Oh my goodness! This day has finally arrived. The 2013 Bellingham Bay Half Marathon will be my first half marathon race. No, I’m not running, but speed walking instead. I hope to finish shy of 4 hours.
At the hotel, my hubby gives me my “good luck” kiss, hugs me tight, and wishes me a great race. He will hitch a ride with my best friends, and promises to greet me at the finish line. I can’t wait!
Two other good gal pals will be there, too. Everyone will met me if not at the finish line then at Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro. The brew pub is steps away from the finish line…I just hope they won’t have to wait long! I warned them about my expected slow time, but they assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. They simply want me to do my best and have a great time doing this “crazy thing.”
A couple days ago, I wondered about the weather forecast. In the hotel parking lot, I look up at the dappled skies, crowded with fluffy white clouds and dark gray clouds ready to release heavy rain at any moment. A sense of peace washes over me. Everything’s going to be okay.
At the start area, a brisk breeze blows in from Puget Sound. Up-tempo dance-style music blares from the P.A. system. Serious runners warm up with “strides” and easy moves along Railroad Avenue. Groups of runners giggle and chatter excitedly while jiggling to stay warm. I head over to a Garry Oak tree to hold onto while I do leg swings and other stretches.
Glancing at my watch, I decide to make one “last visit” to the porta-potties. From there, I make my way towards the back of the crowd of runners. This is where I find “my people” — walkers, joggers, and slower runners.
I see a mother with her arm wrapped around her young daughter’s shivering shoulder, and I wish them a great race. The mother tells she’s so excited for today’s race. Her soon-to-arrive 68-year-old mom and her 15-year-old daughter are running with her in their first-ever half marathons. This will be her second. Wow!
Less than five minutes until the race starts. How many minutes until I finish? I wonder.
Odd how I didn’t notice the lightly falling rain…sort of a heavy mist. As I unclip and take off my hydration pack to get the rain poncho, I notice the woman near me. She’s very overweight and her eyes seem red and swollen. Was it tears, not rain, she was wiping off her face? Was she scared? Nervousness, maybe? Feeling the loss of someone? Drowning in self-doubt? Did someone insult her?
With no way of knowing, I could only give her a thumb’s up, a gentle nod, and hope she understood I supported her. She smiled, very softly said “thank you,” and looked away.
With my hydration pack back over my shoulders, I reapplied my lip balm, and started up MapMyWalk app on my phone and got my Garmin watch’s tracker ready. These tech tools will keep me informed about my time and distance during the race.
The music stops and the race director’s voice fills the air. He gives us last-minute pep talk then leads us in the countdown, “…three, two, one!” The crack of the starter’s gun makes the pack of runners surge ahead. The teary-eyed woman trotted ahead, weaving around walkers and slow joggers. I finagle with MapMyWalk and my watch to get started, then get moving myself.
In short time, the pack of participants thins out and I get into my walking stride.
The heavy mist turns into light rain. Making my way out of the central business district of Bellingham, I walk into a cold headwind. Veering onto Prospect St and crossing the bridge at Whatcom Creek, I feel the wind ease. The rain lets up, too.
During those first few miles, I settled into a rhythm and took in my surroundings. Ravens would be my constant companions. They cawed and chirped from tree tops, bus benches, and trash bins.
By the time I reach the turn mile marker 4 to take me toward the Bellingham airport, more than an hour had passed. Trying to calculate time when one’s brain is in walker-mode is tough. I couldn’t remember if this was a 3:30 pace…or if that was the pace I wanted! The rain started up again.
My pace varied with the terrain. As much as I wanted to keep looking at my watch, I kept telling myself to keep moving forward. Focus on breathing, the rhythmic footsteps, and be watchful of rabbits and jaybirds.
I think I shed my poncho somewhere before reaching Squalicum Creek Park, a landmark I considered around the halfway mark. With a dirt trail ahead of me, I wanted as many wits working in my brain as possible. Fatigue plays games with one’s cognitive thinking…and agility.
From “Never Ending” to “Never Give Up”
After tiptoeing my way over the dirt path (an odd sensation after walking about six or seven miles on pavement), I followed an increasing number of runners and walkers back towards downtown.
Past the marina district the course would veer southward. I could hear the finish line music — so temptingly close. How many more miles did I have before crossing that finish line into the arms of my hubby and clutching a well-earned finisher medal? My feet, legs and hips wanted to know!
I fiddled with the rain poncho to keep it tucked into my race belt. The rain had started up again, but I didn’t want to stop to put it back on. I felt as if I stopped to do that, I wouldn’t get re-started on course again. “Wait five minutes and the weather will probably change again.”
The gray-green marine waters of Bellingham Bay now were on my right, masked only when the course followed another dirt path among the trees. I could tell my pace was slowing, no matter how much I wanted to speed up and get done!
The views from Taylor Dock Boardwalk took my mind off my tiring body. More runners past me…and I passed others! The relatively walk up from the boardwalk to State Street felt grueling to my tired legs. Those last two miles seemed hilly and never-ending. My body didn’t want to navigate the traffic circle — it all seemed too challenging to my weary mind.
By the expressions on my fellow walkers’ and slow joggers’ faces, it seemed to me they felt the same. I couldn’t, wouldn’t quit now, not after making it ten-plus miles. I kept repeating a mantra my coach, Jackie Arcana, often uses in her triathlon and bike classes: “You got this.”
After more turns here and there, the finish line was ahead of me. Volunteers cheered me on as I plodded on, willing myself to go faster.
The Sweet Kiss & Finisher Medal
I felt like crying when the volunteer handed me my finisher medal…but I was too tired. I didn’t hear my hubby calling my name, but my heart soared.
And I think I blushed when he pointed to me and said to the man next him, “That’s my wife. This is her first half marathon!”
I was walkin’ on Cloud Nine!
Over at Boundary Bay Brewery, one of my gal pals said, “Took you long enough!”
Yeah, some 50-plus years!
Would I Ever Do This Again?
Even now, several days after my race, I still don’t have the words to fully describe how I felt when I crossed the finish line.
Elation? Oh my gawd, yes! Relief? Oh heck yeah!
Pride? You know, it feels really, really weird to say “yes” — to myself and aloud. I was brought up to not be prideful…but that’s different, I think, from being proud of one’s accomplishments.
I spent about six months training for this race. That included walk workouts, strength training sessions with my coach, eating more healthfully, and dealing with a dark chocolate habit. During that time, I pushed through countless bouts of doubt, fatigue, and negative thinking.
Was this easy? Heck no, but the end result is so personally satisfying and enriching. I don’t care that it took me 4 hours, 8 minutes, and 12 seconds to get it done. .
So will I do the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon again? You bet!
And be at least 10 minutes faster!
End Note: Unfortunately, I don’t know how the women I met before the start did in their races. I hope they did well, and had fun!
Originally published Oct. 5, 2013 | Edited and republished on Aug. 10, 2023.