The Lake Sammamish Half Marathon on Saturday, March 5 was my third half marathon. My first half marathon was a 1:46:06 in November 2014 and my second was a 1:43:12 in April 2015. I ran the Lake Sammamish Half, only 16 months after my first half marathon in 1:38:40 (7:32/mile average pace).
Before I get to the race recap, I just want to take a moment to thank each of you who has been so supportive and encouraging during this training cycle! Particularly Ryan, who is the most supportive, encouraging, and motivating person ever and whom I am so lucky to call my husband. (He also took all of the photos for this post!)
And to all of you readers who have cheered me on throughout training—it’s beyond the capacity of words to express my gratitude for all of your support and encouragement. It’s the community that really makes blogging worthwhile.
I approached this race with significantly less anxiety than I did the Portland Marathon or the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon. I had done all of the hard work, and now was just the time to trust my training and trust my race day plan. There was no point in stressing.
Of course I wanted to sub-1:40, but even more so, I wanted to run a smart and enjoyable race, so I let go of the internal pressure of any time goal. Trust your training, trust your fueling plan, trust your pacing plan.
I was just plain excited for this race, as you can see in the photo above. I am not an elite by any stretch of the imagination and there was nothing significant at stake, so why not enjoy the race above all else? By enjoy, of course, I mean race well and race hard, but not stress myself out about the outcome or uncontrollable factors such as weather. This training reminded me so much of how I love running and particularly love the half marathon distance.
Somehow, between two rainy and windy days, the weather on Saturday was the perfect race weather. Partly cloudy (no need for sunglasses!), in the 50s, and just a light wind off the lake. You never know what type of weather you’ll get in Seattle, but when those beautiful clear days happen, they are simply sublime.
The race directors moved the start of the race to Redmond Town Center, which is an upscale outdoor shopping center on the Eastside of Seattle. This meant two significant changes from previous years. Redmond, for reference, is one of the largest towns on the Eastside of Seattle: it’s where Microsoft is headquartered.
First, they removed a zigzag loop over the last mile; second, this new start location provided plenty of parking and numerous actual restrooms for runners in the town center’s nice facilities, rather than porta potties. You can imagine how nice it is to have an actual toilet with real sinks and shorter lines on race morning! Plus, the Redmond Town Center has fireplaces and several benches and tables, which were ideal for relaxing before the race.
The race website encourages runners to arrive early, so we arrived in Redmond by 6 AM for the 7:30 AM start time. If Seattle traffic is anything, it’s unpredictable (some days it takes Ryan 60 minutes to drive to Redmond for work, even though it’s only 15 miles away), and the last thing I wanted was to get stuck in traffic and be rushed before the race. Arriving early meant avoiding bathroom lines, having time to warm up, and finding a great parking spot. It was nice to just relax with Ryan before the race.
I love small races. Approximately 2000 runners raced Lake Sammamish Half Marathon and the race had a truly small and local yet well organized feel. Ryan and other spectators were able to stand along the start and finish lines, separated only by a bit of blue tape for maybe ten or fifteen yards from the chutes. I only had to get into the corral 10 minutes before the start, which definitely prevented that antsy pre-race feeling of waiting.
The course was clearly marked, and the markers were accurate. My Garmin beeped within a few steps of each marker, and read 13.13 miles upon finish. It was easy to run tangents on this course, since it had very few turns and the trail was fairly narrow.
The only downside: rainy weather in the days before meant several puddle to dodge along the way! Amazingly I finished with only a bit of mud on my shoes, but other runners had mud splashed up to their knees.
After crossing a closed-off street, the race course immediately led onto the Sammamish River Trail for a mile, before leading onto the Marymoor Park Connector Trail, which then connected to the Lake Sammamish Trail. A brief portion of the final 2 miles was along a sidewalk, but the course quickly joined up with one of the trails leading through the Lake Sammamish State Park.
A majority of the trails were paved, but several of the middle miles were on a dirt/packed gravel trail. Honestly, I liked this – less impact on the muscles. Sorry, road racing, but paved and gravel trails win. The course had maybe five turns total, and no hills other than a little up and down climb (more like a speed bump) along a small foot bridge in the first mile. Flat, straight, fast and, most importantly, scenic.
Miles 3-11 were directly along the coast of Lake Sammamish. A glistening large lake, mountains looming in the background, and enviable lakeside houses as scenery made the usually boring middle miles pass by quickly. There were some spectators along the trail, but there were also miles without anyone but runners. However, the runners were friendly and encouraging, so even in the zones without spectators there still was an upbeat and supporting vibe.
The first mile of this race was crowded, particularly as runners dodged some huge puddles from this week’s rains. Instead of chasing after the 1:40 pace group, I just focused on starting out at a conservative pace. By partway through mile 2, I eased in with a group of runners at a similar pace. I had a bit of a light muscular cramp in my upper abs just under my ribs during miles 2 and 3, which was just an initial physiological reaction to the fast pace, so I focused on my breathing and easing into goal pace. The cramp went away in a matter of minutes. Miles 1-3: 7:42, 7:30, 7:41.
I quickly identified two men who were running a similar goal time, so I focused on staying close behind them throughout the middle miles. The 1:40 pace group was far ahead of me, but I trusted my pace strategy and wanted to run a smart race more than I wanted that 1:40. These middle miles were about settling into a flow, a steady and comfortable pace while slowing passing runners. Miles 4-7: 7:28, 7:34, 7:36, 7:30.
I caught up with the 1:40 pace group around mile 8, and passed them by mile 9. I repeated this tactic for the next couple miles: slowly catch up to a pack, pace with them for a minute or so, and then surge ahead. Those fartlek long runs definitely paid off! Everything felt good until mile 11, when some anticipated fatigue started, especially in my legs, and my pace required more mental focus. Miles 8-11: 7:29, 7:29, 7:29, 7:24.
I stopped passing as many people during miles 12 and 13, since that feeling of burning lungs and total body fatigue began to set in. But these were the final miles of a half marathon, so what else was to be expected? I just held onto my pace as best as I could I flipped my watch over to time once I turned into the Lake Sammamish State Park (about mile 12.25) and realized I could slow down significantly and still squeak in a 1:40. But of course I wasn’t going to slow down. Miles 12-13.1: 7:32, 7:26, 7:10 (for last .13).
As I followed the trail as it curved onto the beach, I could hear Ryan cheering. I could not help but throw my arms up in joy as I crossed the finish line: the clock read 1:39:05, and I knew based on when I crossed the start line that I finished in a 1:38:xx time.
The finish line allowed spectators to get within a few feet of the finisher’s chute, which meant incredible crowd support and a quick reunion with friends and family. The course also finished within a few yards of the Lake Sammamish beach, so as soon as I reunited with Ryan (which was within a minute of finishing the race), we kicked back on the beach to just soak in the moment of a goal achieved.
They provided computers on site so we could easily learn my official time within minutes of finishing: 1:38:40!
Ryan said he enjoyed spectating this race, which means more to me than any other aspect of the race. Unlike some of the bigger city races I’ve done (which still weren’t huge races), this race was stress-free and friendly for families and spectators.
The food was simple but just perfect for after a race: Clif trail mix bars, Nuun, Naked juice, coconut water, peanut butter on whole wheat sandwiches, muffins, fresh fruit, and M&Ms. Nothing fancy, nothing heavy, just simple and easy to eat carbs. I don’t know about you, but some post-race food offerings such ice cream (Go! St. Louis Half) or chili (Valparaiso Half) have absolutely no appeal to me after pushing myself for 13.1 miles.
I actually finished not feeling sick to my stomach (a first for me), so I ate half a peanut butter sandwich and a handful of M&Ms and drank Nuun and a coconut water. Whoever thought to include M&Ms in the post-race spread is a genius. We hung around on the beach for a while longer before heading home.
This race attracts fast runners: a new course record was even set this year of 1:07:57. I finished in 14th place for my age group (20-29), because most of the top women run sub-1:25. Overall, I placed 182nd out of almost 2000 runners. The race is also friendly to walkers and slower runners, as the course stays open for four hours.
I’m thrilled that I achieved my goal time, but even more excited that I ran a strong race with a negative split and that my fueling and hydration went perfectly. For the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss more on my fueling and hydration in a specific post later this week.
And oh yes, do I plan to do this race again next year. It’s $55-70 to register (depending on how far in advance you sign up), which is a steal for a PR-perfect half marathon.
Linking up for Wild Workout Wednesday!
Do you prefer small local races or big city races?
Would you run a race on a dirt/gravel trail?
What’s the best post-race food you’ve ever had?
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