Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beat the Blerch Half Marathon race report

People sure do love The Oatmeal. And what's not to love? The comic is funny, smart, and engaging. And the man behind it, Matthew Inman, is lovely.

Signing up the the inaugural Beat the Blerch race was crazy tough -- like, SeaWheeze tough. I don't think anyone thought it would be quite so popular, somehow. Wil ended up spending nearly half an hour on a site that hung and crashed and crawled, but eventually got us signed up.

Then came the news that they were opening up a "second day"… which would actually be the first day… and things went a little wobbly. But given our preference for Saturday races, and other timey-wimey things, we made the switch to the Saturday race.

Something funny -- I had selected a "backup race" in case we didn't get into the Blerch… the Boring Half Marathon. (Which, of course, we ran last weekend…)

Fast forward a few months, and it was time to pick up our packets. We headed over after work on Friday along with our pal Adam, and saw a HUGE line stretching out the door. Yikes. Until we noticed that those people were clearly already in possession of their race packets, and were waiting to meet The Oatmeal himself. Phew!

We went in, quickly picked up our bibs, chips, and shirts… and then made a quick stop at the "Blerchandise" stall to get socks and Blerch squeezies.  

our Blerchandise
The socks and squeezie we paid for separately, but the very handsome shirt (seriously, one of the nicest race shirts ever), the "I Believe in the Blerch" magnet and "Beat the Blerch 2014" sticker were in our packets.

Having had the pleasure of meeting Matt Inman before, we decided to skip out and walk home.

The next morning we headed out early -- we were a little nervous about parking, because a few days before the race we got an email saying they had oversold the parking passes so we didn't get one. Oh. We were pleased to see that they had parking areas well signed, so we found a spot at the middle school and relaxed for a while.

We did, however, have to ask where the race start was… guess we should have just followed the signs.

Blerch thattaway -->
We got to the race staging area -- lots of porta-potties! -- and other entertainments. Unsurprisingly, the branding was fantastic. (And you know how I love good race branding…)

more caaaaaaake!
At 9am we cheered the marathoners on their way -- and then ran into Adam and his Belltown crew. Adam's friends all had sparkly silver shorts/skirts on, and lovely matching t-shirts. One of them was getting ready to run her first half. (BTW, we spotted her just before the 6-mile mark, looking fresh as a daisy!)

We posed for pictures in front of a Blerchy backdrop along with two giant (and real!) jars of Nutella. I don't think they've been posted yet, but I'll add it here when they are.

Then it was time to head to the starting area. We knew it would be a bit chaotic -- lots of folks running their first event, a very narrow start and initial path, etc. I kept reminding myself about my goals for the race:

1. Take a photo with a Blerch.
2. Eat Nutella on the course.
3. Eat cake on the course.
4. Sit on a couch during the race. 

I mean, now often will I get the chance to have those sorts of race goals???

Obligatory Team Wil-Sun pre-race photo!

Team Wil-Sun-Adam pre-race photo!!!
The start… well… it was as expected, though it did serve the purpose of distracting me from my usual "Oooh, I feel stiff and unable to run today" first mile thoughts. I just focused on keeping moving, finding open path, and not spraining an ankle by falling off the edge of the paved path.

We made a few twists and turns before running under a road, and then along a river to a bridge. This stretch of path had larger rocks, and I found it difficult to run -- so I just slotted in directly behind Wil in one of the "tire tracks" (slightly less rocky path) until we ran up and over the bridge. I believe the marathoners had an extra loop to the left, while we turned right. The half-hour delay between the race starts meant we had missed the faster marathoners, and the slower ones were behind us…. which worked out nicely.

Once across the bridge we soon joined the Snoqualmie Valley Trail -- which, as a former railroad line, was broad, smooth, and had a very gradual incline essentially all the way to the halfway point. It was my absolute favorite sort of course. The "trail" (which I heard people whining about, which made me laugh), was essentially a dirt road, which was very gentle on the feet.

We ran on and on… reaching the first (for the half marathon at least) water stop just before the three-mile point. I'll be honest -- this felt like too far along the course for a first stop for the half marathoners. But I got a cup of water, hugged a Blerch, and then we were on our way again.

Somehow I managed not to actually ingest much of the water, as I left the stop already feeling thirsty. Not a good sign.

But on we ran, up the gentle slope. By the way, I didn't actually notice the incline until I heard someone else mention it… and then realized that, yes, we had been going uphill the whole time.

Right around the 5 mile point Matt Inman sped past us in the other direction, whooping and hollering and having a great time. High fives were (slightly painfully) exchanged.

Then just before mile 6, we arrived at the second water stop. I decided to enjoy this one more -- so I had a Nutella sandwich (oddly, made with wheat bread -- ha!) and sat down on the couch to cuddle with a Blerch, who told me I had done Very Well and wouldn't I just rather sit on the couch with her for a while?

"You've done very well. Just sit here on the couch and eat your Nutella sandwich." - the Blerch

"nom nom nom Nutella sammich" -- Sunny
But Wil snapped me out of my sugary reverie and on we went, the last half mile or so to the turnaround.

On the way back we spotted some of our pals, I confirmed that, yes, it WAS all downhill, and we settled in for a gentle trot back to the start.

The placement of the second water stop so close to the turnaround meant that we were soon there again… so this time I helped myself to cake. Cake cake cake. And kept moving. (Note to self: cake makes me Very Thirsty.)

Three more miles, then, to the final water stop -- though we did meet with a Blerch in the woods.


serious Blerching
We picked up some more water at the last station, though I wish I had brought a bottle with me because I finished feeling desperately thirsty. Frankly, the last three miles were me wishing I had water and just wanting to be done. 

aaaaand done.
We finished in the midst of several 10K runners… but still held hands and sprinted through. Yeah, there were the usual "awww, look" comments. :)  We got our medals (nice that they are custom by event!), had our chips removed, and then grabbed some water and snacks. We found Adam, did a little stretching, Wil ripped his shorts (ha!), we headed to the car, met up with Rosie, and headed home in the hot sun.

Things we loved:
- Matt Inman. Of course. Loved that he could just stand there in a large crowd, all there to participate in a race from his crazy imagination… and few people knew who he was.
- Blerches
- a great race shirt
- a handsome medal, especially since it was different for each of the three distances
- some great costumes on our fellow runners. Huge props to the group of ladies who came as candy, cookies, cupcakes, and McDonalds food!

Room for improvement:
- A race like this -- especially one that attracted so many first-timers -- needs more water stops. Setting up one more interim stop (say, at 2.5 miles, 4.5 miles, and then one just before the half marathon turnaround) would have made things much more pleasant.
- Water stop organization -- the 3-mile stop was only set up on one side of the course, meaning we needed to cross over oncoming runners to pick up water.
- This sounds odd… but I thought this race would be super Blerchy. I hoped for more cake, Nutella on tongue depressors (like the way volunteers had out Vaseline at other events!), and I don't know what else.

All in all, we really enjoyed this race, and it went off much better than we thought it would. Not sure we'd fight super hard to get in next year, but we were super happy to have had the chance to run this year!

2014 Beat the Blerch Half Marathon finish photo!

the back of the gorgeous race shirt

2014 Half Marathon medal (note the ribbon, different for each event)

2014 Beat the Blerch Half Marathon medal

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Half Boring Half Marathon race report

Day 2 of our Oregon mini race-cation … another early morning, another quick breakfast in the hotel, and another drive to the outskirts of Portland.

Today was destined to be, well...

Because today was the day of the (HALF) BORING HALF MARATHON!!!

We got to the high school that served as the start / finish area -- I love when local races do this. I mean, plenty of parking, real bathrooms, and room to spread out -- it's perfect. We picked up our bibs and race goody bags. This is another example of a small, local race that "gets it" and puts effort into their goody bags. In addition to a handsome (black!) race shirt, we received a few small snacks, the obligatory flyers for other races, and, best of all, the Boring Marathon sticker above!

One of my all-time favorite races, the Scenic Half Marathon, also included stickers in their excellent goody bag. Until now I hadn't seen it again at a race, so bravo Boring Marathon organizers!

We headed onto the track -- a very nice track, BTW, which made me comment that, if there is a single high school in Oregon without a great running track, then Nike isn't doing their job….  

ANYWAY, the course talk was on the track, though I chose that moment (luckily?) to realize I had my glasses rather than my sunglasses on, so had to run off back to the car to swap them out. So Wil listened to a pretty much "locals only" talk -- "you turn down road X, then go along until road Y, etc.". But we figured we'd just follow along (and it really wasn't possible to get lost!). 

We moved to the back of the starting pack (after all, I was still a little wobbly on my right ankle), and prepared to "Go for a Boring run!" And by prepared, I mean "took the obligatory pre-race photo":

(I know, I know, we failed to do this the day before… but it's a Team Wil-Sun tradition!)

The course was, well, a little boring… though the weather was perfect, there were lots of aid stations, and we had a nice time. We ran along roads with a lot of rolling hills but little traffic. Of course, things got more interesting as we approached the town of Boring itself!

We crossed the "Boring Overpass" -- which you can see in the distance of this photo:

And then things started to get really Boring….

Just two more miles to Boring!!!!

The intervening miles were made less boring by a few little turns -- we ran through a water stop set up in the parking lot of a garden center, for example. The volunteers at that center were extra fantastic, and were even handing out pretzels. But I decided to pick them up on the way back, because we were almost in… 

Now, we fully expected to run past a nice sign highlighting the town. In fact, we'd seen such a sign on the Internets…

image courtesy
And I was totally looking forward to a photo op. However, this was the only town sign we spotted.

Clearly we must have just looked in the wrong place, or it wasn't on the course, or something. But somehow this sign was a perfect sign for Boring, Oregon.

Our time in Boring proper was brief -- we ran in, did a tiny loop including a stretch of paved trail, and then headed back, revisiting the Boring Post Office, the Boring Fire Department, and the very nice folks at the Boring garden center. (Yep, I picked up pretzels this time…)

We decided to run to the halfway point and then essentially just walk back. No sense doing something extra stupid to my ankle a few weeks before the Rim to Rim hike! So the morning turned into a nice walk in the countryside, punctuated here and there by friendly folks handing us cups of water. Perfect.

We made our way back to the high school and onto the track, where we decided to "run it in"…. so we ran the last 200 yards or so to the finish line, where an announcer called out our names and finishing times.

We received our very handsome half marathon medals and a bottle of water, and as we stood there in that mild post-race daze, we were asked if we had run the Hagg the day before. Yes! So we were handed a pair of handsome growlers from the Boring Brewing Company, along with vouchers for a growler fill. Perfect!

our race goodies!
We stretched for a little while in the sun, picked up a really nice bagel from local bagelry Jazzy Bagels, and cheered for a few other runners before deciding it was time to go.

Things we loved about the race:
- the race director was super enthusiastic and rallied a community around him to create a great event that actually was an effective fundraiser as well as a fun race
- great shirt
- great medal -- clever to use the ribbon to distinguish between years and events!
- nice course -- and of course how great to run to Boring!
- excellent volunteers all along the course, and plenty of water stops
- we loved getting a growler from the Boring Brewing Company as our "double" reward
- having a raffle during the race: we each received a raffle ticket and could choose to enter one of 4 raffles. Okay, so we didn't win anything, but it was a nice touch
- oh, the sticker! I love the sticker!

I'm not sure I would necessarily drive to Oregon again just to run this race, but it was really well put on for a small event in their inaugural year. 

2014 Boring Marathon medal

P.S. After the race we drove out to the Boring Brewing Company to try some of their beers and get our growlers filled. We tried a few of their beers (I really liked the Boring Brown), but settled on their summer seasonal, the HotScotch -- a Scottish style ale brewed with Scotch bonnet peppers. The smell alone makes my nose burn, and the taste is lovely. I noticed that they had a small pumpkin patch next to the brewery… could a pumpkin ale be coming soon? Thanks to them for donating a reward for the Double!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hagg Hybrid Half Marathon race report

Last weekend we made a quick trip down to Oregon... Originally we planned to run the Boring Half Marathon… because who doesn't want to run "a Boring race"???? Until the organizers partnered with another local race the day before -- the Hagg Hybrid -- to offer A DOUBLE!!!

You know we can't resist a double. 

Day 1 was the Hagg Hybrid Half Marathon. Why "hybrid"? Because the course is part single-track trail, part road, and all very pretty.

Here's a view of lovely Hagg Lake before the run:

Did I mention the race started early? As in, just after sunrise???

We left much less scenic Lake Oswego at 6:30 to get to Hagg Lake a little after 7:30 -- only getting a little lost right at the end, when Apple Maps desperately wanted us to take a tour of a lumber mill. We declined and drove into the state park a little ways around the corner. Plenty of parking -- and good signage, and we were able to pick up our numbers and decompress a little from the drive to prepare for the run.

It wasn't a big group of folks, but they were offering three different races: a marathon (essentially a road loop of the lake and a trail loop of the lake); a marathon relay (a team of two trades off, one running the road loop, the other running the trail loop), and a half marathon, where they took parts of the trail loop and parts of the road loop, so we still had a "hybrid" experience. 

getting ready to start
The course markings were a little complicated -- with different markers for the road and the trail, as well as signs telling runners where to make sharp turns. Plus, where the courses overlapped (as when we ran over the dam), both markers were shown. But once we got the gist, it made sense.

We started as a group, all of us heading up the hill out of the boat launch parking lot and turning left to head counter-clockwise around the lake. Less than a mile later the half marathoners turned abruptly off the road and onto single-track trail. Luckily I was just running behind Wil and he noticed the turnoff -- I would have just sailed on by it!

Now, I'm not a trail runner. In fact, I'm clumsy just walking around on level, well-paved ground! But as we started along the trail, I was kinda digging it. I liked that I had to think about my running, rather than zone out as I often do -- or, at least, I often think about other things while I'm running. But not so on the trail -- I really needed to focus on where I was putting my feet so that I didn't either step off the edge of the trail or turn an ankle.

The trail had lots of ups and downs… and trail roots… and turns… and switchbacks… so it was pretty slow going on my part! But after about 5.5 miles we popped out of the woods (maybe too early?) and ran across the dam that makes Hagg Lake. Why early? Because a marker seemed to be pointing us up a different path -- which meant we made a funny turn that did eventually bring us up onto the road… though apparently we should have stayed longer on the path. 

Wil running across the dam
After the dam we ran through what was described as "an abandoned campground" -- which sounded like something from Scooby Doo, and would have been hilarious as a zombie portion of the run. But in reality it was just a paved -- if pine needle coated -- road through the woods. 

looking back at the dam from the abandoned campground
We left the campground loop and were once again pointed toward the trails along the lake. That's Wil running off after I stopped to take the photo above...

We had a lot more trail running to go -- but I was getting slower and slower. The trails are also used by mountain bikers, which means that they leave tire ruts when it's muddy. But it has been so dry and hot here that the ruts have dried and solidified to make running awkward. I managed to roll my ankle badly enough that it swelled up and bruised… So, in the interest of not messing up our upcoming Rim to Rim hike, I decided to take it Very Easy for the last 5 miles of the run. 

In the last couple of miles we found ourselves following a dry river bed… while the sun beat down on us. Really nice to have the occasional patch of shade!!! At the 9.85 mile point my GPS stopped tracking us, so I had NO IDEA where we were on the course… a little frustrating, but Wil was pretty sure he was within half a mile on his GPS.

We saw very few runners on the course with us -- turns out there were only 32 half marathoners, so that's no surprise! So essentially we turned this race into a pleasant day out by the lake.

Eventually the finish area was in sight. We passed some of the earlier finishers of the first leg of the relay and the half (and some spectators, of course!) hanging out in the sun. A woman said, "Um, you're coming in?" and when we said yes, whooped and rang a cowbell. We kissed, were handed some very handsome "finisher mugs", and saw our pretty dismal time: 3:15:06… officially a team worst. But, as we said, it was still really nice to spend the day out by the lake!

We took our mugs, filled 'em up with soda pop, grabbed a couple of veggie burgers (yay for offering veggie burgers too!!!), and hung out for a while. We even got to see the first marathoner finish, which was fun. (And shows you just how slow we were!)

obligatory post-race team photo!
All finishers will receive a finisher’s mug. If you want a finisher medal we will add a ribbon to your mug! (Note: You should not put beverages in your mug while wearing it as a medal.) 

mug shot
Things we loved about the race:
- prices were kept low by not including a shirt with registration -- but selling good quality shirts to those who wished to buy them
- the course was beautiful
- the course was super well marked -- even if we did get a little lost at one point
- the branding of this race is exquisite! Really handsome logo, and nice to have it printed on the race bibs
- loved that they offered a coffee mug as a finisher's award (even if I do love a race medal!)
- great post-race food -- they offered a breakfast buffet for early finishers, which switched over to burgers on the grill at 11am. AND they offered veggie burgers, which we loved.

Things we learned:
- I am still clumsy
- I should run in trail shoes on a trail run
- I should practice running on trails before signing up for another trail race

handsome bibs, too
Eventually we headed back to our hotel, had a swim and a nap, and then went out for a ridiculously large dinner -- after all, we needed to refuel for the next day's race!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A belated introduction

Wil and I have been blogging for a several years now … since October 30, 2007 to be exact. In that first post… entitled, oh so creatively, "My First Post", I introduced myself, starting the post with "I have never been a runner."

Well, it's nearly seven years later and I'm happy to say that I am a runner… and I have been for seven years.

To be honest, I've been a runner for longer than that -- I raced a triathlon in the summer of 2007, so I clearly ran to train for that… I just didn't blog about it. And I didn't consider myself a runner.

But I *am* a runner… and a writer, and a traveler, and a crafter. (Yes! I'm crafty!!!) And that's why, all these years later, I still blog. I mainly write about my running -- especially after races. But I also sometimes write about our other adventures -- like our recent trip to Peru to trek the Inca Trail.

So, why introduce myself now? As with my running, sometimes I need a little external motivation. If you look back over my posts (or, indeed, my mileage counts!), you'll see that sometimes I have a lot to talk about, and sometimes apparently not. That said, I think I often have things I'd like to talk about, but I don't make the time.

I decided to join a blogging challenge -- Blogging 101 -- to get me blogging more regularly. And today's challenge was to "Introduce Yourself".

It made me realize that it's been a while since I introduced myself… a lot has obviously changed since that first post in 2007!

So. I'm Sunny -- the chattier half of Team Wil-Sun. Wil's my better half. In November we'll have been married 9 years… and I still maintain that we have the best "origin story" of any couple we've ever met. If you ever meet us, we'll be happy to spend an hour or so telling you all about it. :)

We started blogging so that we could keep track of our running progress -- keep ourselves inspired and honest. It also gave us a way to share our journey for our first real running goal: to run a marathon.

The happy, surprise side-effect was that I LOVE going back and reading over old entries -- to see just how far we've come. It's really inspiring to re-read early training reports, and race reports. And I still get a little weepy when I re-read the race report from our first marathon.

Another nice side effect was that we inspired a few friends to run. Hopefully not in a "holy crap, if THEY can do it, anyone can do it!" sort of way. And that's made me incredibly proud. So maybe, if I keep blogging, we'll inspire even more people to run. Even if that's only ourselves. :)

Team Wil-Sun at Machu Picchu, June 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Get off the sofa with Coach Jenny's "Sofa to 5K Challenge", starting September 15

I cannot imagine anyone reading this who wouldn't also be reading Coach Jenny's site, but… she has partnered with Horizon Fitness to create a free 10-week running program to get you off the sofa so you can work up to a 5K.

If you sign up before September 15 you'll receive:

  • A 10-week training program
  • Weekly emails featuring tips and inspiration from Coach Jenny
  • A private Facebook group for all participants
  • A new Sofa to 5K t-shirt 

Full disclosure: Jenny is a dear friend … but she's also an amazing coach. I've decided to follow along with this challenge because I've been struggling with my motivation a little … I could use some encouragement to keep me moving as we go into Autumn!

Fancy joining me? Sign up for free here:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Five things I love about Rock 'n' Roll Vancouver!

I thought this would be the year I didn't manage to work a Rock 'n' Roll race -- schedules, life, and my search for a new state meant that none of the events really worked for me.

But apparently earlier this year I asked Angie from our events team about Vancouver, and she put me on the expo team list. And then it turned out that we had an extra entry available. So, all of a sudden, I'm going to Vancouver in October for Rock 'n' Roll. (Woot!)

I love working (and running, obviously) Rock 'n' Roll events. Great big bustling expos, lots of gear to look at and try, and lots of excited first-time runners. But this race is extra great


photo from Competitor Group
Yep, the medals celebrate the Lions on the Lions Gate Bridge - okay, we won't actually see the lions from the course, but...

2. Speaking of courses -- we ran the BMO Vancouver Half back in 2012 and found it rather hilly... It looks as if this course doesn't run up the hill to Prospect Point -- and that the steepest hill is less than 75 feet in elevation. Plus, we do get to run in Stanley Park and along the seawall -- sweet!

3. A sweet participant shirt

photo from Competitor Group

I have DOZENS of event shirts. Heck, I made my first 49 of 'em into a quilt. I already have enough to make nearly two more. I rarely wear them after I get them. But the few I do wear are all what I like to call "the holy grail of race shirts" -- BLACK, LONG-SLEEVED TECH SHIRTS. In all the races I have run so far, I have only received 3 (count 'em, THREE) black shirts: Rock 'n' Roll Denver Half 2011, W. Mass Mother's Day Half 2012, Wine and Dine Half 2013. And only one -- Wine and Dine -- was a long sleeve. So I am pretty excited about earning this.

4. It's an inaugural race. Who doesn't love an inaugural race? (Especially one by a company that's skilled at putting on big races...). People get a little crazy about inaugurals... but I'll write about that another time.

5. Finally -- I get to take the train up to Vancouver. What's not to love about that?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

75 days until the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon!

We're 75 days away from the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon, and preparations here at Team Wil-Sun are going well! Oh, wait, you didn't think I was talking about training, did you?

Yeah, um, training. Between now and then we're registered for 3 other half marathons, plus hiking rim-to-rim at the Grand Canyon in one loooooooooong day. So we'll get some running in, I promise.

But the really, really important part of running a runDisney race is nearly complete:


Running a runDisney race in costume is fantastic -- spectators, volunteers, castmembers, and your fellow runners will call you out by your character name... especially if you are slightly obscure. Running the 2013 Disney World Half Marathon while dressed as Daisy Duck (with Wil dressed as Donald, of course) was a real highlight -- as was running the full marathon dressed as Goofy! And running the 2014 Tinker Bell 10K as Maleficent was one of the simplest and most effective costumes I can imagine. Finally, the crazy hot and surprisingly heavy Cheshire Cat costume I wore at the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon was a real crowd pleaser ... even if running in a fur hat isn't the smartest thing to do!

Now, to the Avengers half ... not only have we identified our characters of choice, we've gathered most of the pieces.... I need to get some socks and figure out what shorts to wear, but other than that, we're good. I can't tell you what we'll be wearing -- that would spoil it! -- but let's just say that I'm really looking forward to our post-race anniversary brunch in the park!

So... what will YOU be wearing for the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon?