This just might be the latest I’ve ever recapped a race! Vacation will do that to you, I suppose.
Anyway, on August 27, I ran my first race in Washington (state), the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon. This point-to-point race (another first for me: I had never run a point-to-point race before) starts at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, runs over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and then follows a paved bike trail that more or less parallels the highway (that highway being State Route 16) into downtown Tacoma. It is, one might say, perhaps a bit hillier than your standard Chicago Lakefront Trail race:
I won’t lie: I was super nervous about the hills on this course. My “hill training” consists of one jaunt up Cricket Hill per week at best, and I anticipated walking most, if not all, of the uphill portions of this race.
We had nearly perfect weather for racing, with overcast skies and temperatures in the 50s Saturday morning. It was also quite windy out by the airport where the race began. The race provides shuttles from the finish line to the start line, due to the point-to-point course, so I arrived at the starting area about an hour beforehand and spent most of that time swaddled in the sweatshirt I begged off my mom, huddling with a dozen or so other runners behind portapotties as we tried to stay out of the wind.
The race had day-of packet pickup on the race site (a huge perk for me, as I was coming from way, way out of town) and used a school bus that would travel to the finish line after the race began as gear check, so 15 minutes or so before the race began, I reluctantly shed my mom’s sweatshirt and headed over to the start line.
This was one of the smallest races I’ve ever run, with 711 finishers, so there weren’t any start corrals and we all took off at the same time. The race had pacers, but I didn’t see anyone pacing slower than a 2:10. I expected to do around a 2:30 for this race, so I lined up a bit behind the 2:10 pacer and decided I would just see what happened. I got passed by a TON of people in the first mile. This always does kind of make me feel like a lousy runner, but I hoped that by starting conservatively, I’d have enough gas left in the tank later on to pick off a fair number of the people who passed me in the first mile.
My iPhone committed suicide as soon as I got to Seattle the day before the race (more on that some other time), so unfortunately, I can’t show you photos of the stunning scenery along the course. Granted, I’m not used to running in the Pacific Northwest, so maybe if I were a native and/or local, I wouldn’t be quite as breathless over the towering evergreens and mountains on the horizon. Regardless, this was, without any competition whatsoever, the most beautiful race I’ve run to date. Parts of the course ran through residential and more industrial neighborhoods, so it wasn’t all forests and nature, but I was still constantly ogling over the gorgeous sights along the course.
The biggest highlight for me came from about mile 2.5 to mile 3.5, where we ran across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I was totally ignorant about this bridge prior to the race, but let me tell you, it was a sight to behold, and running over it was one of the coolest moments I’ve had in a race so far, despite winds so strong they blew my shirt up (that was a first!).
To my immense surprise, the hills, though rather frequent and occasionally steep, did not faze me one bit. In fact, I think I passed more people on the steepest hill of the course than at any other point during the entire run. I was flabbergasted. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I felt so strong on the hills. Was it the weather? Was it my (laughable, totally minimal) strength training? I have no idea. But for whatever reason, I felt great on the uphill portions of the course, and used that to my advantage.
The worst hill came right after we got off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and I knew from looking at the elevation map that once I passed mile five, the worst of the climbing would be over. I kept waiting to hit a wall, figuring I had burned way too much energy powering up the hill after the bridge, but it never came. I felt really, really good, and could not believe it.
Right before mile nine, we did a lap around the running track of Cheney Stadium, the home of the Tacoma Rainiers: a farm team for the Seattle Mariners. This, like the bridge, was also one of the coolest moments I’ve had in a race so far. They showed everyone running through the stadium on the Jumbotron, and, unlike Soldier Field, where there are so many people you can barely identify yourself, this race was small enough to make it super easy to pick yourself out on the screen. I loved it.
Right before we got to Cheney Stadium, I caught up with a girl who I hadn’t seen up to that point in the race. She and I ended up leap frogging each other several times for the remainder of the run, with me usually catching her and getting some ground on her on the uphills, and her catching me and putting a good amount of distance between us on the downhills. I’ve never had that happen in a race before, and it made things a lot of fun for me.
I was still feeling awesome as we got closer to downtown Tacoma. Basically all of the last two miles were downhill (on occasion, steeply downhill), which probably helped my speed out a bit. I was also feeling great, though, and I’d like to think that at least contributed a little bit to my acceleration. I had a 9:32 and 8:45 last two miles, after running mostly 10:20s-10:40s earlier on, and man, nothing feels as good as knocking out an 8:45last mile in a half marathon when you’ve been running 10:xxs leading up to that point…except maybe passing that girl I had been leap frogging in mile 12 once and for all 😉
I finished in 2:15:11, which blew my mind. I really, truly expected to do a 2:30, so to blow my expectations out of the water by 15 minutes was thrilling. As a cherry on top of that finish, the announcer at the finish line also gave me a special shoutout for traveling “all the way from Chicago to run our race.” 🙂 First time that’s ever happened! No one in Chicago seems to care about me traveling all the way downtown to race 😛
The post-race party had pizza, race t-shirts, and a few vendors, but it was cold and my family was waiting, so I didn’t stick around too long (I did get my pizza, though, don’t you worry. Haha.). Overall, I had an absolutely fantastic experience at this race, and would do it again in a heartbeat if I happened to be out in Washington and in need of a long run the same weekend of the event. It was well organized and such a nice change from the usual out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail.