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Bellingham Bay Half-Marathon Race Recap

Lots of things to say about yesterday’s race. For a quick minute in there, I was disappointed that I was (spoiler) only 20 seconds off my PR. I was also disappointed for an instant that my watch (along with those of several around me) read a long course and not a true 13.1. However, after those thoughts subsided and I thought back on the race that I’d run, I landed in the spot I am today: both very pleased and very encouraged.

I went into this race with some trepidation about the conditions (blustery and rainy) but also with a lot of gusto to run a good race. Relatively speaking, I hadn’t raced in a while, and I was ready to see what my legs could do. I rested all day Saturday (a new approach for me), hydrated well, slept well, and treated the run like a real race.

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Low and behold, race morning comes, and the drive up to Bellingham was…ominous. It was pouring, windy, and the perfect conditions for sleeping in and hot coffee…not running 13.1 miles in spandex and a tank top. But I kept my spirits high, and after an easy bib pick-up and some dynamic stretching, I forgot about the weather and tried to get in the zone. Spotting some fellow Oiselle teammates helped kindle my excitement, and I felt proud to be wearing the same singlet as such fast women.

Before I knew it, the countdown was on, and boom…we were running a half marathon. Tried and true to the start of any race, I a) felt incredible and b) knew I was going too fast. A look down at my watch about a half mile in would verify that my 7:00 “easy” pace was certainly not the way to start off a distance race, so I tried to tug back. Ugh, why is this always so hard? Every time I swear to myself I’ll follow the rules and hold back at the start, and every time I cross a start line I abandon all those good intentions. But, I forgave myself, let a faster mile 1 clock in, and prepared to reel in the reigns.

I felt so good during these first few miles. Like, better than I’ve felt running in a long long time. Isn’t that what we hope to feel during races? Anyway, I alternated between sharing paces with others, pulling back when they surged, and going ahead when they fell behind. Generally, it just felt great to be racing, and I let that mindset and momentum carry me through the early miles:

Mile 1: 7:14

Mile 2: 7:22

Mile 3: 7:23

In terms of pacing for this race, my goal was to stick to 7:30s for the first half and open it up if I could during the second half. So, once I reentered the 7:20s, I considered it okay and just went with it. I also knew that there was an incline coming up in mile 4 which would get things back in line.

That incline came and I already knew that my legs were in for a hard race, should I keep this pace up. My breathing sped up and my HR surged a little, reminding me that I was—in fact—racing. But, per usual after a hill reclines to a flat grade, my legs started turning over again and invited the steady downhill that would come in the next few miles.

Mile 4: 7:47

I knew that miles 5-7 were on a downhill, and I’d planned ahead of time to use those miles to my advantage. What I hadn’t considered, though, was that these miles would also change the direction of the course directly into the forecasted wind. These miles were also pretty exposed, which made the wind even more difficult to avoid, but nonetheless…I tried to gun it a little.

Mile 5: 7:18

Mile 6: 7:06

Mile 7: 7:01

There was a bit in there where my watch read 6:xx, which both horrified and exhilarated me. I’d never seen a pace in the 6s during a half marathon, and it was a definite confidence booster to see that pop up.

The course flattened out after this, and the headwind seemed to take a turn directly into our faces. I tore open my gel around this point too and held it for the next few miles, taking drags from it whenever I felt steady. We reentered downtown Bellingham, and there were a few twisty inclines that definitely slowed me down and reminded me of the miles I’d already logged. My energy started waning a little around miles 9-10, and looking back on the elevation profile of the course, it’s obvious that those mini hills took their toll.

Mile 8: 7:34

Mile 9: 7:45

Mile 10: 7:40

We were on a dirt path along the bay at this point, which was warmly welcomed after all the pavement pounding. Although my watch had been a little off the whole race, it was really off once I got to mile 10, which was a little discouraging. My miles were beeping at least 2/10 of a mile before the mile markers, and a fellow racer confirmed that her Garmin was at the same distance as mine. Admittedly, I fumed about this for a bit, considering I thought a PR was within reach should the course be 13.1, but I put that thought out of my mind and tried to just run the race I was running and enjoy it as much as I could.

Once I got to mile 10.5 or so, I resolved to kick it up in the last 5k, and that mind shift seemed to give me a bit of a second wind as well. I was hurting, but not done yet, and I wanted to finish strong. There was a STEEP boat ramp during mile 11 that felt like I was walking, which took a lot of self-talk to get up and over especially with another hilly ~1.5 miles to go afterward.

Mile 11: 7:17

Mile 12: 7:58

Alas, up I went, and we turned into the homestretch. Something I really like about this race is that it’s an essentially straight shot to this finish, and it seemed like everyone around me was pulling out everything they had to fire their final canons. I’d been leap-frogging with a few men the whole race, and all of us were straightening up and putting on our best race faces during this final stretch. Lots of fun.

However, things were hurting. This last mile was consistently up and down hill, and I was definitely feeling all the changing elevation, despite how minimal it actually was. When my watch beeped “13” I was nowhere near the mile marker, so I made a mental note to check “my” half marathon time in another .1 miles.

Mile 13: 7:12

Eventually, the finish line came into view, and I dug out my final dregs of speed as much as I could—I’ll be damned if that clock changes to 1:39!

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Final .32 miles: 6:37

Official finish time: 1:38:47, 16th woman overall

After a momentary feeling of being punched in the gut, I pulled it together, got my medal and space blanket and regaled on what just happened: Was that the fastest I’ve ever run before?

Technically, no. My official half-marathon PR is 22 seconds faster than that. But, in reality…it actually might be.

I am certainly not someone to play the, “But my watch said xx:xx!” card. I believe we all run the same course, the same race, no matter what, and the numbers we clock individually are secondary. But, .2 miles off is significant enough that I’m inclined to look at my pace according to the distance I logged rather than a 13.1 distance. Furthermore, in the case that I ran 13.32 miles in 1:38:47, I ran a 7:24 pace, which is easily faster than I’ve ever run a half marathon before. Take it or leave it, I realize this is a controversial topic, but I’m having a hard time ignoring that figure.

Despite the could-haves and maybes of the off-distance, I certainly had miles during this race that were both unexpected and mini personal-record breaking. The fact that 6.32 miles were under 7:20s is incredibly encouraging, and it brightens my hopes for a 1:35:xx in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future.

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I also felt like I was able to handle discomfort during this race much better than I’ve been able to before. One of my goals going into it was to keep my head on and not let the pain shadow my confidence. I tried to keep this in the front of my mind during those tougher miles, and I’m happy that I feel like I was able to stay comfortable being uncomfortable. There were some bleak minutes, certainly, but it felt like my resolve to push through was able to suppress those dark voices—which is something I’ve definitely struggled with in the past.

So, all in all, it was a great race. I’m happy that the rain held off (mostly), and despite the comprised conditions, I ran the best race I could. I have high hopes for what’s to come, and a little more gusto in my motivation to start training a little harder. The half-marathon is a fun and tough distance, and I’m excited to see what the next two this year have in store.

And a huge congrats to the other ladies who ran this race! In case I needed a spoonful of humble stew, the other 4 gals I ran with finish in 3, 4, 5, and 7th. Yes, really. Speedy ladies! Super impressive.

Happy Monday all!

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Making a Plan, Changing the Plan

Bad blogger here, poking out from my cocoon of silence…

Hey peeps! Guess what? It’s race week! A race I’ve been anticipating for a while…meaning I’ve already had some nerves and goals running through my head.

As I said last week, I rearranged my sky-high hopes for this race and settled on a “we’ll see” approach. Which is what I was/am still planning on. Essentially, my mission has become:

Race the damn race. Don’t just cruise—get a little uncomfortable. Stay in control, run smart, but make it hurt if I can.

Simplistic. Anddd there might be a few pace numbers thrown in there too. But I won’t bore you with those.

I did determine some good ole fashioned A, B, and C goals. So without further ado…

A) PR: I think this is possible if I have a really good day. Ideal conditions, happy legs, etc. A sub-7:30 pace average (what I’d need for a PR) shockingly isn’t as scary as it used to be, which in and of itself is encouraging. Even so, it would take some luck smart racing.

B) Sub-1:40: I became a member of this club on only one occasion, and I feel like it would be nice to affirm my status a little more considering I tend to feel like a poser with my “fluke” 1:38 PR sometimes. No, I don’t feel like I need to prove anything to anyone…except for maybe myself. It would just be nice to feel those race paces again.

C) Keep my head on. This is better than another “sub xx:xx” goal, right? Here’s the deal: I feel like I’m a good racer, but I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve mastered overcoming the mental hurdles that come with tough conditions. Sure, I can press onward, but I feel like I have a tendency to completely count myself out as soon as I feel fatigued. This is especially true in workouts. I’d really like to use this race as an opportunity to keep my game face on straight…or something like that. Having other people to chase after tends to help with this, so I’m excited to execute some playful competition in the name of building confidence.

So, all that’s well and good. But! Of course….but.

Now, I’m not one to whine and complain about race-day conditions. For the most part, I accept them as they are since I know there’s nothing I can do about them. We’ll all have to run in the same weather, right? Right.

But when a race I’ve been looking forward to and anticipating a strong performance at looks like this, my evil eye tends to come out:

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Rain doesn’t really phase me. I’m used to the rain, I’ve raced in the rain, whatever with the rain. But rain + wind? Gross. Talk about my least ideal running/living conditions. And 20 mph isn’t a joke…that will make a difference.

So, I suppose for right now I’m trying to accept that some adjustments may need to happen. Goal adjustments, pace adjustments, etc. All in the name of Mother Nature…that saucy little minx. Am I completely discounting those goals above? Absolutely not. Do I think this adds another important variable to consider? Certainly. We’ll see, friends. Expect a very soggy finish line photo, with a side of yummy thigh chafing.

But, no matter the circumstances, I’m excited to run my 9th ( <—lucky number alert!) half-marathon this Sunday. The same half-marathon, in fact, that I ran as my first half 3 years ago. Crazy! This will also be my first official race as a Oiselle team member, clad in the singlet and everything. Let’s hope those new wings know how to sail in the wind!

Who’s racing this weekend? Does weather affect your race-day hype? 

 

The Birdie Turns Into a Bird

My blog pseudonym is not just a fun wordplay on my name (Robyn). In fact, the origins of the “Birdie” nickname date back to when I was a scrawny and awkward freshman in high school.

I had just made the basketball team after a nerve wracking three days of tryouts. Almost immediately on the first day of practice, I was bestowed the nickname “Birdie” by the older gals. It stuck like glue, and from then on—in all the sports I played—I was rarely called by my actual name. Some old friends still call me Birdie, and thus it became the inspiration behind my blog title.

I'm the pig-tailed one on the bottom right.

I’m the pig-tailed one on the bottom right.

Back in my high school days, the only place I really felt completely comfortable and like myself was on the court (and the softball field and the track). Being a three-sport athlete was how I matured in those years, and to this day I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned and friends I made along the way. No surprise— I still associate the “Birdie” name with all those experiences that built me up, helped me feel strong, and fueled my athletic endeavors. Birdie was my athletic alter-ego in a way; the person I became when I was given the chance to train and compete. I’ve carried this title into my current life as a runner (see: blog URL, header, twitter handle, etc.), and it’s become a happy reminder of the days when my ambitions as an athlete really started to blossom.

It is no wonder, then, why the cute clothes with birds on them first caught my eye in Seattle running stores. I soon discovered the brains behind the fabrics were a small, local group of women, operating under the all-too-appropriate name, Oiselle. As a former François student, I knew this meant “bird” in French—and was tickled by the triple-threat combo of the running, the French femininity, and the bird icon.

Being a Seattle runner, it didn’t take long before the internet (namely Twitter) connected the dots, and I quickly began to learn what this company was all about. That initial jolt of giddiness soon turned into an insane level of respect, admiration, and inspiration for all the great things this company was bringing to women’s running. Of course, the clothing speaks for itself; comfort, looks, performance, fit— it really has it all. I constantly find myself either “saving” my Oiselle clothes for long runs or key workouts (look good feel good, right?), or avoiding wearing my Oiselle gear as I love to wear it for everyday use. It’s a great problem to have and speaks to the expertise put into the design.

However, while fashion is all well and good, the thing that ultimately struck me about Oiselle was their advocacy for female runners. From the professional track stars to the novice age-groupers, Oiselle seemed to be rooting for women in all levels of running. Their passion helped me to recognize the potential in my own running—that it could be a sport, a lifestyle, and not just a “way to stay in shape.”

Running, to me, has become a means of building my external and internal strength as an athlete and as a woman. As it turned out, I discovered that this was exactly the ethos of Oiselle’s racing team— a group of women who support Oiselle’s  mission and subsequently represent all the goodness that exists in women’s running. I had to be a part of it.

Patience was necessary when I first expressed interest in being on the team. Not only were there several Seattle gals interested in Oiselle, but there were hundreds of runners all over the country vying for a spot themselves. Oiselle was intent on maintaining a sisterhood within their team, understandably, and while I was anxious to be a part of it all—I could respect that this camaraderie was imperative in Oiselle’s overall mission. I supported their mission, so how could I not support this decision?

So I waited, but my interest never waned. After a few nudges to try once more, I gave it another shot, and I’m so proud to announce that I am now one of the newest members of Oiselle’s Volée Racing Team!

I cannot begin to explain how excited I am about this opportunity. I’m honored and ecstatic for this development in my career as a runner, and it feels like the beginning of something very good. The idea of contributing to a team again—especially a team of such strong women and runners—is so exhilarating, and I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that this is exactly what I need. I intend to wholeheartedly represent the brand and it’s mission while reaching toward my own running goals, and I look forward to cheering on and learning from all the other incredible women involved.

I never really considered that, as an adult, I could feel like that same enthusiastic and motivated athlete that I did back in my Birdie days. I figured that those days of competition and being a part of a team were behind me, and I could silently play the part by being an amateur runner.

Suddenly, it feels like that first day of practice again. It’s exciting, humbling, a little scary, and perhaps more than anything—motivating. The Birdie has turned into a Bird, and it seems there are endless, open skies ahead.

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Volée!