On Sunday, May 6, I ran the Snohomish Women’s Half Marathon. Now, a few days later, the race still feels surreal.
Going into this race, I had a clear idea of where my fitness was. I have goals, but I don’t put timelines on them. I’ve learned that I can’t force a finish time until my fitness is there. I decide a finish time goal based on how my training has gone and include a range: for this race, my goal was 1:34-1:37, based on how the day went. Throughout all of my peak workouts, I averaged right at a 7:15/mile, so this is what I based my goal off of.
And to be candid, I tried not to think too much about finish time. For so long, I had considered sub-1:35 to be a half marathon time that fast female runners ran, not a time that I ran. To remove a mental limit, I detached my thinking from the finish time before race day. I knew from training where my fitness was and I knew my race strategy. I went into the race ready to run as best as I could, hungry for the experience of pushing myself where I could.
I absolutely loved this course, both for the scenery and organization. The course is USATF certified and clearly marked – every mile marker was within 0.01 of my watch. This means you can use the half marathon time as a qualifier for the New York City Marathon. The scenery is gorgeous; you are along a river and can see the Cascade mountains in the distance. It’s a more rural race, so instead of city centers, you see farms and parks. There aren’t a ton of spectators, but there are enough lining the course to help.
The half marathon course goes out 5 miles, turns around, and then turns left at the point where the 10K turns right to go to the finish line (~10 miles into the half). The next out-and-back is mentally challenging, as you briefly run in the opposite direction of the finish line down the Lowell Riverfront trail – but once you turn around, it’s only about 1.5 miles straight to the finish. The course has decent shade, especially in the final 3 miles when you really need it.
The course is flat… not just Seattle flat, but truly flat (according to Strava, 44 feet elevation gain). The aid stations are placed approximately every 2 miles with large cups full of Nuun and water.
My own complaint (if you even want to call it that) is the congestion that I encountered when the half marathon course joined back up with the 10K course at about mile 7 of the half marathon. A majority of the 10K runners and walkers were courteous, but a few walked 4 or 5 abreast or were unaware of their surroundings (despite on your left notifications) and the other half marathon runners and I had to weave around these women. I think a simple note in the pre-race email for the 10K runners/walkers would have helped streamline the course for both races during these couple miles.
The Snohomish Running Company puts on fantastic races, especially if you are focused on the race itself. Their races are smaller, local races, so if you are looking for big expos and fancy post-race parties, they might not be what you are looking for, but if you want to run a well-organized race on a great course, they are exactly up your alley. I also greatly appreciate having race options in the Snohomish County area versus having to drive all the way into Seattle for races.
My favorite part about the race was that this wasn’t a frilly women’s race. There wasn’t a mimosa bar at the finish and they weren’t handy out feather boas to finishers. Men are allowed to run (the overall winner was a man) but aren’t eligible for the overall finisher awards. The Snohomish Women’s Run is a celebration of women’s running without the pink or the cliches.
In addition to a finisher’s medal, all participants received a zip-up hoodie with the race theme printed on the back.
(This is a comment from Ryan: The music selection at the start/finish area could be better. My poor husband heard Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA at least five times while waiting at the start/finish area.)
The morning of the race, I woke up at about 5:15 AM and had some coffee and water. I ate a banana plain bagel with a smidge of peanut butter and honey around 5:45, along with a glass of Nuun Performance and another cup of coffee. About an hour before the race, I took a Red Ace Organic beet juice shot.
We arrived at the race about an hour before the start. The Snohomish Women’s Run offers either parking passes for a small fee or a free shuttle since parking is limited at the start/finish line. I opted for the parking pass, especially since I didn’t want Ryan to rely on a shuttle for spectating. I completed my dynamic stretches and a short warm-up jog with a couple strides along the end of the half marathon course. I was able to avoid the long porta-potty lines with one of the on-course bathrooms set up (a definite advantage to doing a warm-up!). I caught up with my one of my friends/athletes during my warm-up and we finished off with a walk back to the start area.
About 15 minutes before the start, I topped off my tank with ~⅓ of a Honey Stinger waffle. Since the energy takes about 15-20 minutes to hit the bloodstream, this snuck in a little bit of extra energy for the race itself without having to eat as much on course.
As the runners gathered at the starting line, I overheard some woman around me talking: goals of 1:27, 1:28, and the like. I realized this year’s field was faster than the previous couple years and that finishing in the top 5 wasn’t a realistic goal. And quite frankly – my reaction was, this is awesome. The more a women’s race can bring out competitive women, the better. I adjusted my goals to finish in the top 10 if possible, along with a PR.
My plan was to hold back for the first couple miles. I let the 1:35 pacers float ahead of me and stuck behind them. My first two miles were 7:24 and 7:22 – exactly in the range I hoped for.
I slightly accelerated around mile 3, telling myself to maintain a steady but comfortable effort through the first turn-around at mile 5. Miles 3-5 clocked in at 7:18, 7:18, and 7:20. Once was past the first turn-around, I let myself pick it up a bit more.
Around the 10K point, a woman whom I chatted with earlier in the race passed me. We chatted a bit more and she gave me a huge mental boost when she noted that I was like a metronome with my pace and looking strong.
Miles 6-9 flew by: 7:15, 7:09, 7:12, 7:13. I tried to engage with the half marathoners on the out part of the course as much as I could, cheering on my athletes and other runners. The support that those runners provide definitely carried me throughout those miles.
When the half marathon course joined back up with the second half of the 10K course (around mile ~7), I did have to weave around some runners and walkers; most were very courteous, but a few were unaware of their surroundings. (As a note: it’s an issue of safety in a race course that you should be aware of your surroundings and be able to hear volunteers/race directors. Your music should not be so loud that passing runners can hear it from your headphones.)
Throughout the race, I drank Nuun at almost every aid station (2, 4, 6, ~8, ~10, and I skipped the one at ~12). For fuel, I broke a Honey Stinger waffle into four pieces and ate at mile 4, 5, 8, and 9. Chewing surprisingly wasn’t an issue at those points in the race, my energy stayed high, and my stomach wasn’t upset. Add to all that the fact that my hands and face weren’t sticky, and I don’t think I can go back to taking gels again.
A few people have asked if the pace felt smooth and easy for the entire race and the answer is no – and I didn’t want it to feel comfortable the entire time. I mentally prepared myself to embrace the pain of racing during the final 3-4 miles, because I knew it was necessary for a PR. I did not feel like I was falling apart, but after mile 9, each step was a deliberate decision to keep pushing at a hard effort. It was challenging, but I was capable of handling the challenge.
The temperature was definitely warm by the last few miles, but I kept thinking “I feel cool” to avoid any negative thoughts about the heat. Thankfully, shortly after the 10 mile mark, the course turned onto a shaded section of trail. I focused on the mile I was in. Somehow, I passed a couple people in mile 11 shortly before the turn-around. Despite feeling fatigued, my pace remained steady: miles 10, 11, and 12 all clocked in at 7:12-7:15.
During the final mile, I had to fight. My body ached with fatigue and all I wanted to do was drop my hands down to my knees and catch my breath. But just because the pace is hard doesn’t mean the body can’t sustain it. I hit 12.5 miles at around 90 minutes and I thought, Just one kilometer to go. If you keep up at this rate, you can finish at 1:35. That’s just five more minutes. I ran mile 13 in 7:15.
Once I came into view of the finish line, I pushed with everything I had. My last tenth of a mile clocked in at a 6:18/mile pace. I’ve never had much of a finishing kick before; all the 5K speedwork I did throughout the earlier weeks of training paid off.
I crossed the finish line right at 1:35:00. I caught my breath for a couple seconds and then stopped my Garmin, which recorded 1:35:03. The 1:35 pacers congratulated me and I quickly caught up with Ryan. I was already amazed at my finish time – and then, as I was sitting with Ryan and trying to bring down my heart rate, one of the race directors reminded me to check my chip time at the results booth. Ryan and I went to go check it, and my chip time showed up as 1:34:57! I finished as the 8th woman, 9th runner overall, and 2nd in my age group.
This is a 3+ minute PR (I had been stuck at a 1:38 half finish time since 2016) and 11+ minutes faster than my first half marathon back in November 2014.
Ryan and I hung out for a while after my finish to watch my athletes finish. A dump of water over my head and a change of clothes helped regulate my body temperature. I wasn’t very hungry and none of the post-race food appealed to me (I was craving chips, pretzels, or anything salty), although I did find an oatmeal cookie at one of the sponsor booths to eat.
I want to thank my incredibly supportive and encouraging husband, everyone who sent supportive texts and messages, and the Snohomish Running Company and all their volunteers.
I also want to give a shout-out to all of my athletes who ran this race:
- Aimee, who set a half marathon PR
- Mackenzie, who ran a strong comeback 10K post-stress fracture
- Alexa, who looked incredibly strong while pacing her friend
- Jenn, who ran close to her 10K PR
If you live in the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett area, I highly recommend the races from the Snohomish Running Company! Grant and Sarah work incredibly hard to deliver races that appeal to both competitive and beginner runners.
I’m always going to be hungry for improvement – that’s part of my personality as a runner. I love running in part because there is always an opportunity to improve. But for now, I’m also really happy with this finish time – and more importantly, I’m really happy with this race experience.
When has a race result seemed surreal to you?
Do you prefer races with city scenery or rural/natural scenery?
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