Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew… and not much help from a few Blerches
Splits: (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 10:57
Mile 2: 11:27
Mile 3: 13:56
Mile 4: 15:34
Mile 5: 12:28
Mile 6: 11:38
Mile 6.2: 4:37*
*I wandered around for a few minutes after crossing the finish line before I remembered to turn Simon off
Recap: Blerch Day finally arrived! I jumped on the Blerch bandwagon last year when The Oatmeal posted his comic, “The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances” and I realized that I, too, suffered from bouts of Blerching a bit too often. The comic was a hit, and soon there was demand from Oatmeal-fan-runners for Blerch-related goods (like this shirt). Realizing the potential for awesomeness, Matthew Inman (Mr. Oatmeal) organized the Beat the Blerch race, complete with three distance options and the promise of free race photos, beautiful scenery, and lots of cake and Blerches. Registration sold out in 29 minutes when it opened back in March, and somehow I squeaked my way in there for a spot in the 10K. I was pumped! Drew and I decided to make a trip of it (photo-heavy travel post coming soon!) and last week made our way out to Washington to meet (and beat) the Blerch.
The race was originally scheduled for Sunday, but Inman organized a second race for Saturday (as well as a virtual option) after finding thousands of unhappy people on the registration wait-list. About 1700 runners took part in the races each day (with approximately 700 in the 10K I ran on Sunday). Given the fact that there were 6 races over 2 days and thousands of runners descending on the town of Carnation, the whole event was well organized and seemed like quite a success!
Packet pickup was available Friday and Saturday at Road Runner Sports in the Green Lake neighborhood Seattle (with Inman signing autographs in-store on Friday) as well as on-site at the course Saturday and Sunday mornings. I opted for the Friday pickup at Road Runner. Drew and I headed to Green Lake right after breakfast, arriving at the store around 10:30 (pickup was scheduled from 10am – 7pm). The line was already down to the end of the block (see the first photo above) and soon stretched out of sight. Road Runner staff popped out every now and then to make announcements, hand out free samples of Clif Gels and Honey Stinger Waffles (and possibly other goodies as well), and make sure the crowd was happy. Everyone seemed in good spirits and the line moved relatively quickly. Once inside, the line snaked through the store, ending in back where volunteers were taking people’s IDs to fetch their packets. It was a very well organized process and the volunteers were great – friendly, speedy, and efficient. Another line then formed for Blerchandise to be bought separately (see last photo above), and yet another line formed for autographs. It looked like Inman was drawing a picture for everyone (for example) and while I really wanted that, the line was immense and Drew and I were both itching to explore the rest of the city, especially having already stood in line for an hour to pick up my packet. I bought some Body Glide and a pair of toe socks, hoping to ease my toe woes, and then we skedaddled with a vague twinge of regret at not having stayed to meet The Oatmeal.
Fast forward to race day! We stayed at a B&B just outside Redmond the night before, and from there had a 20-minute drive to Carnation. The races were set to start at 30-minute intervals, with the marathon starting at 9am, the half marathon at 9:30, and the 10K at 10. I was super nervous for some reason, and could barely get down my half-waffle B&B breakfast. We left around 8:30 and, as I had been worried about, hit traffic going into town. The designated parking lots down the street from the course were all full, but Inman had prepared well and there ended up being plenty of parking at a dog park adjacent to the field where the race began. There were volunteers organizing the parking, and they did a great job; we left before most people and had no trouble at all maneuvering our way out of the park.
When we got down near the starting line, the half marathoners were just starting to line up. We heard the end of Inman’s talk to the runners before he lined up to run too (he ran the half marathon both days!), and cheered the runners as they started. The start of the race seemed well organized too… volunteers armed with police tape were sectioning off waves (there weren’t official corrals, just a few pace signs) so that the start of the race wouldn’t be too crowded (such a good idea!). After all the half marathoners had left I jogged around the soccer pitch that was next to the starting line and did some dynamic stretches while taking in all the costumes (I felt outnumbered wearing just regular running clothes!) and gawping at the mountains in the distance.
When the PA guy gave the 10-minute warning for the 10K, Drew walked over to the starting area with me. Out of habit I hung out at the very back, and ended up being in the last wave. Only when I got close to the starting line itself did I notice the pace signs… not that they were helpful for me! I saw “8 minutes” and “9+ minutes.” (Or maybe it was “10+” my memory is a little fuzzy.) People around me had been (good-naturedly) complaining that there weren’t more specific pace signs for people who run slower than a 9-minute pace, and as my wave was allowed to start I realized I agreed with them! Most of the people in the last few waves were walking the race, so my first mile was spent bobbing and weaving around people. Many people were walking several abreast as well, and the course wasn’t very wide at the beginning, so there were a lot of jog-comically-slow-behind-a-line-of-walkers-and-then-sprint-to-get-around-them-when-I-spot-an-opening moments for me. Thankfully the course widened (and switched from asphalt to gravel/dirt) after about a quarter-mile or so, so it was easier to go around people. Having only run one 10K – and one which was held alongside a 5K that many people walked – I naively assumed no one would be walking a 10K, but I passed close to 100 walkers before I found runners going at my pace.
Speaking of my other 10K, I figured this race would be a piece of cake since I had already run one, and since I had hit 7 miles in my long runs. Nope. I struggled. I had hydrated pretty well (maybe not perfectly, but better than I normally do) but had deviated from my usual pre-race food (bagel with peanut butter and jelly and maybe a banana… or at least a Clif Bar or something high in energy) because I didn’t want to be rude and refuse the breakfast the B&B offered. I ended up eating a quarter of a waffle, a small coconut-ginger scone, and a few tiny pieces of strawberry, and that was an hour and a half before race time. I had brought the free Honey Stinger Waffle from packet pickup but forgot it in the car, and hadn’t brought any fuel along with me, figuring I’d grab some at the aid station.
At the Old Wethersfield race, I ate my bagel and banana much closer to race time and purposefully ran slow, and the race ended up feeling relatively easy. For the Blerch race, my deviation from pre-race fueling combined with all the surging paces as I ran around people (and the half-mile or so of gravel trail during the first mile that tried to squirt out from under my heels and turn my ankles at every step) made for some very tired legs after only a mile and a half. After scoffing at people at the start of the race who were complaining about the humidity (43%! Oh the humanity!) and the heat (75*! God forbid!), I started realizing the the sun was indeed quite warm (and I had forgotten to put on sunscreen… geez I was a mess!) and was pushing myself just to make it to the 2-mile marker. It was a little disheartening… it shouldn’t have been that hard!
I slowed down at the 2-mile mark for a quick walk break, and was embarrassed back into running by some cheering volunteers. My slow times in miles 3 and 4 were thanks to a few more quick walk breaks and – more importantly – the aid station at Mile 3! Just before the station, the fast 10Kers were already looping back past me and a bunch of them were yelling out “Cake ahead!! You’re almost there!” Just before the aid station I saw my first Blerch. She was wandering around yelling out things like “Slow down!! Why are you all running? You paid for this?! Just stop for a minute and hang out with me!” I stopped for a selfie with her, then got asked to take pictures by a few other runners. The Blerch was chatty and was clearly trying to distract us. I finally managed to peel away and ran toward the aid station. As promised, there were Nutella sandwiches and little cups full of cake, as well as water and Clif shots. I grabbed a sandwich (they were cut into quarters) and a Clif shot, and slowed to a walk so I could enjoy my Nutella. (Also because running and eating is hard, and running while eating a sandwich made me want to puke!) I passed on the cake because just the thought of it really made me want to hurl!
Sandwich consumed (with a selfie for proof, because, why not?), I started running again and quickly reached the turnaround. I ran the short way back to the aid station and this time grabbed a magic purple drink (which really did feel magical!) and stood in the short line for a turn on the couch with some more Blerches. I had gone into the race wanting to enjoy the unique experiences rather than to run for a good finishing time, but still had to try hard to ignore the competitive part of my brain that wanted to PR. I sat on the part of the couch that was least sweaty (if you look at the couch picture above, you can see the massive sweat patch in front of the “feeling tired?” sign… gross) and sank right into the Blerch. His Blerchiness was pretty much a giant pillow and OH MAN did it feel so nice to sit and cuddle a giant pillow! I did not want to get back up, let alone run. If it hadn’t been for a growing line of people waiting for a turn on the couch, I might not have gotten back up.
After peeling myself off the couch, I trundled my way back down the path away from the Blerches. The Nutella sandwich turned out not to be the best fuel, but the magic purple drink gave me a good boost and I was able to run for a while before having to walk again. The race site had mentioned Shot Bloks being at the aid stations, so I had planned on getting one of those for the second half of the race, but there were only gels. To be honest I was a little intimidated by the gels, having yet to consume one, so I tried to make do with fumes from the purple drink.
Around the 4-mile mark I started getting passed by half marathoners and I was simultaneously inspired and disheartened by their speed as they flew past me. One slowed down to tell me “Great job, keep it up” before speeding off again and I was a little torn yet again as to whether I should be inspired or annoyed. I was walking when he said it, and he didn’t talk to any of the runners or walkers ahead of me, so I started wondering if I looked particularly pathetic and like I needed a verbal boost. Who knows. When I hit the 5-mile mark I steeled myself to run the rest of the way, but I couldn’t do it. The last mile or so was back on the ankle-turning gravel, and the walkers were using the dirt path along one side and the half marathoners were using the dirt path on the other side so I just gritted my teeth and tried not to sprain anything. This part of the race was also out from under the shady woods and man, the sun felt hot. I also had a very strong urge to pee myself all of a sudden and had to slow down so that I wouldn’t actually do it. It was rough going.
I had to walk again by the 6-mile marker (so darn close to the end!) because I wanted to puke, lay down, and pee all at once and didn’t really enjoy the sensation. I got passed by some people I had been leapfrogging for the past 2 miles, including one lady in a tutu who I swear gave me a smug look as she ran by me. I very well may have imagined it. She was probably very nice, and I have nothing whatsoever against tutus, but for some reason her passing me pissed me off. I started running again and then there it was, the finish line looming ahead of me. I saw Drew under the finish banner and I saw the tutu lady approaching it and a sudden burst of energy hit me and I sprinted past her. Ha-HA! I heard some people cheer as I started to sprint, then the PA guy called out my name, and then it was over. I had beat the Blerch! Someone handed me a medal and I wandered past the finish line in search of water, only to be stopped by a bunch of people telling me I had to turn in the chip on my shoe. I hadn’t forgotten – I was going to return it after I had some water – but apparently they needed it NOW. I was worried that I might keel if I bent over, but luckily there were volunteers set up with little step-stools, so we could put our feet on them while the kneeling volunteers undid our laces for us. I felt so fancy and spoiled!
Chip removed, I thanked the volunteer profusely and continued my quest for water. Drew met me and handed me his water bottle (he’s the best) while we walked through the post-race festivities area. Like at so many other races, water was way too hard to find. Inman had thought of pretty much every other thing in this race, but easily found water right after the finish was not one of them. Past the line for autographs (already ridiculously long and Inman wasn’t even there yet) and another for photos in front of the “I beat the Blerch” backdrop, we finally found the refreshments on a giant table. There were magical purple drinks galore, as well as thousands of Nutella sandwiches and pieces of cake. Still feeling nauseated at the thought of cake and more sandwiches, I grabbed some purple drink and a banana and plopped down in the shade, not caring that the grass was soaked. Drew made a few trips back to the drinks table for me since the cups were teeny-tiny. I didn’t feel great (the nausea had passed but it wasn’t the best time of the month for a race, if you know what I mean) so I grabbed a quick picture at the Blerch backdrop and we left.
All in all, it was a fun race and I’m so glad I had the chance to do it! The packet pickup and race itself were both very well organized and the volunteers were all fabulous. My time wasn’t even too far off my current PR, which is pretty good considering how much time I spent hanging out with Blerches! I adore the race shirt and the medal is awesome, though the promised “ridiculously awesome goodie bag stuffed with stickers, snacks, and Blerch surprises” eluded me. (I got a bag at packet pickup with one Blerch sticker inside… was that it?) Inman also promised free race photos which have yet to surface, but to be fair I’m sure he and the other race organizers have a lot on their minds as sadly one of the half marathoners collapsed on Sunday and never got back up. I felt so bad when I heard about this (it happened after I had left) and my heart goes out to his family and friends.
(Whew, my race recaps keep getting longer and longer, don’t they?! Cheers to anyone who made it this far! 🙂 )
Did you run Beat the Blerch, either in Carnation or as a virtual race? How did your Blerch-beating go?