San Juan Island Half Marathon

The race course featured beautiful views of the Salish Sea, Olympic Mountains, trees, and an abundance of green. Thanks for the photo, Csenka.

A couple weeks ago I ran my 14th (maybe 15th?) half marathon. This one was different from all the rest though–it was the most scenic of ’em all, thanks to its island location in Washington. A few friends and I had been training for the San Juan Island Half since we signed up in January. Although a few of us only ran together once, we often encouraged each other in our ‘Run Club’ texting group and traded stories of our big wins (hitting that longest run ever mark week after week) and little wins (got outside and ran a bit) and the setbacks too (injuries, travel). I have another entire post in mind to talk all about community, but let’s just say signing up for this half (in tandem with another half in June) with some friends was just the boost I needed this year to get back into consistent training.

We arrived on San Juan Island by ferry Friday night before the race to avoid an excruciatingly early departure from Seattle Saturday morning. This gave us time to settle into our little vacation rental and pick up our race bibs, reusable water pouch (kudos to Orcas Running for eliminating needless water cup waste!), and t-shirt at packet pick-up, plus enjoy a nice waterfront dinner together.

Pre-race group photo, South Beach inside San Juan Island National Historic Park

Conveniently, our accommodations were just a few blocks from one of the shuttle pick-up stops, so we could sleep in a bit Saturday morning, grab coffee and baked treats from a local shop, and meander our way to the bus. Most runners know the day to try something new is never race day, myself included, but I typically like to rebel against that tip, so for this race I opted for a delicious pre-race blueberry lemon scone instead of eating the oatmeal I brought along and ate before most of my long training runs. I figured it was comparable to the harvest muffin I’d gotten a couple times in Minneapolis before a long run or two (you’re right–there’s no logic in that, but it worked out). We arrived at the start area with plenty of time to snap a group photo in front of the ocean and for me to get in a pre-race warm-up. A few minutes before the start, my friends and I wished each other ‘good luck’ and settled into our preferred starting line spot. The buzzer sounded and off we went, up a hill. 

My goal for this half was to run a somewhat consistent pace, avoid crashing mid or late race from starting too hard, and finish somewhere within the realm of my fastest half finishing time (taking into account my fastest time was a few years ago on a flatter course). So, I took it easy up that first hill, and didn’t worry too much about passing other runners, yet. Around a mile and a half into the race, everyone turns back around to run in the opposite direction for the remainder of the race, so I got to excitedly wave hello and yell something along the lines of “GOOD JOB!” to my friends. For the first 3 or 4 miles, I was the 3rd place female. As expected, there weren’t many spectators for the 13.1 mile stretch, but around mile 5 I spotted my wife (who flew out to WA from MN to spectate–which I suppose sounds strange if you don’t know our current life/living situation…) and another friend, plus the aid station volunteers were decked out in costumes and good cheer.

I love race day!

The absolute highlight of this race were the spectacular views–the Salish Sea! Beaches! Mountains! Healthy cows! I once ran a hilly, rural half marathon in Minnesota, and this course profile felt comparable, except that the San Juan Half was beautiful. 

Around mile 9 I felt myself dragging a bit; I think there may have been a long, gradual incline at that point, and this was when my GPS watch came in handy–I kept telling myself to push a little harder so I wouldn’t go slower than a certain pace. Before the next race I need to listen to music beforehand so that I avoid repeating a few Purple Rain lyrics I could barely remember, over and over. With a few more Skratch Labs chews (the best chews in the world!) I felt more energized going into mile 11. The final stretch of the race is a fantastic downhill, which I pounded down for an overall place of 25th. I ended up finishing within minutes of my half marathon PR, 3rd of 25 in my age group, and an average pace that I had practiced in training, so I considered it a race well-run. Many thanks go to my Team RunRun coach and to Seven Hills Running Shop for giving me the opportunity to try out having a running coach (which I’m completely sold on, even as a middle of the pack runner because we all have goals and could use some encouragement and advice to achieve them).

Finishers, Jackson Beach

My friends did super well too. For one it was her very first half marathon finish, another finished within seconds of her last half marathon time, and the third actually walked most of the race at a pace I cannot fathom being possible except by running. As runners continued to cross the finish line, we all enjoyed the free pizza and ice cream, while sporting our fancy wooden finishers’ medals in the gorgeous sunshine.

Up next for me is a mid-week 5K in an urban park and then for all of us in June is The Great Ferry Race half marathon on Bainbridge Island! Another half, another ferry, steeper hills.

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