I’ve been a fan of the Oatmeal for… basically ever. One of my favorite comics of his is the series on running (The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons why I Run Long Distances). I got into this comic just before I started running seriously, and as an active person with an interest in staying healthy and exercising I could relate to most things he said. As I became a more serious distance runner, the comic began to speak to the echoes of my soul.
When I found out last year that Matt Inman had created a race series based on the comic (Beat the Blerch) I got super excited. Here was a race with couches! Blerches! Nutella! Cake! The fact that it was in Carnation, Washington was a slightly drawback, but the biggest problem for me was distance: at that time, 10K seemed like a daunting prospect. The race is a 10K/Half/Full Marathon; I wasn’t sure that I’d ever work up the distance necessary to run it, but it was a goal I had at the back of my mind in the distant “someday”.
When they announced this year that they were doing a Beat the Blerch East in Morristown, NJ, I knew that I had to be in. It was a milestone for me to sign up for the half marathon distance without batting an eyelash, and I was super excited because my honey decided to run the 10K as his first race at a distance longer than 5K. Score!
The race was advertised as a mixed media race: roads, some gravel trails, and some sections of “legit trail running”. We arrived thinking that it would be a great adventure and take us a bit out of our comfort zone.
Well, “arriving” was a bit of a problem. Though we had stayed in the race hotel the night before and left plenty of time to get to the race, when the GPS clicked over to .7 miles away we ran into an issue. There was such a huge backup from the parking lot (while the marathoners got to park at the start line due to their early start time, the half marathoners and 10Kers were relegated to an offsite lot with shuttle bus). My race started at 9:00; we pulled into the lot line at 8:15. By 8:40, we were still .4 miles away from the lot; honey took the wheel and I got out and walked the rest of the way to the lot. Once at the lot, I waited in a long line to hop on the shuttle to get to the start.
I didn’t reach the start line until 9:20. Luckily, by then race organizers had realized the problem and postponed the 10K (bumping start time back from 9:30 until 10:00) and were
allowing half marathoners to start whenever they showed up. I had a lonely race start, but it did mean that I got a couple great pictures crossing the starting line.
It became clear very quickly that the course description was very wrong. While there were some small sections of the “gravel path” (mostly right after the start line) and “paved road” (perhaps .75 miles combined throughout the entire 13.1), the majority of the run was on very technical trails; roots, rocks, steep uphills and downhills (the course had a combined gain of 1249 feet… yikes!). I know that a lot of the other runners were upset or angry at this, but since I had pretty much decided to sit back and enjoy the course rather than reach for a new PR, I was content enough for the challenge.
I was going along at a good clip when at mile 2.6 I spotted it: the first blerch/nutella/cake/couch station! I pulled over immediately to snap a few shots and relax
on the couch for just a moment. The blerch became quite insistent that I eat some cake… so who am I to deny a friendly blerch in the wild?
I took my first spill about .1 miles after this on a sleep and rocky uphill, at which point I decided to go even slower than I had previously planned. I didn’t want to injure myself on the course, and since trail running is almost entirely new to me (I do wish I had been warned about this aspect of the course so I could have prepared for it a little more), I slowed down where I needed to. My new rule was “run when you feel safe enough and strong enough”. This did pretty well for me; I ran sections that I would previously have balked at, and I only wiped out one addition time (in mile 11 somewhere).
Right about midway through the half, I found another blerch. This time, I was ready for her. She never saw me coming.
I ate cake and/or nutella at every aid station. I stopped at every aid station but one for water (they were advertised as b
eing every two miles, they were more like every 3; there were four total on the half loop and I was glad that I decided to wear a fuel belt). I’m told that one or two of the aid stations ran out of water and/or cups earlier in the race, but when I arrived they were well stocked.
Since the course was notoriously bad for GPS service (every runner experienced some form of Garmin drop-off), I had no idea what my time looked like as I approached the finish line. I knew that I felt strong and that, unlike in my half in May, the tank wasn’t empty. This race was very much a test run for how I felt about starting marathon training (and if I really should, or if I should get some more base mileage in first). As I was feeling pretty great about life, I think all signs might point to “yes”.
An awesome touch was that the announcer at the finish line cheered runners by name as
they approached. This was a great use of RFID technology already in play at races, and it was pretty awesome to get a big “YOU GET IT, DANIELLE!” as I was coming in from some dude dressed as bacon. SCORE!
As an awesome cherry on the top of the sundae, despite the technical trails, crazy elevation gain, walk breaks, and blerch breaks, my time came in only ten minutes slower than my half in May (which had none of the above). This gives me great hope for crushing my PR at my next half in November.
Beat the Blerch was a fun race. The troubles I mention above are growing pains for any first-year course, and since the internet has done enough whining about them I think they will be addressed
before another race is held in this location. I would definitely run it again, though I won’t be running the marathon on this course (too technical, too high a risk of injury, and since it’s a twice around the half loop marathon course it would be too demoralizing for me to pass the finish line and just head right back out again rather than finishing). I’ll find another marathon; though I will continue to beat blerches if given the opportunity.
The cake, by the way, was delicious and I was gifted with a “Nutella taco” (a banana wrapped in wheat bread spread with Nutella) at the finish line. PERFECT finish line food.