a length of garden hose to separate the 2 groups. This seemed ceremonial. Did a garden hose carry special meaning in Oatmeal lore?
We started our countdown together and off we went. I eyeballed my watch and tried to keep my pace close to 8 minutes per mile. This was very difficult to not go over with the crowd and excitement.
The trail was beautiful. We crossed multiple bridges over rivers and creeks. Much of the level route followed the contours of steep topography, ascending up from my left and down from my right. Large trees reached over the path and their branches were covered in a thick moss in such a way that made all their features rounded and soft. They reminded me of coral reefs.
In the spirit of the Blerch, volunteers at the first aid station scolded us. Telling us to slow down or stop. I apologized as I passed.
I ran as though the Blerch was truly on my heals. 5 miles in I couldn't help but let my pace creep up to 7:30, I felt good.
The route was an out-and-back. Near the turn around I uncomfortably woofed down a small Nutella sandwich from a large spread of treats that included cake.
During the last few miles of the race, the 10k runners were on the course and I had to weave though this new traffic. Their race was the most attended with about 700 athletes. A great deal of them were walking which created an obstacle course on the narrow path.
On a bridge, two people in Blerch costumes were standing there with tiny, leashed dogs. I had to slow down to a stop not to trample the little beasts. This was fine, and added to the funny, weird vibe of this event. There were more costumes here than I'd seen at any other race, and I complemented as many of them as possible.
Many people said encouraging things to me as I passed them going the other direction. I started to do the same although, towards the end, I got a response like: "What'd he say?" My speech was getting a bit ragged.
Approaching the last mile I really pushed and started running at my 10k pace. On the final stretch recognized a woman with a stomping gate that I hadn't seen since the beginning of the race and passed her.
I stepped through the Blerch green inflated finish arch and stopped my watch. I turned around to speak to Miss Stompy: "I finally caught up with you!", "I know, I saw you!" Some random guy: "I was following you the last couple of miles, you helped pace me, thank you!" Me "yes I could hear you!" ... These were the frantic endorphin buzzed conversations I enjoy at the end of a tough race. They are wonderful.
Results and Sugar
I finished with a time of 1 hour and 39 minutes, a personal best out of the now 2 half marathons I've run. Overall, I placed 14 of 428 and 2 of 23 in my age group.
One final challenge remained, the Burritoughnut.
I cautiously approached the assembly station where a few young volunteers were panicking about a hornet that would not leave the bowl of bacon bits. Into my tortilla I placed 2 halves of donuts, one blueberry one chocolate. Not to be denied my bacon, I bravely brushed aside the hornet and piled bacon bits onto my donuts. To this was added marshmallows (both candy and traditional types), whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
The combination of savory bacon crunch and the soft give of my teeth passing though the tortilla into billowy donuts and marshmallows was a revelation in gluttony.