Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tacoma City Half Marathon race report

Tacoma City Marathon logo

I always feel torn when I think about the Tacoma City Marathon. I mean, it's the Half Fanatics / Marathon Maniacs home event -- so they always do something a little special for us. But (complaint #1) it's a hassle to drive down to Tacoma the day before to go to the expo … you either need to spend the night down there, or just suck it up and drive back and forth… and back and forth.

But the course had been updated since the last time we ran it, back in 2012… and that new course meant we would get to run over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. So that meant it was time to run the race again.

Went down on Saturday for the expo … though traffic and other life responsibilities meant we rushed in at 2:45. Complaint #2 -- if you're going to make people come in the day before to attend expo, then at least keep the expo open until 5pm. The expo was as small as we remembered from 2012, with the largest booth being the Fanatics / Maniacs booth (no surprise). I managed to avoid buying the new black Fanatics singlet… mainly because they didn't have my size, but also because I like when the team all wears the same colors… so -- even though I would prefer a black top to a blue top, blue and yellow are the Fanatics colors… so I feel we should stick to them. (Steps down, pushes soapbox off to side, and slinks away…)

But we did the important things -- we picked up our bibs, shirts, as well as our friend Don's bib and shirt. After all, any excuse to do a friend a solid. Especially if that friend often gets us free drinks at our favorite bar…

Now, when we registered, we had the opportunity to put our names on our race bibs. I was hoping that -- since we also told them in advance that we were Fanatics -- that they would somehow reserve our Fanatic numbers -- even if they needed an F before them or an H before them -- as our bib numbers. But nope. Still, we did put our Fanatic names on the bibs, which made us both happy (even if it meant that people couldn't quite grasp our names and cheer for us…)

Spent an uneventful evening in Tacoma -- dinner at the Swiss, a ride on the light rail, some relaxing in the room -- and we even had an early night.

However, we were both afraid that we would sleep through our 5am alarms… which meant that we were both awake from about 3am on. Oh well…

We were out of the room by 5:30, drove the mile to park near the start (ending up on the street the Swiss is on, because, well, that always seems to have parking…), and then walked to the shuttle. I had that "will I be able to find the shuttle?" worry, but of course, a long line of school buses is hard to miss.

No line -- it was about 5:45 -- and we piled on board and headed out.

buckle your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride… oh, no seat belts? oh.
A short ride across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge later, and we arrived at the starting area: the Tacoma Narrows Airport. We had been told that they would open up the big hangar so people could stay warm… but nope. (Complaint #3) With an hour-long wait for the marathoners, and a two-hour wait for half marathoners, we saw a lot of very chilly people, shivering in their singlets and split shorts. We had worn "disposable shirts" and brought mylar blankets, so we were okay… but even then, we went into the bar of the cute little restaurant and attempted to purchase something so we didn't feel odd about standing around inside.

We sent the marathoners off at 7, then went back to waiting… waiting… FINALLY it was nearly 8, so everyone lined up. Apparently we had about a thousand half marathoners; not bad for this little race.

We took the obligatory pre-race photo:

And then set out. We had nice wide roads at the start, and the field spread out pretty quickly and smoothly. A few turns and we were on to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge -- the reason we were running this race!

oooooh! bridge!
The bridge pathways aren't super wide, but we were already stretched out and had plenty of room to run, even if we did have to go single file to weave through the crowd a bit.

I sure do love a suspension bridge!

As you can see, it was a glorious morning, and we had a lovely view from the bridge.

The course did a lot of meandering -- there was one awkward stretch with a very narrow paved path, but it only lasted a few hundred yards. Then we were off through Tacoma's neighborhoods. On one street I counted four freestanding basketball hoops. A man running next to us said, "I like this neighborhood… I can DUNK in this neighborhood." I just laughed and told him that he had just gotten very, very tall. "Must have been that pre-race stretch!"

At first I thought the course was a little boring… but, actually, I like running through residential neighborhoods! At some point we passed a family who had set up a small unofficial water stop in front of their house… and had set up the BEST RACE SIGN EVER:

Seriously -- this was the funniest thing ever. Bless their hearts!!!

Somewhere very near the halfway mark for the marathon (and around the 7 mile mark for us) a local running club had set up a small beer station. I don't even like beer, but I love a beer station during a race. I always always always veer to the side, thank the lovely "bartenders", and gulp down the little dixie cup of beer. Why? Because it's funny.

Eventually we made our way down down down the hill we had climbed and arrived at Ruston for the long flat run along the water. Not much to report here, other than the pain in my toe decided to shriek a little louder on this stretch.

We had re-merged with the marathoners and every so often someone would power by us -- though the truly fast were long gone.

I had started to fret a little that we would have to climb a big hill to get to the finish … but in the end, we had to go up one last ramp, and the finish line was in the (downstairs) parking area of the Tacoma Art Museum. As we went up the ramp and crossed the overpass, we saw people walking towards us eating slices of pizza. One of them said, "A couple of hundred yards and you can have pizza!" We rounded a corner and we could see the finish line -- a straight, slightly downhill shot. That perked us up, so we started sprinting (or, at least, running as fast as we could).

We heard a big cheer go up, spent a moment wondering who for, then realized it was for us because we were running past the Fanatics / Maniacs VIP tent, which was set up in the final stretch. Nice!

We finished in a slightly surprising 2:33 -- not one of our better times, but much better than I would have predicted at the start.

We got our handsome medals, our extra Fanatics ribbons, and picked up a slice of cheese pizza on our way into the VIP tent. Standing there sipping Michelob Ultras (ew), eating pizza, and cheering for the runners was fantastic. Huge huge thumbs up for the way they set up the tent this year!

As Wil pointed out, by standing near the finish for marathon times of 3:40 - 4:00, and half marathon times of 2:40 - 3:00, we were seeing people happy to be finishing their marathon under 4 hours … AND people just happy to be finishing their half marathons at all. We and our fellow Fanatics / Maniacs cheered for everyone coming down the line, but of course whooped loudest for club members. I know I don't often race in the team colors, but it sure is nice when we do -- nice to have that extra support out there. So maybe I'll finally order the singlet… just as something to run in if I'm on my own…

We stayed until the 4-hour marathon mark, then decided to call it a day… slowly climbing the stairs back up to the car, stopping in the best convenience store in the world (you know, that gorgeous one in Fife?), and heading home.

Will we run this race again? Probably not. But that's only because of the logistics of packet pickup the day before… and just knowing that there are lots of other races we'd like to run.

Things we loved:
- handsome medal … with bottle opener and GLITTER
- a surprisingly nice course … even after running across the bridge
- Fanatics / Maniacs VIP tent along the finish stretch -- and the club members cheering for each other

Room for improvement:
- having to go to Tacoma twice… it's just far enough to be annoying, and the expo simply isn't good enough to justify it
- sad that the layout of the special Fanatics / Maniacs medal ribbon had the branding much more prominently placed than the club logos… that felt a bit weird

Still, this is one of the northwest's classic races -- with a well-marked course, good swag, and a very fine finish area. Interested? The Tacoma City Marathon / Half Marathon is run the first Saturday in May every year.

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