Sunday, October 23, 2011

Racing in the 'Couv

Way back last spring, I signed up for the Girlfriends Half Marathon.  Word on the street proclaimed it a good run that included lots of special "extras."  And it was an all-women race benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  Sounded like a great event supporting a good cause, so I signed myself up.

Race shirt and swag

Last Sunday was race day.  I hadn't been training at the level necessary to run a half, so I wasn't very enthused about doing the run.  But I'm not one to bag out on a commitment, so early Sunday morning, I got myself out of bed, and traveled north across the river to Vancouver (Washington, not BC!)

Check out Teresa's running boots!

Yes, I was running in the 'couv, as we locals call Vancouver, WA.  Even though this city is a short drive across the Columbia river (well - depending upon traffic) it may as well be on the other side of the state.  This is one town I've hardly ever visited.  So today was my chance to become acquainted with the Washington State contingent of the Portland Metro area.

These ladies sported cool pink boas

My friend Teresa (who among other things is a kick-butt spinning instructor) was running Girlfriends.  While waiting for the race to start, I ran into Teresa and her friends.  It's always nice to have someone to talk to and hang with before the start.  Teresa tends to get cold easily, so she was bundled up in a puffy jacket and warm boots trying to ward off the fall morning chill.  She looked out of place compared to the other racers.  I also stopped by to visit Sarah Bowen Shea (aka "SBS") manning the Another Mother Runner booth.

Running skirt fashions

As the racers and walkers trickled in, I enjoyed seeing the creative costumes some ladies were sporting.  Because the race benefited breast cancer research and treatment, pink was the dominant color.  There were lots of pink t-shirts, skirts and tu-tus.  And one group of ladies were sporting fluffy pink boas.  Very fashionable!

I was wearing pink too, but not because of the race theme.  Exactly one year ago, I ran the Nike Women's Marathon, my first 26.2 race.  In honor and remembrance of this feat, I wore my finisher shirt from the NWM, which just happened to be pink.

A whole group of pink tu-tus

After a couple of bathroom breaks (I would've taken more, but it being an all-ladies race, the lines got super-long) it was time to line up behind the starting arch.  I hung out with Teresa and two of her friends, trying to keep warm.  I barely had time to snap a couple of quick photos of our group, when the crowd began to move.

At the starting line with Teresa and her friends

Another race underway!  No one lined up according to pace, so I immediately was stuck behind a bunch of ladies much slower than my pace.  I saw Teresa up ahead, snaking and weaving through the crowd.  I followed her lead, and wormed my way through the pack.

Shuffling towards the start line

A sea of pink-clad ladies surged into the streets of downtown Vancouver.  We passed through the farmer's market (which thankfully was not open for business quite yet).  The course then ducked under I-5 and the Interstate Bridge, and headed for the waterfront.  Glancing at my Garmin, showed that I was running fast - probably faster than I should be this early in the race.  But I was feeling good, so decided to open up and let 'er rip.  After a short distance on a street, the runners turned and entered a path paralleling the Columbia River.  What a beautiful place to run!  I continued on, quite happy and content.

Running under the Interstate Bridge

The course alternated between the nice river path and a wide roadway through an industrial area.  Cheering spectators lined a large part of the course, and I enjoyed their words of encouragement.  Of course, I was my usual obnoxious self, clapping for the other runners, waving, and woo-hooing every mile marker.  Since I don't run with music, it was self-entertainment.

About five miles or so, the runners turned around and retraced their steps along the river.  I loved seeing the faces of all the runners coming back the other way.  And it was great to see those wonderful river views a second time around.

Nice Columbia River views

But around mile 6, nature began calling.  I immediately regretted not taking a final restroom stop before the race began.  A service station came into view.  There was a port-a-potty sitting in its parking lot.  Only one lady was in line.  Not knowing where the next "rest stop" might be, I decided this was my best chance for relief.  Although I hate stopping during races, I didn't want to wet my pants.

Some of my fellow racers

My "rest break" probably took about 4-5 minutes.  But I was glad I stopped.  I continued on, feeling much lighter.  The course hit the river path once more.  By now the sun had come out, and the light on the bridge and river was great.  I slowed a little to snap a couple of photos.  A little boy and his dad were standing along the path and the boy held out his hand to high-five the runners.  I made sure to pass by, high-five, and thank the boy.

This little guy was so cute!

I caught up to and chatted briefly with a nice lady who said she was running her very first race.  But the course crossed the road and climbed up a bridge over the railroad tracks and I lost her.  From the top of the structure was a nice view of Fort Vancouver.  I followed the runners through the grounds of Fort Vancouver and by the Pearson Airfield.  A glance at my Garmin as I passed the 10 mile marker, showed that if I kept up my pace, I'd finish under two hours.  Wow!  I was amazed to be doing so well, considering my lack of training.  I didn't feel too bad yet either.

Beautiful day on the river

I continued on through neighborhoods and by a strip mall.  I was amazed by the number of people who lined the course, ringing cowbells, waving signs and shouting encouraging words.  There were lots of Dads with little children.  Some of the kids were sticking out their hands to "high-five" the runners.  I love it when kids do this, and I made sure to give a "high-five" to each and every one of them.  A lot of the kids were holding signs they'd made.  One little girl had a sign that read simply:  "I love you mom."  This was such a sweet sight, it almost brought tears to my eyes.

SBS and Jessie at the "Another Mother Runner" booth

Near mile 12, I finally started to feel the effects of my run.  We turned from the street onto an asphalt path that cut through a  park.  Only one mile to go!  The path was only slightly uphill, but at this stage in the race, it felt like a mountain.  Excited to be almost done, and seeing how close I was to beating two hours, I pushed as hard as I could.  We crossed back over I-5 and entered the downtown area.  Now the streets were lined with cheering people.  A couple more turns, and I hit the last block before the finish line.  And it was uphill!  Not an ideal way to finish a race, but seeing the end was near, I gave it one last burst and crossed the timing mats.  My watch said 1:57:42.  I'd done it!  Another sub-2 hour half in the bag!

Cute finisher necklace

Just like at the Nike Women's marathon, there were firefighters at the finish line handing out cute finisher necklaces.  After I'd cooled down, and partook in the post-race goodies (the food was awesome - bagels, fruit, hot soup, and - chocolate!!) I had time to reflect on my performance.  Considering my spotty training, I'd done great.  I felt good throughout the race, and held a solid pace.  Had it not been for my mid-race potty break, I would've run a huge PR.  (One of my friends later jokingly told me I'd "pissed away" a PR).

But a PR was not my goal.  All I expected from this race was to do my best, have fun, and not suffer too much.  Mission accomplished!  The sub-2 time was icing on the cake.  However, today's performance has me wondering if I actually train and put my mind to it, how fast could I run a half?

I came away mightily impressed with the Girlfriends Half Marathon.  The course was beautiful.  Vancouver has a lovely riverside running trail, great parks, and amazing community support.  The race was well-organized, had great swag, and provided a huge post-race spread.  And it was inspiring to see so many women come together to support a good cause.  Lots of positive vibes.  All in all a wonderful day!



  1. Great job!!!! Wish I were that speedy even WITH training :)

  2. very cool. I love how you describe your races. i might have to try this one next year lovein the finisher metal.


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